It’s been a while since I played a Sniper Ghost Warrior game. This series of middleware shooters has been around since the early 2010s, and I remember playing the first game on the 360 after finding it in a bargain bin for a few dollars. While the sneaking and sniping was okay, I remember the horrible and poorly designed levels where the game forced you to Call of Duty your way through scripted waves of enemies with an assault rifle. While that first game was fairly mediocre, CI Games has done an admirable job listening to community feedback and refining their craft over the past few years and sequels. Three more games and nearly a decade later I’m finally revisiting the series, and while it does have plenty of rough spots, I’m happy to report that the latest game is something that fans of sneaking and sniper rifles should consider checking out.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts
Developer: CI Games
Publisher: CI Games
Platforms: Windows PC (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: November 22nd, 2019
Players: 1 (Multiplayer is in the works)
The game is set in a war-torn, near-future Siberia. After years of riots that led to a civil conflict, Siberia has gained independence from the Russian Federation. Unfortunately, the new rulers of Siberia are just as corrupt and greedy as the Russians that preceded them, leading to the formation of insurgent groups and further chaos in the fledgling nation.
You are a mercenary sniper hired by a mysterious organization looking to disrupt the political situation in Siberia to achieve their own goals. Your only contact to your employers is the disembodied voice of your handler, who issues you missions and provides radio support via an advanced prototype mask that you are required to wear as part of your contract.
The game’s story is ultimately not all that important to the experience, and mostly just serves as the window dressing for the game’s five missions. While five levels might not sound like much, each mission is set on a massive map with five primary objectives and loads of side activities like challenges, bounties, and collectibles. Expect to spend about three hours on each map if you want to 100% them.
The maps are also gorgeous and pretty varied. The game runs on CryEngine, leading to some pretty stunning outdoor environments. You’ll find yourself sneaking around remote forests, snow-covered industrial areas by the sea, isolated research facilities, and even a decommissioned Soviet gulag or two. That sad, the animations themselves are a bit stiff and awkward in places, as you’d expect from a game made on a more modest budget.
Each map’s primary objective revolves around assassinating one or two key individuals. Your other main objectives typically involve stealing documents, hacking laptops, planting C4, and other acts of espionage targeting the Siberian military and the various crime syndicates and corrupt corporations that support them.
One interesting aspect to the game’s contract system is that you can actually learn more detailed information about your objectives by very carefully listening to enemy dialog and interrogating officers. The game will outline the general area of each objective on your map, but there are often some specifics that you’ll need to figure out on your own.
While the challenges and collectibles are all completely optional, you’ll want to do them anyway because they give you tokens and money that can be spent unlocking new weapons, gadgets, and upgrades.
The challenges involve doing various acts of skill, like assassinating your target without setting off any alarms, or getting X number of double kills with a single sniper shot. Each map has six such challenges.
Maps also have two bounties, which are infamous officers or war criminals that your employers will pay a hefty sum to see taken out. Finally, there’s also six collectibles to find. These are things like propaganda posters, secret documents, encrypted tablets, etc.
The game’s missions are vast, open-ended playgrounds that give you plenty of freedom to experiment and tackle objectives however you see fit. Assisting you is a fairly impressive array of gadgets and weapons, further encouraging you to form your own playstyle.
The advanced AR mask your employers have provided you comes with a variety of useful features. There’s a special vision mode that highlights nearby interactable objects, footprints, climbable ledges, and more. There’s also zoom functions, thermal vision, binoculars that can tag enemies, and many other upgrades that you can purchase as you progress through the game.
At the beginning of the game you can carry your sniper rifle, a secondary weapon like an assault rifle or shotgun, a sidearm, and three gadgets. As you earn money and tokens, you can further increase your carrying capacity to six gadgets, and as well as carry more of each gadget. You’ll also buy new weapons, attachments, equipment, and many other useful upgrades to your suit and utility gear.
The game’s gadgets range from mundane items like grenades, mines, and health packs, to some significantly more exotic toys. There’s a remote drone that you can use to scout ahead and tag enemies, but perhaps the most unique gadget is a sniper turret.
You can set this turret down in a nice sniping position and remotely fire it by manually tagging enemies for it to shoot at. Not only does this help you thin out the guards patrolling a base, but it also serves as a fun decoy that can confuse enemy soldiers by allowing you to shoot from two locations at once.
While the game gives you tons of toys to play with, the real workhorse of your arsenal is your trusty sniper rifle. While the game’s shooting mechanics are still simpler than real life, scoring a headshot with your rifle is nonetheless much more involved than just pointing and clicking a mouse button like most video games.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts takes into account wind speed and direction when taking longer shots, and you’ll also have to calibrate your scope based on the distance to your target. Your AR mask gives you a line of dots to follow based on range, windspeed, and so on, assuming your scope is properly calibrated. Scopes aren’t just for reticle aesthetics either like in many games, as some can be more finely tuned with a wider selection of range increments and magnifications to pull off even more accurate shots.
