Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 Review
Not worth raven about..
While the sniper rifle is standard issue in almost every first-person shooter, few games manage to capture the challenge and coldblooded thrills of being an actual expert marksman. At its best, Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 does a good job of satisfying the desire to splatter bad guy brains with a buzzer-beating bullet from way downtown – but it all too quickly unravels into an average action game the moment your cover is blown.
In Contracts 2 you slip on the augmented reality equipped mask of Raven, a super soldier in possession of steady aim and a penchant for a particularly deadly form of social distancing. Raven may be a newcomer to the series, but his mission will be eminently familiar to anyone who played the previous game since it centres around yet another tale of international espionage and political upheaval, told very loosely by forgettable flurries of mugshots and confidential documents that put the ‘brief’ into pre-mission briefings.
The mission structure, however, is slightly different to that of 2020’s Contracts. Whereas the last game presented you with a series of sandboxes to sneak around in, Contracts 2 brings some welcome variety by alternating between two traditional open mission areas and three concentrated ‘long shot’ contracts. The latter restrict your movement to smaller maps, such as the top of a mountain range, but task you with eliminating targets that are in some instances over a thousand metres beyond your perimeter. I found these long distance executions to be the strongest sections of Contracts 2. Zeroing your scope, adjusting your aim for wind and bullet drop and then nailing a headshot in another postal code remains thrilling long after the novelty of the skull-shattering slow-mo gore shots has worn off, but the annoyingly accurate return fire from humble enemy assault rifles at such long ranges admittedly shatters the sense of realism somewhat.
Enemy soldiers might be blessed with supernatural levels of precision, but their actual smarts aren’t nearly as sharp. At times they show some signs of tactical nous, by tossing a smoke grenade to mask their movements or bombing your last known position with a mortar strike in the more open areas, for example. But mostly they’re far too easily dispatched, either with a long range headshot or, should you miss and therefore raise an alarm, by simply hiding in the nearest bush with a silenced pistol and calmly picking them off as they form an orderly queue like it’s all-you-can-eat night at the Hot Lead buffet.
Since I only faced the same handful of recycled enemy types over the course of Contracts 2’s 12-hour campaign, I found myself becoming increasingly cavalier with my infiltration methods because I knew that no matter how many CCTV cameras or automated gun turrets were alerted to my presence I could always fall back on the old conga line of carnage method to reduce each area’s enemy numbers down to zero. This gave each objective an air of predictability, and it didn’t help that the bulk of Contracts 2’s key targets and optional bounties lack the flexibility and flair of the more devious assassinations in Io Interactive’s Hitman series in order to make them each feel unique. I certainly didn’t go in expecting to be able to disguise myself as a sad clown or sushi chef, but I do wish there were more interesting ways to snuff out each mark. It’s effectively just spot the target, shoot the target, and move on to the next.
What the best game in the Sniper series?
There are also non-assassination objectives in most levels, typically involving the planting of explosives to sabotage stockpiles of enemy weaponry or the uploading of viruses into mainframe computers. Much of this is pretty stock standard, although I did enjoy the rare occasions I was able to use my sniper skills for non-lethal means, like when I had to take out three sets of revolving gears situated around a massive satellite antenna. The fact that these gears seemed to be exposed for no other reason than to be specifically shot at by a meddling sniper did seem a little contrived, but I was happy to forgive it in a Death Star exhaust port design flaw sort of way.
