When creating a stealth game, a simple question needs to be answered: if the player were to step back and become a silent observer, would the actions they’ve been sent to disrupt (or antagonize) continue unimpeded? At their core, games built upon the foundation of stealth – that is, one where the player finds themselves embroiled in medias res – must feel organic if we are to immerse ourselves in them. Imagine a row of dominos, but with the second one in the series glued upright to the table; the first one will fall over, but that’s all you’re ever going to get.
Developed and published by CI Games, Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts was released on November 22nd, 2019, for PS4, PC, and Xbox One. The PC version was played for this review.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts (SGWC), the latest entry in the long-running series, has the veneer of that row of dominos: enemies patrol in somewhat unpredictable patterns while navigating buildings, making their way past other, beefier guards and hilly terrain with enough peaks, valleys, ledges, and crevices that allow you — the ballistic Michaelangelo — to paint your own Sistine Chapel of wanton violence.
But instead of handing you the paint brush, developer CI Games makes it abundantly clear that your fever dreams are nothing more than that as they replace your paints with a 12-pack of RoseArt crayons (not even Crayola!) and hand you a Paint-By-Numbers sheet of paper with one number for the whole sheet. That metaphor may have gotten out of hand, but you get the gist of what I’m trying to say.
It’s not simply the fact that SGWC is a bad game. It’s worse than that: it’s a bad game trying to trick you into thinking that it’s a good one by pulling liberally from that “other” game. You know, the one with the bald guy who has a barcode on the back of his head. It borrows so much that you begin to wonder just how CI Games got away with it at all. All five of the missions in SGWC initiate with the same stylized recreation of the target(s) you’re after, complete with narration by a shadowy, British liaison, in this case named “Handler.” You, the player, control “Seeker,” a masked soldier who apparently needs money and doesn’t say much apart from an occasional quip about the weather and, oddly enough, if these people really deserve to be killed. After you’ve killed them.
A Man Wears a Mask
The mask isn’t just for show (although I suspect it is because CI Games couldn’t be bothered to come up with an actual face for Seeker). It’s also a state-of-the-art HUD, allowing you to mark targets, highlight interactable objects throughout the mission, and alert you if you’re in the process of being spotted. Upgrades are also available for purchase at the beginning of each mission, provided that you’ve accumulated enough of the proper currency by completing main and sub-objectives, giving you access to enemy pathing, line-of-sight, and so on.
Seeing as how the upgrades run the gamut, it’s entirely up to you and your playstyle to determine whether each one is worth the investment. Gadgets are another potential way to spend your credits. Bouncing Betty mines, flash grenades, warning devices that alert you to approaching enemies while you’re prone, stun bombs, anti-tank explosives, and even a fully autonomous drone are all at your disposal throughout the game, although many of them will be passed over entirely because, well, bombs make noise. A lot of it.
Missions generally follow the same script throughout the game: there’s one or two Very Bad Guys who are doing Bad Things. They must be stopped, and evidence of their Bad Things must be obtained so that the Good Guys who are doing Good Things can keep the cycle from repeating. In your way are multitudes of Regular Bad Guys keeping you from reaching the Very Bad Guys. These RBGs come in a variety of flavors, such as Sniper Bad Guy, Minigun Bad Guy, Grenade Launcher Bad Guy, and on and on we go. Sometimes they travel in twos or threes, at which point you have to determine which one is going to be trailing a little behind so that you can kill him first, and his “friends” will literally be none the wiser. Unless, of course, the game bugs out and an RBG in a completely different portion of the map becomes alerted, triggering every other RBG, forcing you to wait several minutes until they decide that whoever killed their comrade is gone forever.
And that brings us to the very core of SGWC and why it’s bad: the bugs. In fact, there are so many of them that I literally messaged our Reviews Editor the morning after I received our test copy to ensure that I hadn’t in fact been given a copy without the Day One patches. No, he said, what I was given is what is supposed to be reviewed. Yikes.
Enemies will fall into terrain, giving them the ability to see through walls. Security cameras will continue functioning after they’ve been destroyed. An enemy whose head was just turned into a canoe will inexplicably get back up, become alerted that something is wrong (you think?), and then rally the other guards who don’t seem to mind that their fellow soldier is missing the majority of his head. A briefcase that is supposed to be picked up to complete an objective is on a desk, but disappears as it’s approached, leaving the objective unable to be completed. And those are just the common bugs.
I will admit the one thing that the game has going for it is its new Dynamic Reticle System (DRS). Combining both the range to your target and the effect that the wind will have on the trajectory of your shot, the DRS gives players the slightest amount of assistance in carrying out their kill. The onus still lay on the player to determine the distance of their potential shot as well as lead their target properly, but the feeling that comes with executing a flawless shot from over 600 meters away is a rush every single time. The DRS can be tweaked to your liking should you feel like it’s too much of a crutch, and it’s disabled by default on the hardest difficulty setting, allowing those who prefer a more pure sniping experience to proceed unassisted.
If You Don’t Look at It, It Can’t Hurt You
The graphics don’t help, either. Running with every setting on Ultra at 1440p, the environmental textures outside of the kill shot cutscene (also borrowed from that other sniper game) are laugh-out-loud bad. Snow looks like it’s straight out of Minecraft, branches on trees – and even the trees themselves – are blocky, splotchy eye sores. Enemies will light a stick of white pixels with a non-existent lighter, and a red pixel will be added to the end, at which point they’ll exhale…nothing. Sometimes the cigarette will disappear from their hand entirely. The lighting engine will produce glare in the most ridiculous places, sometimes even when it’s pitch black outside and there’s no reason for glare to even exist.
This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
In most cases, I would make my best attempt to give a game the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, bugs or shoddy graphics be damned. But not this time. SGWC is a mess from top to bottom, and even its moments of enjoyment are not worth the head-spinning number of missteps.
Review copy provided by CI Games for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.