Dedicated sniper games are far and few in between. There are only 2 that provide detailed mechanics: the Sniper Elite series, which is set in WWII, and the Sniper Ghost Warrior series.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 is the a sequel to a spinoff from the Sniper Ghost Warrior franchise. In it you play Raven, a sniper-for-hire, who fulfills contracts provided by a mysterious agent with equally mysterious motives. Thankfully, you don’t have to have played the first Contracts in order to be able to enjoy the game.. In fact, I’d suggest you not play it at all, just to avoid marring the beauty of Contracts 2.
That’s not to say they are all that different, but the delivery here is so much better for the fact that it provides one major boost to gameplay: Extreme long-range shots. I begged CI to add this, and they did (although my guess is this was already in development before I wrote that piece).
With that said, let’s get into the review, starting with the sniping experience.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2’s sniper gameplay
First off, keep this in mind: The magic mask, a mechanic from SGW Contracts, is back. Even at the highest difficulty this mask will show windage adjustments needed within the reticle, so if you want a true, hardcore sniper experience, you’re not going to get it. However, given you don’t have a spotter, or the ability to adjust for windage via the turrets on your optics, we’re going to have to be willing to let it slide just for the sheer fact that sniping in games has always, historically, been a half-hearted implementation (unless you’re playing Arma 3 with ACE mods).
They did add something back from previous Sniper Ghost Warrior games, however: At lower difficulties, holding your breath will show a red dot pinpointing where your shot will land. This does lower the barrier for entry to gamers new to the sniper genre, which I’m certainly welcoming. The more people we get playing these games, the more chances we have to get more games with good sniper mechanics.
Also making a return are the “special” bullets. This includes Armor-Piercing (which is critical when not using a heavy rifle against heavily-armored foes), EMP (great for taking out vehicles, turrets and jammers), luring, tagging, explosive and A.G.I.L.E. (which is actually just the Darpa round from previous games in the series, that isn’t affected by wind or distance). While most are fairly unrealistic, it at least adds a little extra strategy to the game.
On top of this, you’ve got to choose the right rifle for the mission. Your choices are light, medium and heavy; Each also receives special options based on their classification. Light rifles allow for a canted red-dot sight that you can switch to for close range (as well as a suppressor), medium rifles offer slightly higher damage while typically allowing for suppressors and other barrel mods, and heavy rifles won’t require AP bullets to take down well-armored foes, and can equip a bipod (although they can’t be suppressed).
You can use any rifle for any mission you like; You can take light rifles for long-range contracts, and heavy rifles for classic contracts (although given they can’t be suppressed, you’ll be drawing enemies to you with every shot).
Regarding optics, all can equip short or long range scopes. The only reason to not take a long-range scope is the cost, but it’s fairly negligible. Even if you’re shooting at sub-600m ranges, it’s never a bad idea to take an extra-long-range scope just for the added zoom.
The Kill Cam Makes a Comeback
I already shared a variety of kill cam shots from SGW Contracts 2, and it’s probably one of the best kill cams I’ve seen. Details are absolutely gruesome, and it rarely fails to find just the right angle to showcase your expertise. From seeing your bullet fly through a tiny gap toward your foe..
To showcasing a little viscera..
To.. Well, the “ouch” moments.
If you’re not a fan of this, no worries! You can disable the kill cam entirely. If you want every shot you take to have it, you can bump up it’s frequency, too.
Enough will the reaching-out-and-wounding talk, though.. How about the stealth?
Stealth in Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2
While nobody really expects a sniper game to also be like Splinter Cell, Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 offers enough for stealth-minded folks to be able to really embrace a challenge. In fact, there are some subtle details here that impressed me.
CQB takedowns and interrogations, as seen above, are par for the course, and critical if you want to maintain situational awareness while within the enemy’s midst. While not anything fancy, they just plain work.
“Hiding in the tall grass” is a mechanic that is common in numerous stealth games, too. In Contracts 2, though, there is an extra bit of detail: After you shoot a weapon, you’ll become partially visible briefly.. So make sure those shots don’t miss!
Weapon mechanics themselves regarding stealth are hit and miss: You’ve got your standard pistol, a secondary rifle, and of course, your sniper rifle. You can get pretty close with a suppressed sniper rifle and go completely unnoticed, and pistols are almost guaranteed stealthy when suppressed. This is a bit arm-wavy here, as in real life suppressors aren’t quite the magic device they are in films and games, but the mechanics are needed to ensure a variety of gameplay options here.
You can also grab a bow (called the “Ram-Bow”) as your secondary “rifle”, which is great for stealth players.
All weapons have a noise stat that lets you know how loud they are; this basically determines how close you can be when you fire off a round without getting noticed.
When you fail at stealth, however, you should be prepared to hide, or get into a firefight, even when shooting from 1km+. Why? I’ll tell you why.
Mortars. Mortars will rain down on you like fire from the heavens, and once you hear them announcing mortar fire, you need to get away quick.
Even without mortar fire, you’ll have to contend with enemy snipers.. And even the regular grunts spraying & praying at you from far away. They’ll frequently miss, but all it takes is a few lucky shots and you’re dead.
Some missions will even have them send out teams to your location to flush you out, so be sure to have an escape plan ready.
