STAFF REVIEW of Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 (Xbox One)

Wednesday, August 11, 2021.
by Brent Roberts

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 Box art Over the years there have been many weapons in first person shooter games, but arguably the one weapon most sought after and talked about as a "skill" weapon is the sniper rifle. This weapon is designed to deliver halos to unsuspecting individuals from hundreds and thousands of meters away. In the past we've been fortunate to have amazing sniper games that highlighted the stealth, decision making and even targeted kill shots, and now CI games has taken this beloved weapon and opted for a different approach in their latest release, Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts 2. This is a different approach from other sniper games, so let's dive right in and figure out what is a hit and miss with this newest entry.

If you haven't played any of the Sniper Ghost Warrior games, you take control of an operative named Raven. This individual is quite literally an army of one who is handled by a voice-only contact who provides mission intelligence pertaining to the various targets within your mission. Think of your handler as your guardian angel who is designed to do one thing, make sure you succeed. Throughout the missions you will engage in conversations with your handler about target acquisition methods, troop layout, movement patterns and much more. In Sniper Ghost Warrior 2 your primary objective is to dismantle an organized crime syndicate from seizing power over territory in Syria and Lebanon and are actively making strides to seize power and establish a corrupt foothold amongst the population. This is how the game breaks up your missions in to several different "segments".

You will see that there are only a few of these missions to select from and that's where this game's first blemish comes into play. It's not really a blemish because that describes something that tarnishes an object, but more of a deprivation move. The levels in other sniper games are wide open sandbox areas that offer a ton of options at your disposal as to how you wish to approach your situation. This game takes that concept and severely limits your options making things seem incredibly linear despite having a small sandbox map. This is caused by having only a few designated "pathways" that your character can move through, so total exploration is completely impossible. Let me explain a bit more.

You start out at an insertion point, from here you have multiple options or "paths" to take which is totally up to you how you wish to handle your objectives. You take whatever path you choose and that leads you to a sniping vantage point, which you then you can begin your reconnaissance of the surrounding environment and start tagging your enemies and noting their location, movement, etc. Once you've made your choice as to what your targets are and how you're going to proceed it's time to execute your plan. Once you've completed your tasks, it's up to you to choose another limited "path" choice to your next engagement zone. This literally makes the game feel like you're choosing your starting point but from there you just go from point A to B to C etc. whereas other games allowed you to explore other areas and were truly an open sandbox to play in.

During these missions you'll have not only multiple targets to eliminate but you'll have numerous challenges as well which is the heart of Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts 2. This is where CI is betting their chips on you replaying the levels to fulfill these challenges because this is where your primary source of income and unlocks come into play. Let's say you have a mission where you're supposed to kill a drug kingpin and the corrupt politician that is in league with them. You may have several challenges such as kill the kingpin with an explosion, kill the kingpin without raising an alarm, kill the kingpin while trying to escape, you get the idea. These challenges offer a wide variety of payouts such as $50,000 for killing with an explosion but $300,000 for killing while trying to escape and $25,000 for killing without raising an alarm.

However, going for one may lock you out of other challenges in the level because in every level there is a challenge for killing people in various "zones" without raising an alarm. So, for example, you may select to go for the higher payout of killing the kingpin while escaping. Well, for that to happen you have to have troops set off an alarm that will trigger the kingpin to make a run for it and allow you to kill them while escaping. The bad thing about that is there a challenge for killing everyone within the "zone" without raising an alarm. This is where the game will force you to replay the level as the game will lock you out of certain challenges depending on how you play the game. While this allows you to select how you want to play the game, you'll quickly learn that Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts 2 limits you to your options in order to fulfill challenges within the levels.

These levels are basically broken up into three different types: close engagement, medium engagement, far engagement and that should tell you the range in which you're going to be taking on your enemies. There is an issue though that I have with the game and that is with the AI, no matter the distance. Let's say you're 1,200 meters away from a target and you line up your shot and drop them. Congrats, you killed someone, now a roaming guard you didn't tag before shows up out of nowhere, sees the body then sets the whole compound on alert. Now, magically EVERYONE knows apparently where you took your shot from. This is, I'm assuming, because every enemy secretly knows the angle and trajectory of a round that just blew off half of an opponent's head. Now you'll get incoming fire (which also magically starts to hit you for whatever reason) and if that wasn't enough, you'll get a patrol unit to come to your area and start scanning for you, and should there be a mortar launcher in the compound then it'll start raining death upon you as well. How is this possible again? I understand it's the game's way of going after you, but this is ridiculous. You can't tell me some random guy who just finished having a smoke and stumbles across a fallen soldier and now instantly knows where you are. This is a big flaw in the game, especially when you realize how non-realistic the enemy interactions are.