Scope for Improvement
Speaking of design flaws, Contracts 2 features a skill tree for Raven along with an expandable arsenal of rifles, sidearms, and gadgets, but it all feels decidedly non-essential given that the missions don’t really scale in difficulty nor do they feature any objectives that demand experimentation with alternative weapon loadouts. Aside from adding silencers to my weapons early on, I actually forgot about the progression system entirely until I got to the very last mission, at which point I just spent all the cash and skill points I’d racked up in one go purely for the sake of it. Some of it would have been useful in retrospect, such as the motorised gadget that allows you to use ziplines in reverse, but the bulk of the health and armour upgrades I was very easily able to do without.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 Screenshots
This largely unnecessary upgrade system also makes the optional level challenges seem redundant for anyone who isn’t an absolute completionist. There are cash and skill point bonuses to be earned for killing five enemy snipers with melee attacks or eliminating a key target without raising an alarm, but I wasn’t compelled to retry any objectives in order to complete these challenges both because I didn’t need the rewards and also because none of them seemed particularly imaginative. There’s clearly been a lot of work put into each of Contracts 2’s settings, particularly in the massive Mount Kuamar map that stretches from mountainous forest areas down to multiple levels of a subterranean, Bond villain-like lair, but I passed through all of it once, never to return again.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 blows off a heck of a lot of heads, but never managed to blow my mind. Its long range sniper shots feel genuinely satisfying to pull off, but the enemy AI is so dimwitted it almost seems cruel to kill them. With an upgrade system that’s largely skippable and mostly uninspired mission challenges, Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 is a competent sniper sim that lacks the edge required to be a real sharpshooter.
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Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 review
Infiltrate bases and turn skulls into jelly in this well-crafted sniper sim., our verdict.
Blending classic stealth mechanics with puzzle-y sniping, Contracts 2 gets the job done.
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What is it? Sniper stealth game with massive, open-ended levels Expect to pay: $40/£35 Developer: CI Games Publisher: CI Games Reviewed On: AMD Ryzen 5 3600, Nvidia GeForce 2080 Super, 32 GB RAM Multiplayer? No Link: Official site
Clumsy title aside, Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 wastes no time getting to the good stuff. After a briefing that explains your motivations and a quickfire tutorial mission that instructs you on the fundamentals of sniping, you're prowling the desert of Kuamar, sneaking your way to the first overlook position. Time to first stealth kill? Maybe 15 minutes. Time to first sniper kill? Also 15 minutes, depending on your approach. Within half an hour you're perched on a clifftop scoping out a container port over a kilometre away. You'll never visit this port physically but your presence will be felt there, mainly in the cranial region.
Having gradually refined Ghost Warrior over five games, developer CI Games clearly understands the experience it's after, and Contracts 2 delivers it with a quiet confidence. You're Raven, a crack-shot killer-for-hire dispatched to the Middle Eastern state of Kuamar to prevent a war. Your target is Bibi Rashida, Kuamar's de-facto head of state after the president, her husband, was assassinated by a neighbouring country. Rashida's planned military response threatens to destabilise the region, inflating oil prices and crippling Western economies. Your job is to undermine the regime by taking out Rashida's cronies, which includes rogue hackers and disgraced SAS soldiers, before eliminating Rashida herself.
Your effort to dismantle Rashida's regime is spread across five missions. This may not sound like much, but Contracts 2's missions are enormous. So big, in fact, they're referred to in-game as "Regions," which is a fair appraisal. Each Region is a vast expanse of meticulously crafted terrain that includes multiple objectives and various paths between them. Some locations you visit, such as a giant medieval castle that has both an inner and outer fort, would form the entire level in any other game.
Contracts 2's missions are divided into two categories. "Classic" contracts are familiar infiltration tasks, where you use a combination of sniping and stealth to physically sneak into locations to assassinate targets and sabotage equipment. But newly introduced to Contracts 2 are "Long Shot" contracts. These involve slipping through guard patrols to reach designated Overlook positions, lofty perches from which you snipe at targets over a kilometre away. They aren't simply a case of finding the target, popping their braincase, and moving on: Each long shot objective is an elaborate sniping puzzle where you use your sharpshooting skills to manipulate both enemies and the environment.
An early example involves assassinating a target at a solar farm, but the target is hiding inside the farm's main building. To draw him out, I had to first disable the farm by shooting the control boxes that enable it to harvest electricity. Most of the boxes have multiple guards lurking nearby, which meant I also had to take them out to stop them raising the alarm when the bullets struck the control boxes. Every shot I took was fraught with tension, as bullets take a good five seconds to travel that distance, and I was never 100% certain whether a shot would hit its target, or how knocking over that particular domino might cause the rest to fall.
