Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 Hands-On Preview: Aiming to Please
The mission was quickly becoming a disaster. I’d managed to assassinate my first target, an Arms Dealer named Antwan Zarza, in a large industrial area at the northwest edge of the map. My journey to the next target took me right through a makeshift military base. I eliminated an enemy overlooking the camp but failed to notice his friend, who managed to raise the alarm before I could put him down.
Now I was pinned down by fire from below. I picked off a few of the soldiers with my sniper rifle, but at the center of the base, a soldier was preparing to fire a mortar. The explosive shell would almost certainly end my life.
I drew my rifle, calibrated the scope to accommodate for bullet drop, and took aim at his chest. That’s when I saw it, the gleam of a grenade hooked to his belt. Quickly adjusting my aim, I took note of a slight crosswind, held my breath, and fired. The grenade erupted in a white-hot flash of fire and shrapnel; the power of the explosion tore through the surrounding men, ending the skirmish in an instant. I was on to my next target.
When I went hands-on with CI Games' upcoming Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2, the sixth installment in the Sniper Ghost Warrior franchise, I was expecting another solid sniper game, with quality gunplay and over-the-top Bullet-Cam kills. What I found was a game with the potential to deliver some of the best emergent gameplay of the year, where every player’s unique adventure exceeds anything a scripted encounter could ever hope to deliver.
In Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2, you are Raven, an expert sniper dropped into enemy territory, tasked with eliminating key cogs as you work to topple a corrupt head of state. Along the way, you must complete certain objectives, such as freeing prisoners, destroying special equipment, and more.
Right from the beginning, it was clear that SGWC2 is more than just a point-to-point sniping game. The first mission dropped me into a large map, with three potential targets, each in a different area. The overall lack of direction was refreshing, as I was free to make my own however I saw fit. In this case, I headed South, pursuing expert hacker Fyodor Novikov, who had taken refuge at a military facility.
The journey to my destination wasn’t easy. I had to work past multiple groups of guards by way of intuitive first-person stealth. Keeping to shadows, I was able to get behind a guard and ambush him. The goon found himself more than willing to divulge where the rest of his allies were in hopes I would spare him (I didn’t). With this newfound information, I plotted a route around the group's perimeter and made my way to the target zone.
There are five total levels in Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2, each filled with targets, missions, and challenges. Three are built as hubs, with Extreme-Range Sniping assignments scattered around. The other two levels are pure sandboxes, more akin to previous SGW titles, where you can take the perfect shot from afar or make a stealthy approach for an up-close and personal assassination.
Novikov was in an Extreme-Range Sniping zone. Previous games have you eliminating targets from a maximum range of around 600M. This time, you fire from up to 3X that. In this case, I was roughly a kilometer from the target, and I set to work.
One of the great strengths of this series is the balance between realism and fun gameplay. CI Games consulted with actual snipers of GROM, the Polish Special Forces. These conversations lead the team to focus on strategy through observation and planning before taking any shots. In practice, this meant I spent several minutes watching the target zone through my binoculars, tagging enemies and points of interest.
To have the best chance of success, I needed to plan out an entire series of moves and attempt to visualize the sequence of events before taking a shot. It was chess from a kilometer away, with a .50 caliber sniper rifle.
I decided to play it defensively. First, I eliminated an opposing sniper on a rooftop. This would give some margin of error should I miss my shot. At this range, no one would hear the sound of my rifle firing. I could try and lead the target by a few steps, catching him in stride, but I found a spot where he liked to greet one of the guards. I sat patiently, trigger finger at the ready.
Taking the Longshot
At 1,200 meters, there were many factors to consider, all of which were readily visible in the thorough but unobtrusive UI.
First, I calibrated my scope for distance. This would center my crosshairs at an elevation that accounts for the effect of gravity on the bullet over the distance. There was a slight crosswind, illustrated by the Dynamic Reticle System, which drew a line trailing off the side of the crosshairs, reflecting the bullet's path. The bullet would take more than a second to travel this far, so I needed to line up my shot for where the target would be at that time. He entered my field of view, and I fired.
There is immediate feedback when you find a well-aimed shot. The camera exits the first-person perspective and follows the bullet on its course in a cinematic follow-view. A rifle of this power strikes with unbelievable force. My bullet struck the side of my target's head, just above the ear.
At player request, the gore has been turned up from previous entries in this series, and it was on full display here. The concussive power was enough to shatter the skull. A crimson explosion erupted, with anatomical details similar to what you would find in Mortal Kombat. It was at once disgusting and exhilarating, striking the right balance of violent enough to not diminish the violence of what you, a sniper, are doing, yet exaggerated enough to avoid being excessive or gratuitous.
Gore can be turned down in the menus to an extent if you prefer.
Another Round of Shots
Now that my target was eliminated, I made a hasty retreat. My successful kill earned me money and upgrade tokens, which are used to buy new equipment and upgrades. There are several upgrade trees that you can customize to your style. Gadgets include spy drones, special ammo, and even a remote-control sniper you can use as a second gunman.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 missions are designed to be repeatable. You can return to try different strategies for eliminating your target. As you progress and upgrade your equipment, you can start honing some of the more creative ways to eliminate your targets.
In addition to your rifle, there are environmental hazards to take advantage of. In one case, I saw a crane with a heavy load suspended conveniently above the path one of the targets likes to walk. Another had an escape vehicle that I could destroy once my quarry was inside. These emergent sections give the game a Hitman-like replayability, with challenges and achievements to match.
As I continued playing, I found each encounter to be dynamic. Once, I was spotted and had to snipe the driver of an armored vehicle. Another time, I carefully circled an enemy until he was aligned with another soldier, and I was rewarded with two kills for a single shot. I shot circuit breakers to lure a target into the open in one assassination attempt and blew up a parked helicopter to create a distraction in another. Everything I did felt dynamic, and every encounter had to potential to be unique.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 feels like the marriage of tried-and-true first-person sniping and the unique experiences possible in modern open-world games. As much as I am looking forward to playing the final release, I am more excited to see and hear the unique experiences of other players. Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 might just be a shot worth taking when it releases on June 4.