There’s also different ammo types. You’ll start with just your basic rounds, but gradually unlock the ability to carry up to two specialty ammo types in a mission as well. Perhaps the most obviously useful are the DARPA rounds, which are extremely limited but completely ignore wind speed and direction when fired. Some other types include AP rounds that can pierce heavy cover, EMP rounds that can disrupt electronics, or explosive shots that are fairly self-explanatory.
The sniping mechanics are a little tricky at first, and I wish they went with something that was slightly easier to read than curved, pulsing dotted lines. That said, because the mechanics are so much more involved than most games, it means that each shot is just that much more satisfying to land. There’s also a nice and gory bullet cam, though you can turn it off if you want.
While the sniper rifles are engaging, the game’s other weapons are less interesting. The assault rifles and shotguns just don’t feel all that fun to shoot, and there’s no selective fire modes so you’ll usually just find yourself spamming bullets in the general direction of an enemy.
The game’s various guns in general feel a little too similar for my tastes, with no significantly noticeable changes in handling and useable attachments. The most obvious differences are ammo capacity and some small deviations in accuracy when in specific range bands.
That said, if you are using your assault rifle in the first place, then you probably did something horribly wrong. Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts is first and foremost a stealth game. You will die very fast if you aren’t careful, and when an enemy spots you they’ll usually alert everyone in the area to your position.
This aspect of the game feels very inconsistent, as I’ve had some encounters where a single enemy seeing me alerted the entire base instantly, while other times I got into a gunfight without alerting anyone else.
This brings me to the game’s larger issue, which is the number of inconsistent mechanics and occasionally really unresponsive AI. Sometimes the AI acts as you’d expect from someone who just saw a squadmate’s head explode.
Other times, I’ve seen enemies walk past corpses without a second glance. In the most egregious examples, I’ve shot soldiers right by each other without anyone reacting. Maybe that guy was just the squad asshole that everyone hates.
The AI’s accuracy can also vary quite dramatically. There’s been some situations where they missed me in close quarters firefights, while other times I’ve been hit with perfect accuracy by a guy firing full auto with his AK over 300 meters away.
And don’t get me started on how frustrating it can be to use the game’s rock throwing mechanic to try and isolate a squad. It’s the digital equivalent of trying to herd cats.
The bipod mechanic can be extremely fiddly too. It’s not uncommon to find yourself unable to deploy your bipod on surfaces you should be able to. I suspect that the game’s level geometry in general is just very wonky, because I’ve encountered plenty of small inclines and staircases the game just doesn’t want me to traverse without getting into just the right position.
The save system is quite janky as well. The game autosaves periodically, and you can further save your progress by visiting the exfiltration spots scattered around each map. You can’t manually save whenever you want, and the autosave occasionally screws you over.
There was one memorable time when I died and the autosave reloaded me in a room I had recently cleared. Then, suddenly, several guards fell from the ceiling as they respawned on top of me, standing defiantly in the T pose before sounding the alarm and killing me.
If that sounded like a massive bug to you then trust me, that’s pretty par for the course in this game. A recent patched helped somewhat, but the sheer amount of bugs I’ve encountered means that playing Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts can sometimes be an exercise in frustration.
I’ve found myself unable to interact with objects before because the button prompts wouldn’t appear. I’ve had enemies randomly respawn in areas I previously cleared, including bounties I already claimed. I’ve had objectives and challenges fail to register as completed. The list goes on and on.
The game’s performance is generally fairly acceptable. I have an i7-8700, 1070, and 16GB of RAM and don’t encounter too many frame drops below 60 on max settings. At least, that was previously the case.
My performance has gotten worse with the latest patch, and every 10 to 15 minutes or so I’ll suddenly get some stuttering before the framerate goes back to normal. The game’s pre-mission cinematics stutter a lot though, presumably because the game is loading the map behind the scenes.
While I’ve been very negative over the past few paragraphs, I actually do really enjoy Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts. It’s a bit janky and unpolished here and there, but when everything is working fine its a pretty solid stealth game with some immensely satisfying sniping action.
Pulling off long range shots just feels so much better than most shooters because of how much more goes into lining up each shot. The game finds a nice middle ground where its more involved than your typical shooter, but its not quite in full milsim territory.
Unfortunately, the game’s bugs are so frequent that they can really get in the way of the experience at times. I can forgive bugs here and there, but I’ve encountered so many here that I’d say probably a full point was taken off the score because of them.
Luckily, CI Games is open to suggestions and feedback, and I can already tell that the game is getting more stable after the first patch, which introduced some nice quality of life changes I would have otherwise complained about if I had written this review a day or two earlier. The game will also be getting multiplayer at some point in the future, though they haven’t really elaborated on the details yet.
With a few more patches focused on fixing the game’s bugs and other unpolished aspects, I’d say that Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts would be an easy buy for someone looking to play a solid stealth game focused on sniper rifles and long distance assassinations. For now, it’s still a recommendation, albeit a recommendation that comes with some caveats.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts was reviewed on Windows PC using a review copy provided by CI Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.