The puzzle-like structure of these missions elevates Contracts 2 beyond a simple head-popping simulator. The design is clearly inspired by IO's recent Hitman trilogy. Like Hitman, these contracts are built with replayability in mind. Each mission has its own set of challenges: killing targets in different ways, getting ten kills over a certain distance, killing ten counter-snipers with melee sneak attacks.
Succeeding in a challenge nets you additional income to spend on new weapons, weapon mods, and gadgets. The latter includes a reconnaissance drone and an automated sniping-turret designed to enable synchronised kill-shots. I found the drone was only intermittently useful, as many locations where it feels natural to deploy it are protected by invulnerable radio scramblers that render the drone inoperable. The automated turret, however, is extremely cool.
Using it is almost like playing a cooperative game with yourself. You place it in a separate location so you can sync up shots on guards you otherwise can't see. But I also liked deploying it as a backup while sneaking into a facility, giving me a quick way to deal with guards I suspected might cause trouble while infiltrating.
While the long shot missions are Contract 2's most significant new feature, the game's best mission is actually a classic contract. Named Mount Kuamar, it sees you on the trail of Rashida's hacker pal Lars Hellstrom, who has built himself a supercomputer housed within a heavily fortified concrete bunker known as the Citadel. First, you must disrupt the Citadel's exterior communication network, which includes a huge satellite array and a water pumping station (presumably for coolant), all connected by a massive network of underground tunnels. The mission culminates with a descent into the Citadel itself, slipping through layers of automated turrets before entering Hellstrom's inner sanctum.
It's proper James Bond stuff, a joy from start to finish.
Contracts 2's blend of classic and long shot missions helps fix a problem Ghost Warrior has struggled with for a while. Sniping in and of itself can get repetitive quickly, but physically infiltrating bases is the opposite of how a sniper operates. By combining Splinter Cell-like stealth missions with long-range shooting puzzles, Ghost Warrior can have its cake and eat it.
This works because the challenges involved in each mission type feel very different, requiring you to adjust your tactics and equipment accordingly. Long-range sniper rifles, for example, cannot be silenced, so it's wise to use other weapons and equipment to deal with guard patrols. You can't just sneak your way through, either, as any guards close to an overlook point will converge on your position the moment you take your first shot. On the other hand, light sniper rifles used in classic contracts can be silenced, lending greater flexibility about when you snipe. But you're also physically in the mix with enemies, meaning that staring down a scope leaves you vulnerable to being attacked from the flanks.
Contracts 2 delivers both experiences capably. The sniping feels authentic and can be adjusted to be as easy or difficult as you like. And more generally, Contracts 2 just looks and feels great. Movement and combat are weighty and purposeful, while a huge amount of attention has been given to animation, environment design, and weapon handling.
The excellent presentation extends to the writing and voice acting. Contracts 2 isn't an exercise in jingoistic self-aggrandisement like Call of Duty has become. It takes a cold and darkly satirical view of contract killing and military intervention in the Middle East. The game is completely open about how your job is to keep oil prices high and Western economies afloat, an objective that leads to an amusing twist later in the game. On the lighter side, Contracts 2 also has some wonderful guard banter. They talk about their pets, complain about being henpecked by their wives, and wonder aloud whether they're characters in a videogame.
There are a few idiosyncrasies lingering from past Ghost Warrior games, particularly within the save system and enemy AI. Contracts 2 has an autosave system that disables itself when you're either in combat or close to an enemy. It's an unnecessarily convoluted system that could be easily avoided by simply letting players quicksave. And the AI really needs a secondary state between "passive" and "every guard in the area knowing exactly where you are." Stealth games are always more fun when they give you a chance to correct a mistake, to stop a guard sounding the alarm or calling in an alert. Having entire bases light up when you miss a single shot is frustrating rather than fun.
These issues aside, I'm impressed by Contracts 2. I like its Ronseal approach to executing its design, that it doesn't get distracted by tacking on a multiplayer mode or adding a loot system. The maps are fantastic, the sniping is great, the long-shot contracts are smartly conceived and fun to tinker with. A perfectly enjoyable stealth sandbox.
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