Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 is one of those games that proves that time can be a good thing. Not just in stalking targets from afar, but in terms of series brevity and reinvention.
Starting at the somewhat middling Sniper: Art of Victory in 2008, it turned into modern counterpart Ghost Warrior a year later. And whilst the first two were okay-ish, the third (as always) was just a mess. So, back to the briefing board, and Contracts was the rebirth in 2019.
It had its moments, but wasn’t groundbreaking. But far from shying away, CI Games took another look and have returned with Contracts 2. Does it iron out the wrinkles, or is it too much of a long shot to ask for greatness? Gear up, let’s go hunting for a summary.
Nowhere To Hide
Rather uncharacteristically, I’m going to get one of the negatives out of the way first: the story. It’s not a negative in that it’s “the worst story ever”, so don’t get riled up. More that it’s just a standard covert, Tom-Clancy-on-a-budget story.
There’s a conflict along the border of Lebanon and Syria. Amongst this conflict is a cabal of string-pullers and high-value syndicated criminals. You play as Raven, a contracted assassin who’s a dab hand at perforating brain-cases from a very long ways off. Much like Pandemic’s first Mercenaries game, there’s a structure to taking these criminals out. Not as literal as the deck of cards mechanic, but players will progressively make their way up through the value of their targets.
You have a supporting voice in your ear known only as Control. He sounds a bit like Sean Bean, steering you along the way to your target or side-mission objective. There’s some “banter” between Control and Raven, which breaks up the monotony of being a solo operator on a mission of stealth. But what you’ve got to wonder; is Control your friend, just a handler or part of something bigger…? Not that I’d tell you, mind.
As I say, it’s not terribly written, or desecrates anything done before. It just has been done countless times before. But then, this is a game about sniping, not the machinations of a criminal syndicate’s management system.
A Playground Divided
If this isn’t your first time with any of the Sniper: Ghost Warrior games, chances are the level layout won’t surprise you… much. If Contracts, either this or the first one, is the entry point, prepare yourselves for scope.
Rather than one massive sandbox, Contracts 2 is set across five regions (and a training stage). Sandpits, if you will. So rather than cramming it in and risking optimisation, or making a big pile of nothing like Just Cause does, gameplay is served up in slices. In this instance, bigger isn’t always better. These pseudo-bottleneck/wide open spaces offer more fun than being able to drop in anywhere.
In these regions, Raven has free rein to tackle mission objectives as he pleases. Fast travel points are unlocked through exploration, meaning you can’t zip about the map until you’ve done the bare modicum of footwork. Players can climb some ledges and footholds, as well as utilising zip lines to give a small degree of verticality to proceedings.
Don’t expect hopping from hilltop to hilltop, though. Contracts is surprisingly grounded, putting climbing and bunker lurking as a necessary part of completing your objectives. That’s right, plural. This isn’t just “shoot the baddie of this region and call it a day here”, no sir.
Catch a Bullet Where Your Thoughts Get Processed
Of course, that’s not to say there isn’t any baddies to shoot. There’s quite a few, in fact. In between plotting your way towards his target(s) Raven will come across hosts of guards. Standard assault rifle toting types, the heavies that require a different type of ammo to drop and the best prey of all; other snipers.
The game makes it clear that reconnaissance is key. You start with a pair of binoculars that can mark targets with, and before long a drone will be available too. It’s not imperative to scout, but you’d be a fool not too. There’s nothing more annoying that thinking you’ve cleared an area to be blindsiding by one guard nonchalantly beatboxing to himself (no, really).
There is an issue with taking on multiple guards at once (as well as a technical one we’ll look at later). Whilst Raven does carry a small arsenal of primary, secondary and side arms, he’s not Rambo. On one hand, proximity mines make good fortifications. On the other, Raven’s sneaking suit isn’t built for tanking damage, so avoiding large scale fights is more prudent.
The key, or at least I found, is working from the top down. Seek out those rival snipers and put a satisfying, 400m bullet-cam-guided round through their head. Then, systematically work your way down through the guards. Isolate and pick off, pop off those on higher plains to avoid them seeing bodies below and proceed.
Should things go mammaries up, it’s worth hopping to another patch of cover to avoid gun and mortar fire. The opposition are very keen on dropping artillery on your approximate location, and you don’t want that.
Think of Contracts as primarily stealth, but in a pinch, Raven can handle a few guards before sneaking back off. It’s not as strict as Splinter Cell, but more tactical than say, Ghost Recon or Far Cry. There is, however, one reinvented series is does borrow liberally from…
That’s a Confirmed Hit, Man
Much like Hitman started in Absolution and then refined for its 2016 “reboot”, Sniper: Ghost Warrior has done similar with Contracts 1 and 2. Rather than just have a target or two to cap and perhaps a laptop to steal along the way, challenges are a big part of the mission structure.
Someone cynical might call it fleshing out the small amount of sandpit levels but surprisingly, it’s not me. That it adds variety to how you play and what you can unlock adds meat, as well a sense of “I can do that better” on your next run. So, for example, you could snipe your target comfortably from a grassy knoll and collect the moderate mission complete reward. Or, if you want to give Raven some flight, you could perch yourself above the target and net a Death From Above melee kill. It sounds extravagant, and it is, but it also ticks off a challenge and nets you some more cash.
It’s not just target-specific challenges, mind. The second level has two variations on the same: taking out ten snipers. One challenge is killing ten with headshots, which you should be aiming for anyway (pun intended). The other, harder version is getting personal with your knife. The higher the risk, the higher the reward. Aside from that, there’s also parkour/timed challenges in the mix, such as turning off three signal jammers in five minutes.