Let's stay on that example of the soldier who discovers your body and instantly showcases their PhD in forensics by identifying your location. A security patrol is dispatched to your exact location and enemy fire starts pouring in on you as well. This continues for a couple tense minutes and then *poof* everything is back to normal again. The body of the soldier you killed is still laying headless on the ground but what once was an entire base alerting event now just turns into your basic "meh" moment and people just go back to their basic routines. I know this is a habit amongst MANY games and it never made sense in those games either and I'm guessing that I'll just have to sit and wait till some company takes a shot at correcting that. This type of discrepancy is highlighted the further out your contract is located.

That's not to say though that everything about this game is unrealistic because there's one thing that Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contract 2 does well, and that is the actual bullet mechanics of the sniper rifle itself. In Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 you can use the money you earn in the missions to buy different rifles which are classified into 3 categories such as light, medium and heavy. And I'm guessing I don't need to point out the differences and tradeoffs (power for silence, stability for maneuverability, etc.) but this game allows you to customize your weapon from multiple areas such as the magazine, barrel, and what you'll be using the most, your scope. I should point out that I'm all for giving players options, but let's be realistic here, I have never known someone to say, "boy I want that ****ty weapon because this one with such maxed-out stats just makes playing the game less fun". This means that in Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 you can make do with a medium rifle for almost everything and after you save enough money you can outright by the best weapons in the game and go to town, but in doing so, will you honestly ever buy the lower quality weapons? No. So why have them then?

This concept also applies to a scope. You'll have one that offers 3 different magnification levels and no distance adjustment and then you'll have one that will enable you to see the individual eyes of a fly from 10 miles away and adjust to everything in between. I wonder what scope you're going to buy. Same with the clip. Your killed enemies will provide resources when you loot their bodies which can include refilling your primary ammo, pistol ammo, equipment and more. What this means is that you will always have 'options' for restocking and refilling ammo, so why again do you need to hold more rounds if you're almost always going to be full? Having completed the game I can say that I never once ran into an issue where my ammo went dry so I don't know why someone would waste an upgrade on being able to hold more ammo of which you'll never run out of. The game though does a fantastic job at showing you how your upgrades will impact your weapon stats, but being a sniper game we all know that sound suppression is key, firepower follows that next then stability and so on. To me this is a concept that many games have adopted and to this day I'm still puzzled as to why.

The upgrading though doesn't stop at your weapon though, there are new gadgets as well such as a sniper turret that can target up to 3 enemies, drones that can hit enemies with poison darts, and that's pretty much it. You have a mask throughout the game (in fact the only time you see any sort of face is in the artwork for the game itself) and this mask allows you to activate what I call "batman detective mode" as you can see your environment blanketed in a geometric pattern of orange lines that can highlight interactive objects, climbable ledges and that's about it. This mask can also be upgraded along with all your gadgets but there are a few issues with items such as the drone and remote sniper turret. The drone is a wonderful option for stealth, however, to combat this obvious avenue of potential spam, the developers put up "anti-drone towers" (clever name) that emit a signal that will not only block your drone signal but also destroy it should it get too close. Throughout the game I honestly barely used my drone, not because I didn't want to, but because there were so many of those ****ing towers that it made use of it almost worthless. There's another issue as well with the sniper turret and that's it's firing mechanism.

So let's have this example: You're 1,000 meters out from a compound. You see 2 guards patrolling the grounds, a sniper up on a high perch and a guard at the back gate. You scan these enemies and mark them for your turret (which maxed out in this example will go after 3 enemies) and you decide that out of the 4 targets you're going to go after the sniper. You fire off your shot to engage and you take out the sniper, now you need to press in the Right Stick to fire your sniper turret, FOR EVERY TARGET. What does this mean? Your turret doesn't just fire automatically on the targets after you pull the trigger, YOU have to control that. This means that using it to target groups of 2 or more enemies together is not ideal unless you're going to target the other enemies within the group because before you have time to pull the second shot from your turret, they have already sounded an alarm. This is where killing two enemies with one shot quickly becomes a skill you will have to master if you wish to remain undetected.

