TL;DR: Cool sniper games with great mechanics that make long shots very satisfying to pull of. Recommend if you like sniping games overall.
Yes, I still like my sniper games. Can’t help it. Why get up close when I can switch off someone’s lights at 250m distance (or more)?
CI Games have been developing the SGW franchise for quite some time now. In contrast to Rebellion’s Sniper Elite series, which throws you into varying WW2 scenarios, SGW is generally set in the modern days. Also, where Sniper Elite has you play the same character throughout, SGW so far has had different settings and characters in each game.
The first SGW was not a ‘pure’ sniper game, as you changed perspectives between sniper and infantry in the same campaign. That approach was ditched for game #2 and its DLC for a fairly linear campaign in which you always play a sniper. SGW3 then tried an open world approach and a bit of a plotline, in which the main character was looking for his missing brother.
So far the series and its varying approach has always been overshadowed a bit by the more refined, consistent mechanics of Sniper Elite. That might change with the Contracts games, because the mechanics in these are close to brilliant.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts abandoned the idea of a contiguous story, instead weaving no more than a loose plotline around the scenarios it serves up. You’re a contract killer employed to ‘pacify’ a former Russian territory gone independent, and along the way you have to take out both criminals and politicians (and countless soldiers along with them). It is not fully clear to me whether the game treats its choice of scneario and plot in a deeply cynical manner or whether it’s just completely unapologetic about it. At any rate, it’s mainly a vehicle to toss the player into an environment and make them spend several hours on each taking out targets, clearing outposts, finding intel and staying alive through all of it.
CI Games took a leaf out of Rebellion’s book for the map design. Not an open world, but maps that, while not being overly big - you could hoof it from one end to the other in a few minutes - feel expansive, mainly due to the presence of very intricately weaved pathways and passages that allow you to approach your objectives from different angles. They don’t get it quite as right as Rebellion, in that sometimes the maps are just a smidgen too cramped to really evoke that expansive feeling, but it largely works. In SGWC1, the game regularly sets you up for shots measuring 300m and more.
And those shots are great fun to take. The sniping mechanics in these games are something to behold. In SGWC1, the hallmark red dot which indicates where to aim is gone completely, even on the lowest difficulty (though the second game brings it back on the lowest difficulty level and makes it optional on the second lowest). This encourages (and on higher difficulties forces) you to use the range finder and scope adjustment properly, and plan your shots. It’s a bit daunting, because the first game starts you out on a somewhat underwhelming snow map, at night, with bad weather and low visibility. Miss a shot, and in no time you’ll have hostiles all over you like honey on a hot slice of toast. But once you get the hang of the mechanics, you’ll be popping heads at 300m with great accuracy and regularity.
SGWC2 introduces ‘Long Shot contracts’ - and starts you off with one of those straight off the bat. You get a high-powered scope on your rifle with a 24x zoom and 1500m adjustment range. Then you make your way through a map, trying to reach one of several sniping spots, at each of which you’ll look at a target area between 900 and 1500m away, and are tasked with eliminating key targets. This is usually a bit of an environmental puzzle, because the target is either hiding or steadily moving, and there are lots more hostiles present. You can’t afford to alert them, because it means the target will book it, and you’ll have to reload and try again. It also means that everyone around will home in on you, and once that’s the case, you’re ususally dead in seconds. These long shots are freakishly difficult to pull off, but very satisfying when they land. On the way to those sniping spots, you have to deal with more hostiles, which you can’t just snipe, as the rifle you’ve been given does not have a suppressor.
Being set in modern times, the game gives you a number of gadgets to play with, but to be honest, so far I haven’t made much use of them. The coolest one is easily the remote-controlled sniper turret. You can for example set this one up in a high spot, then sneak around, mark hostiles close up and use the turret to take them out. It also works extremely well as a decoy, to the point that hostiles who spot it are completely focused on it and pay no attention to you. Very nifty is also the option to pull off sync shots. If you have two hostiles, mark one for the turret, and trigger it at the same time as you shoot the other - a great way to pull off quick double kills without the risk of raising an alarm.
On the downside, there are a few bugs especially in Contracts 1, I got stuck in the scenery several times while crouched or prone, and once even fell into a crevice and couldn’t get out again. Contracts 2 generally seems a bit more polished especially with regards to the interface, but I haven’t gotten past the first mission yet. In Contracts 1, all you get is checkpoints, and they’re far enough apart that dying can be quite punishing because you have to replay a fair bit of the map. In Contracts 2 you get regular autosaves in addition to checkpoints, but the autosaves happen almost too often. In a Long Shot scenario, where you’ll reload regularly, at some point the ‘good’ autosave disappears because there’s only 5 slots, and then you have to replay from an earlier checkpoint.
And while the concept of ‘Bounties’ - high value targets which are optional but net additional rewards - is pretty cool, they could have approached it slightly differently. In Contracts 1, you may be alerted that you’re entering a Bounty area, at which point you have two options: follow through, or back off and miss out. If you leave the Bounty area without completing it, you can’t come back later - the Bounty will disappear.
The games are of average length - either can be finished in less than 10 hours. I have 18 hours on record for Contracts 1, but at least 6 of those are due to me having to retry some large sections several times - I probably spent two hours on a single bounty alone, failing it several times but not wanting to back out.
All in all, if you’ve enjoyed either Sniper Elite or the previous SGW games, there’s not much you can do wrong with these two.