It's no secret that CI Games' Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 missed the mark on some occasions. It was a game that wanted to fulfil all three pillars labelled in the title, but some elements of the open-world title felt lacklustre, which is why the developer is changing things up a bit with Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts, a game that we got a hands-off demo and a gameplay session of at E3 this year. And so we suited up for the cold weather and hunted our target down in LA.
You see, the level we played took place in Siberia (as does the entire game), and it's much the same as we've seen before - there's a Russian bad guy with a dangerous experiment/weapon and he needs to be taken out. The trouble is, you need to deploy and exfiltrate to be successful in the mission and that means you can't just snipe your target from afar and expect to be a success.
Another big change this time around is the fact that the game is level-based as opposed to open world, which makes it feel a little like IO Interactive's Hitman in the sense that you have a target, and CI Games has constructed a sandbox map with multiple choices as to how you approach things, with extra objectives in there as well. You can replay each level to get a higher score or a more perfect assassination, and there are even Rivals that come into the map as well, who are after the same contracts as you. It all feels packed with stuff, but time will tell whether this is actually to the game's benefit or not.
When it comes to the actual gear, of course, we have the sniper in our hands and we're tasked with using it to take targets out at long range. Those who want an assisted experience can have a UI indicator which shows where to aim to account for wind and bullet drop, but we were told by art director Rick Nath that these assists can be totally removed for those who want a more hardcore experience. You even have to calibrate your scope by looking at the target's distance when you tag them and then adjusting the scope accordingly.
Just like with Sniper Elite, hitting that perfect shot slows time down and gives you a closeup of the bullet hitting your victim (although without x-ray vision), and you have to be very careful where you're slaying enemies, as you need to make sure their body isn't discovered and the alarm raised, as that makes everything much harder for you. Enemies start running around looking for a sniper once this happens, and so you want to make sure you calmly tag enemies, pick them off one by one, and hide bodies where they can't be found, like in bushes perhaps.
It's not all sniping though, as you also need other gadgets at your disposal. A silenced pistol is at your side for close-quarters firepower, albeit with limited ammunition, and there are also silent takedowns to perform on unsuspecting enemies, mines that can cover your rear in the event of someone sneaking up on you, and more. There's a lot to toy around with, and it just compounds the Hitman comparisons further.
You earn cash and tokens from your time in these sandboxes, and these can be spent on upgrades for your character. That's why there's an incentive to be as ghostly as possible when you're after your target. That's also why it's worth going after the side challenges and extra bounties on the map since the extra challenges yield extra rewards.
At the heart of it lies the same Sniper Ghost Warrior experience we all remember, with a focus on first-person sniping that can be as hard or as easy as you wish. The format has changed but the moment-to-moment gameplay is much the same, so if you've played 3 and want to see what's up here, you should know that before you gear up for this Siberian adventure. That said, the level-based approach makes us interested to see what Contracts can deliver since it looks to be more of a sandbox experience this time around. If these maps all feel fresh and engaging to explore, we could have a dramatic improvement on our hands when it comes to the series. We'll just have to wait and see whether that's the case.