Beyond that, stealth in general is fairly decent. You can even jump down on enemies from above and perform a takedown, although the instances where that is useful are pretty limited unless you’re trying to complete a challenge, which leads us to the next part of the review: The gameplay.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 gameplay
SGW Contracts 2 is a limited sandbox FPS RPG, essentially. You’ve got skills you can unlock via challenge tokens that’ll afford you and your equipment new abilities, but these aren’t critical to progressing in the game. In fact, you can beat the entire game without spending a single challenge token. That doesn’t mean they are worthless, however: If you want to complete specific challenges, or try a different approach to a mission, you’ll need to unlock a number of these.
You earn these challenge tokens, as well as cash to buy new gear, via completing missions, challenges, and more. Fancy a new rifle? Most can be purchased outright with cash earned from missions, but some will require what is known as “intel tokens”: You earn these by completing optional bounties, which can be spent (on top of cash) on unlocking a few rifles that are better than the standard fare. Once again, though, these aren’t critical: You can complete all the contracts with the 2 rifles you unlock in the first 2 missions.
The contracts themselves tend to have a fair amount of variety; you’re not just going to be taking people out from 1km+ away. You’ll be infiltrating bases to retrieve intel, plant explosives, and more.
There are 2 core types of contract areas: “Classic” is the standard mission-style in Contracts 2, where your engagements will typically be sub-600m, which means you are going to want to typically be very stealthy (especially at higher difficulties). “Long-range” contracts are the new ones, where you get to really reach out and shoot someone from a distance for the bulk of the contract. Of course, you won’t just be shooting enemies here: In one contract I had to disable 10 different oil pumps from over 1km away, with all sorts of extra challenges available in order to ensure replay value.
Speaking of replay value, Contracts 2 takes a page from Hitman in that each contract is designed to be played multiple times, in multiple ways. One contract actually has numerous challenges relating to exactly how I disposed of a specific target, each providing a different reward.
This is where the tools come into play: You carry a variety of equipment beyond your standard sniper rifle, secondary and pistol. Both the drone and the remote sniper turret make a comeback here, and both are needed to complete those extra challenges. They can be upgraded using your skill tree, allowing for additional gameplay mechanics. Want to engage targets at up to 1KM with the sniper turret? There is a skill for that. Want to shoot poison darts from your drone? That too.
Additionally, you’ve got the standard mines, grenades, decoys, warning devices, and more that have all had their spot in the SGW series, giving you plenty of ways to enjoy the game.
Overall, the game is fun, if a bit short. An experienced gamer can probably complete all the contracts (excluding challenges) within 30 hours of gameplay, but when taking your time and completing challenges, you should be able to expect 60+ hours worth of fun in the desert sun (assuming you play at higher difficulties, which I recommend).
Let’s get down to the cons, of which there aren’t many (thankfully).
The cons of Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2
Overall SGW Contracts 2 fills a much-needed gap in the sniper game niche, as well as stealth gaming. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, however.
There’s a lot of asset/animation usage from previous games in the series. While not a huge deal, I get tired of hearing the exact same sounds and seeing the exact same animations from prior releases.
As well, it seems that retaining corpses on the battlefield isn’t a priority. If you don’t loot someone in an area quickly enough, leave, and come back, that corpse will turn into this..
Speaking of looting, did you notice that you’ll typically get just a few rounds of ammo randomly from each corpse you loot? While I get that they don’t want to just provide you with 5 full mags every time you loot someone, it’s a little weird, to the say the least.
Speaking of ammo, one chief gripe I have is that the light & medium sniper rifles seem to have arbitrary damage stats, rather than anything plausible based on real-life.
For instance, a medium rifle I briefly used shoots a .338 round. .338 is a pretty powerful round itself, and is used to take down big game in the civilian world (assuming we’re talking about the standard .338 Lapua Magnum here). In SGW Contracts 2, however, your targets can shrug off a body shot and keep running from a .338. That just.. Doesn’t happen. At the very least, assuming they are wearing some seriously heavy ballistic protection, they will be knocked to the ground and have some cracked ribs.
As well, bullet velocity and drop seem to be consistent regardless of the rifle and ammo you use. While it’s certainly possible to take someone down from 1.6km away (my longest shot thus far was 1615m) with a 7.62 round (which is what I believe the light sniper rifles are chambered in), you’re going to be compensating for it a lot more than you would with a .338 or .50 BMG.
I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I wish there was a coop option here. Having a spotter handy would be a lot of fun when playing at deadeye difficulty, even though I despise multiplayer (because I’m old and crotchety and don’t want anybody to spoil my fun by showing me up).
Finally, like previous releases, micro-DLC abounds here already. There are numerous $10 or less DLCs in the Steam store currently for this game, just a week after release. Some include new weapons (none of which should be considered “pay to win”), while others are just skin packs.
These are all fairly minor gripes, however, so let’s ask the big question:
Should I buy Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2?
If you like sniper games OR stealth games, are OK with a little bit of arm-wavy magic, and want to shoot at long ranges with pretty graphics (I’m looking at you, Arma 3), yes!
If you want a hardcore sniper simulator with extremely realistic physics, mechanics, etc.. Maybe. I only say maybe because, honestly, the only option you’re going to have there is Arma 3 with the ACE mods, and that’s it. I don’t expect that there will ever be a true hardcore sniper sim out there. While sure, we get all sorts of great flight sims, driving sims, even farming sims, we don’t get sniper sims just because the niche is too small. HOWEVER, by purchasing this game and sharing your wish for more detailed sniper mechanics, perhaps we’ll finally see some growth in the genre.