This brings me to the kill sequences of Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts 2. There are moments when you will be engaged in hand-to-hand combat with enemies and have the ability to interrogate them. This, in theory, should benefit your character by pointing out troop locations, supply depots, collectibles and more. I say in theory because normally after the first two enemies you interrogate, you'll find that the rest literally have nothing to say, and you start getting the same type of conversation loop and animation sequence which can be repetitive. Side note: This is why I just went to upgrade my close quarters combat to automatically loot enemies I kill from behind. We all know though that the highlight of any sniper game is to see the impact of your round upon the flesh of your enemies and graphically this game delivers on that front, but again, comes up short.

I was debating whether or not I would mention this, but I believe it has to be said. The targeting of the individual organs of Sniper Elite series is FAR superior to this game in every possible way. Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts 2 does a fantastic job recycling similar kill animations that boil down into 3 categories:

1. You blow half a section of your opponent’s head off in grotesque fashion.
2. You create a nice linear stream of blood from an exit wound.
3. You see a faint red splatter and the enemy just drops.

That pretty much sums up the kill sequences using your sniper rifle and the bullet animations also become tediously repetitive to the point where I turned them off after the second mission and that's a massive disappointment to me. That's because Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts 2 is a beautifully stunning game and delivers quality sandbox environments that feel unique to each mission. The little details of the environment such as running rivers, trees and even server rooms really help you submerge yourself within the role of your character. With all of this beauty at your disposal why couldn't you target an enemy's lungs? Or throat? Eyes? You get the point. Why graphically limit yourself to one of three outcomes? This monotony is why I ended up playing through a lot of this game using just the basic silenced pistol they give you at the beginning and trying to just harness my inner John Wick and just fluidly and rapidly dispatch enemies and use the sniper rifle when I need to.

This also isn't the only element I'm calling wasted with this game. The game itself gives you the option to have a secondary weapon which can range from SMGs to Assault Rifles and I'm here thinking, what's the point of that? Your regular silenced pistol will eliminate almost anyone within 20 meters that isn't a heavy soldier, so why again do you need a loud assault rifle? One may argue that it's for protection should you be spotted and a squad sent after you, but my claim is that if you're good, then you shouldn't BE spotted, so again, that makes the weapon worthless. I can honestly say that throughout my gameplay I never used that secondary weapon and primarily used my pistol and only occasionally my sniper rifle.

That got me thinking, why would this be more entertaining to NOT use a sniper rifle in a game designed for sniper rifle use? While the gameplay mechanics of Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts 2 are quite clunky with regards to climbing, all other movement is relatively smooth. This is a blessing when you're trying to line up that shot at 1,500 meters on a moving target. This is also where I rapidly became aware at just how bad of a shot I am. Let me paint you a picture here. I've managed to work myself into a position where I have a view on a drug compound. Enemies everywhere including two snipers. I decide to target the snipers first and on Easy mode I have a nice white cascading line that showcases me what the wind is going to do to the bullet after firing, plus I get this nice bright red circle that indicates a kill shot. This then basically simplifies the game to "pull trigger only when red circle is lit up". Ok, so here I am thinking I'm so good that I decide to put it on extreme difficulty to see what it was like. I look through the scope and *poof* nothing. I have my basic lines from the scope itself but that's it. So I thought, ok no problem, I vaguely remember the direction, wind, elevation, and so on so I should be good. I decide to go after those snipers again.

I line up the shot to where I think it's going to go. Hold my breath to steady the shot, and BAM! Fire off a round. I see the bullet travel through the sky and the wind taking it where I thought it would go, but I noticed something. The trajectory of the bullet was dropping a lot faster than I had planned. Then the next thing I know *PING* the bullet hits a roof tile of the compound below the sniper position. Within a blink of an eye both snipers see it, instantly lock onto my position and fire. Upon my respawn I thought I would try it again. This time I hit a window which again, caused my location to be aware to everyone and my life was considerably shortened. I put the controller down and started to contemplate my life after that one. Not because I'm a horrible shot and the difficulty is off the charts, but that this game delivers absolutely fantastic realism when it comes to the firing mechanics of the sniper rifle itself. It really made more aware of the brave men and women of military forces who choose to become snipers and the skill required to hit a target over one mile out. That's where this game really shines.

Even though there are only 5 missions, Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 does a wonderful job highlighting the actual mechanics of what it takes to be a sniper when it comes to planning your shots. Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts 2 takes a lot of what was fantastic of the original game and improves upon it in many ways. A graphically beautiful sandbox game that blends strategy and gameplay into an incredible tactical experience and a realistic firing mechanism that immerses you into a real-world situation. This game does have its faults and shortcomings, and yes, sadly it has a lot of them, but that didn't stop Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts 2 from finding the target even if it wasn't a bullseye.

**Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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