The Sniper Ghost Warrior series has an unpredictable history. After a few linear shooter campaigns, the third game in the series was painted in deep Far Cry colors as CI Games sought to reinvent their shooter franchise.
In my eyes, it was an abject failure, offering the basic outline of a Far Cry game but little of the appeal and far more bugs. That set up an interesting proposition with Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts, which is the series’ latest attempt following that misfire, and one which again reinvents itself.
It’s safe to say Contracts is far from perfect, like all that have come before it in this quietly long-running franchise. But in the ways that are most important, it’s also the best in the series.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts Review: Sandboxes Worth Playing In
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts feels like a reboot of a series that just tried to reboot itself a few years ago. The crucial difference is this time, the reboot works and it should provide a blueprint moving forward.
Whereas the last game mishandled its Far Cry inspirations, Contracts feels like it takes several cues from Hitman — fitting given the subtitle — though it’s not a near-copy like Ghost Warrior 3 was of Far Cry.
Each mission begins by dropping you into a sizeable Siberian sandbox. Rather than give players one vast and open map, missions take place across one large hub each, and this singular design decision makes up for a huge portion of the game’s successes.
As the backbone of fantastic and intricate level designs, each hub space feels like it offers countless secret routes, clever perches, and daring bottlenecks when stealth efforts break down.
In one early scene, I found myself desperate to sneak away from an oncoming guard. I thought how useful it’d be if I could crawl under the shed I was near, even as it initially seemed unlikely to offer salvation.
It turns out I could do that, just like I could instead hide in a locker, sneak away in the tall grass, or time my shot just right to stealthily take out a guard, hide his body in one of those places or elsewhere, and continue along with my quiet mission. Contracts gives players smaller sandboxes but each one feels totally authored and opportunistic as a result.
Level design also shines when reflected off of the game’s mission objectives. Each map offers several main missions as well as many challenges. The main objectives guarantee that you will visit all of the main sectors of a given map, while challenges will have you replaying levels several times over chasing different feats. They feel worth playing again and again because of their intricate layouts, and even if you don’t return, the first time through is also supremely satisfying because of the mission variety.
You’ll have someone to assassinate, of course, but you’ll also have context-specific missions, like sabotaging enemy stockpiles or hacking their computers for necessary intel. Stealthy players will get the most fun out of this design because, despite the game’s improved merits as a standard shooter, it’s still a stealth and sniping game at heart.
Your character, Seeker, is handy in close combat and with a wide range of unlockable gadgets and guns, but the sniping is always the star — as it should be. Measuring for bullet drop and wind resistance is something many shooters do these days, but few take the care CI Games’ Sniper does. With a smart UI, Contracts ensures players know where each round will go and how much they need to adjust to get that finish line over a bad guy’s temple. It’s reliable and feels solid, and along with the well-authored levels and lots of toys to play with, it makes up the best Contracts has to offer.
Meanwhile, the worst it has to offer are some more bugs, some poor enemy AI, and an overall lack of character heaviness that makes movement feel unwieldy at times. This is especially true during the game’s many opportunities — and sometimes demands — for first-person platforming.
The general rule is unless your name is Titanfall or Mirror’s Edge, your first-person platforming efforts may be in vain. That’s true again here. Though the new routes opened up are often worthwhile, it always feels like a hassle and that these sections should’ve been accessed via some other means.
Bugs aren’t nearly as pervasive as they were in previous entries, but some slowdowns affect gameplay, and even more so during the cutscenes. I also got stuck on geometry more than once, in part because of the freedom the game gives you to explore, but that benefit should not come at the cost of progress resets.
The idiocy of some enemies on lower difficulties can be an annoyance too, though for some players, it may be a welcome feature given how inconsistent their sightlines can seem. It helped me as much as it hurt me, but that unpredictability is a problem.
Still, if that’s the worst I can say about Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts — and it is — then fans of stealth-shooters should understand this is still very much a game worth playing. You’ll get joyfully lost in its labyrinthine levels plotting every assassination. At its core, that’s what is most important to this series, and what Contracts does best.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts — The Bottom Line
- Intricately authored levels make for extremely satisfying exploration
- Combat mechanics both near and far are the best they’ve been
- Levels worth replaying and unlockables worth chasing
- Bugs interfere with cutscene flow and even game progress at times
- Enemy AI is inconsistent
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts is a bit rough around the edges, but at its center, it is a game genre fans will undoubtedly appreciate. By reimagining the series in this light, CI Games has crafted the best game in the series.
It’s bogged down by some issues that can’t easily be overlooked, but Contracts ultimately rises above those problems with great level design and deep player agency and exploration that welcomes you back each time.
[Note: A copy of the Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts was provided by CI Games for this review.]