One of life’s great mysteries is the Sniper Ghost Warrior franchise. From 2008’s Sniper: Art of Victory all the way to the unfortunately titled Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts 2, The franchise has often been a masterclass in marksmanship, delivering on the promise of being a fun and interesting sniping game, before forcing you to slog through countless terrible close-range engagements.
- READ MORE: ‘El Paso, Elsewhere’ is ‘Max Payne’ with break-up trauma – and it wants to change the industry
Sticking with the formula, Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 (which I’ll call Contracts 2 now, for my sanity) is also a surprisingly comprehensive sniping game, breaking down the mechanics of being a marksman in a way that is accessible and doesn’t patronise you at all. I quickly learnt the impact that windage, range and even zeroing my scope would have on my ability to hit someone, and when I was taking long-range shots, I felt genuinely empowered.
The sniping is probably the best out there. Unfortunately, Contracts 2 seems to have been designed in such a way that you’re constantly being pulled away from the sniping and forced to scrap it out with enemies up close, where rubbish weapon-handling combines with sub-par AI and an unforgiving health pool to make sure you have a bad time. None of the guns are licensed but they are recognisable, and they are distinctive. Distinctively shit, in most cases, but they do at least feel different.
Each mission in the game has a cluster of contracts, taking place in an open-world environment that you can explore at your own pace. The game is divided into two core contract types and they have genuine differences. The Classic contracts are more akin to previous games in the series: you are having firefights at under 200m, you’ll spend a lot of time failing stealth and hiding in bushes, and it’s quite a close-quarters affair. These are mediocre, generally.
The game’s saving grace is the Long Shot contracts, which drop you into a similar area, but the goal is ultimately to make it to vantage points and plonk yourself down overlooking one of several target areas in each place. These Long Shot contracts mean you’ll be making shots nearly a mile away. There are fewer close-range firefights, and you feel like an actual sniper.
It feels like you’re playing two different games. The classic contracts have you using a short range rifle, and the sniper rifle is just another weapon in your arsenal. In the Long Shot contracts, you’re carrying a huge rifle, and scouting your target from a set position, overlooking an entire camp and ready to dish out lead.
Several of the targets are hiding inside or hot-footing it around the area, and taking them out starts to resemble a Hitman level, albeit from a kilometer away, landing rounds into fuse boxes, cars with overzealous alarm systems or even comedically stacked barrels in the hope they’ll make enough noise to draw the target to a more shootable position.
The Hitman comparisons run further as you can get additional cash and skill tokens by completing optional challenges: this might involve killing two people with a single bullet, or taking out a target in a specific way.
Generally, I like this part. You spend a few minutes scouting your target, you line up your shoot, you fire, the not-quite-as-good-as-Sniper-Elite killcam kicks in, and then everything goes to hell around your target, and you scarper before you run afoul of snipers and mortar fire.
The end of each of these contracts is punctuated by a visit to the extraction point, where your progress is saved before you’re turned loose to head off and murder someone else. This is the same for both Classic and Long Shot contracts, but it works better in the Long Shot contracts, as the Classic events often task you with infiltrating water treatment plants or ports to plant explosives or some other task that requires you to get stuck into hundreds of enemies. Faced with several hundred enemies, the escape to extraction is less calm and involves excessive use of the game’s generous checkpointing.
As the game gets worse the closer to your enemies it is, the idea that you’ll have to skulk around a facility and stab your way through the guard presence is damn near anathema. Yet, here we are, sneaking our way into arms reach just so I can introduce them to the business end of a blade or silenced pistol. I’m a sniper! I should have done this from 500 meters away.
Even when the objectives don’t require you to get close up, Bounty targets in the Classic contracts are freeform missions that invite you to take out a high-value target as you’re passing by. These can be enjoyable: I put a round through one person’s skull as he walked past a slow-moving ventilation fan, and felt like a badass. Then I was informed I’d need to confirm the kill by waltzing into where I’d shot him and looting his body. This involved getting past 30 guards during which I raised the alarm, died several times, and got blown up by a tank.
There’s a skill tree that offers up some standard upgrades. You’ve seen these before: run faster crouching, run silently, carry more grenades, take less damage from fall damage. I got a kick out of a skill that gives you a tiny motor that lets you use ziplines from either direction, but otherwise it’s mostly tosh. Luckily, you have most of what you need straight out of the gate.
Gadgets suffer from a similar lack of innovation, with a couple of key differences. I can take or leave the collection of C4, hand grenades, anti-personnel mines and the weird Sputnik-looking ball that automatically marks any enemies that walk next to it. However, I’ve gotten a real kick out of the sniper turret – which can be upgraded with skills to fire semi-automatically, pick people off at extreme range or even a skill that lets it put down anyone that discovers you. Later, you can add a silencer to it, meaning you have a quiet buddy watching your back while you snipe.
The biggest problem with the sniping is that a headshot is a guaranteed kill, but hitting an enemy without killing them makes them and everyone for several thousand miles instantly alert and straight into combat mode. This can be very unforgiving, which is great except when it messes up a perfect run.
I experienced a few bugs along the way. The most common was vaulting over a small object and getting stuck in mid-air for a few seconds, often just enough to get gunned down by a turret or spotted by a patrol. Far more common was the spelling mistakes that appear in several locations: either in intel or menu prompts. It speaks of a lack of polish to the game in general, but it didn’t really impact my enjoyment at all.
Thing is, despite the score and the fact that I generally think the game is disappointing, there are so many parts I’ve enjoyed. Sneaking through scrubland with my thermal goggles picking up threats, unloading a low caliber sniper-rifle into a heavily armoured goon’s face in the hope it’ll stop them in their tracks or even just sprinting away from an enemy APC while tossing smoke grenades and wailing.
It just isn’t enough.
Please note: We got access to the game on Thursday afternoon ahead of its Friday launch. We spent 25+ hours with it over the weekend, but did not finish the game.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 is out on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Series S and PC. We reviewed the PC version.
Contracts 2 is, regrettably, a near miss that can’t be resolved with a quick follow-up shot. The run of the mill shooting drags the rest of the game down, and there’s so much of it it’s nearly impossible to overlook.
However, I’ve still enjoyed my time with the game and will be dipping back into the Long Shot contracts for a while to polish off some more of those challenges.
- The sniping is slick and accessible
- Lots of fun gadgetry
- Nice looking
- Most of the gameplay that isn’t sniping
- Meaningless weapon customisation
- Dull skill tree