The emphasis in here is not “see if you can get them in one go” because that would be impossible. There are contradictions like completing the level with only normal ammo kills and explosive barrels. Instead, the focus is on replayability. Coming back when you’re bigger, better and bolder. And with Sniper: Ghost Warrior’s progression system, Raven will be.
Tactical Espionage Accessories
It’s not just the level and objective variety that Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 can boast about, as Raven is well looked after too. Initially kitted out with a fairly decent rifle, a stock machine gun and a pistol, it’s not long before you’ll be wanting to upgrade.
And thankfully, thanks to its monetary and reward system, you can. There’s a host of high powered rifles to choose from, each one customisable with a range of scopes and stocks. You can also add suppressors, camouflage kits (that are found in the missions) and different types of ammunition. As well as the standard, there are armour piercing rounds to take out vehicle weak points and heavily armoured enemies. If you fancy taking your target out with flash and flare, there’s even explosive rounds available. They aren’t subtle, but they’ll get the job done.
Secondary weapons don’t get the short straw, however. It wasn’t long until a compound bow was available, and seeing how much I love the archery in a Far Cry/Crysis game, I was all over it. Rifle for long range, bow for mid range stealth, with a silenced pistol for close quarters. That’s my preference, but they’ll be something for everyone.
As mentioned, there’s the scouting drone, which can be upgraded with poison darts for the creative types. Raven also has access to a turret; a nifty bit of kit that can mark enemies and be fired at will. It can eventually be made silent, so setting up sly multi-kills is a stealth fan’s dream.
Raven’s suit can also be upgraded, from thermal vision and better enemy marking to quieter footsteps and less fall damage received. This is where the replayability/challenge system works in tandem: you’ll want to do better, so that you can unlock the skills to make it easier. Progression, not haste.
Sorry, Do We All Have High Powered Zoom Lenses…?
I would honestly love to say that Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 is the perfect sniping game. It’s certainly more enjoyable that any of the latest Sniper Elite’s, largely down to the variety on hand with each mission hub. I had massively enjoyed Sniper Elite 2’s remaster (which we sadly lost the review of), but this knocks it off of that mantle.
However, it’s not without its shortcomings. Namely, it’s painfully obvious that this isn’t a AAA/big budget title. Of course, that doesn’t hamper the gameplay one iota, but it lacks that shine that makes it stand out as a current or next-gen title. There is a PS5 upgrade coming (as I’m playing the PS4 version via PS5), so I can’t be too harsh. It’s just a little bit rough around the edges at times. Shrubbery popping in, guards literally spinning on the spot as part of their programmed routines, that kind of thing.
But the biggest grumble, what absolutely chives my spuds: enemy accuracy. I understand that a lot of these enemy soldiers are trained and have high tech gear, fine. Yet you’re telling me that one guard yelling, “There!” means that instantly, all ten guards know where Raven is with pinpoint accuracy?
It’s the biggest failing in any kind of stealth game and unfortunately, it’s here too. Now, I’m not a programmer, so I don’t understand the logistics of coding individual searching patterns for enemies. It’s just annoying and something that really needs to be worked on. Being spotted when you’re stood in the open is understandable. Being picked out, in a patch of grass, six hundred metres away though, not so fun. It breaks the flow somewhat.
Minor eagle-eyed enemies aside, Contracts 2 is going up there in my “fun games of 2021” list. Again, the cynical could call it one note, due to the mission structures being largely similar. But then, that could be said about any game. At least this one has its core concept in the very title.
The other thing that gets it a high rating from me? No bloody microtransactions, nor forced multiplayer components. There’s no “you can buy this better gun early on with real money” mechanic. Everything is done by your own graft. The varying difficulties also cater to both casual and professional players too. If you find the wind, distance and bullet drop mechanic difficult, there’s several aim assists for that. Conversely, if you fancy yourself a pro and your math is on par with your accuracy, then there are harder difficulties for the master marksmen too.
At time of writing, I’m about halfway through the story aspect of the game. In terms of challenges, I’ve barely touched it. Not through lack of trying, but I wanted to get missions done the first time around before diving back in for a different approach. Four massive(ish) maps is enough to keep me going for more than long enough, and if there is DLC on the way, it wouldn’t go amiss here. Regular readers/listeners of the podcast know that’s not something I say lightly.
Did You See His Head Go?
Sorry, not sorry for the above picture. It perfectly encapsulates that absolute sweet spot, that guilty pleasure of nailing someone in the brain-case from long range. Those are the kind of shots (that you can vary the frequency of the fancy camera) that make it worthwhile. The stalking, the scoping out the area, sneaking quietly through enemy bases. To interrupt a criminal mastermind’s thought process about what they’re having for tea that night is a beautiful thing, when done right.
And the thing is, you’ll want to do it right. The satisfaction in ticking off challenges stealthily, getting Raven in and exfiltrating the objective data unseen is a treat. That you can cater it specifically to your level of challenge, or just dip in and out for an objective or two makes it great. There’s no time pressure, no Metal Gear Solid half hour long mission briefings.
Just Raven, the not-Sean Bean voice of Control guiding him, and a metaphorical house of cards that needs toppling. I am going to keep playing this, because this is right up my proverbial street. Time and other constraints meant I didn’t finish the first Contracts, so this is my redemption right here. There’s some hunting trophies that need unlocking (being PlayStation and all) and I intend to bag a few of them.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 is a prime example of sequel done right. A few technical issues that highlight the mid-line entry of the game don’t dampen the experience. The sniping, its core tenet, is where the money is. About half a mile away, in someone’s head. Go and get your money’s worth.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 is available now on PlayStation 4 (reviewed on PS5), Xbox One and PC. An Xbox Series S|X and PS5 version is due out sometime later this year.
Developer: CI Games
Publisher: CI Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.