Dead Before He Heard the Shot

HIGH Getting a headshot while sliding into an enemy base.

LOW The extended underground swimming sequence.

WTF Yup, that’s definitely an eye flying away in slo-mo.

In a fundamental way, Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 is the game that IO Interactive almost keeps making. Ever since Hitman: Absolution they’ve released a sniping minigame alongside each new Hitman. These small offerings seat the player a long distance from an elaborate installation full of enemies and clever ways of killing the targets. Fans have clamored for an entire game in this style, but IO has not produced one.

With this in mind, the pitch meeting for Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 likely consisted of a single sentence — “Well, if they’re not going to…”

Following the template of its predecessor to a T, SGWC2 follows the adventures of Raven, a sniper in the employ of a sinister organization. Once again, the player is dispatched to execute the leaders of a country with desirable resources so that heads of state with more amenable policies can be installed.

This nefarious plot is accomplished over the course of five missions — it doesn’t sound like much, but each one is surprisingly huge. Two are traditional FPS commando affairs, with the player sneaking into guarded facilities to sabotage equipment and execute people. The other three are the game’s main feature — extreme range sniping. Shots in this mode start at 900m and go all the way out to 1.5km. These missions have standard FPS sections as well, with the player guiding Raven to different overwatch positions where they have an angle on the targets.

These extreme-range encounters are SGWC2‘s best feature by a mile. The FPS sequences are fine, with the player able to use gadgets like poison dart drones and auto-sniper turrets to take on various outposts, but they’re nothing players haven’t seen before. The sniping, on the other hand, is the best the series has ever offered. It takes the traditional gadget ammo types — EMP rounds, tagging bullets, high-explosive — and turns them into pieces of a puzzle that they have to solve. First, binoculars are used to tag enemies and look for exploitable sections of the environment, and then the sniper rifle comes out. Each lookout has a set of challenges that reward the player for killing targets in a specific way, but the ultimate goal is always the same — kill every enemy in the base without anyone noticing they’re under attack.

This is accomplished with a mixture of practiced sniping and proper use of special ammunition. SGWC2‘s arsenal is impressive in that it offers a dozen different rifles, each one designed for a different kind engagement. Semi-autos for players who want to charge into battle headfirst, perfectly silenced rifles for slaughtering without raising the alarm, and giant monster rifles for disabling vehicles a mile away. The sniping has a feeling of verisimilitude to it, with windage and drop to consider for each shot. It manages to stay accessible through with a great easy mode, though. Instead of the traditional ‘every shot hits the center of the crosshairs‘ approach, SGWC2 puts a red dot where the bullet is going to hit, and the player is asked to do the aiming themselves. The end result is that it trains players how to do sniper calculations instead of just doing it for them.

While the action here is great, the story is a little worrying for two reasons. The first is fairly obvious — it’s about a bunch of Westerners overthrowing a government in the Middle East for financial benefit. It’s hard to tell that kind of a story without making one faux pas or another, and SGWC2 makes a big one by failing to make clear that this isn’t a good thing to do. The previous Contracts balanced its plot perfectly — there was the obvious story, in which Raven was being paid to remove the corrupt and brutal leadership of an Eastern European nation. Then there was the second-level plot, in which Raven’s missions focused on stealing technology and information. While the player may have been helping a country by getting rid of horrible leaders, they weren’t doing it for good reasons — the player was unquestionably the Bad Guy.

There’s no such depth to the plot this time around. The enemies are a nuclear threat that are also about to crash the global financial markets, so ‘they’ve got to go’ and there’s no reason given to question the organization’s motives since they’re portrayed as being in favor of global financial stability and are willing to dispatch special forces to help ensure it. In this respect, they’re basically indistinguishable from the US government. The script tries to end the story with a statement that regime change is always messy and maybe not worth the cost, but botches it with a reveal that frames the game in an East/West Cold War context, making it feel even more like Raven isn’t working for a global criminal syndicate at all, but perhaps the CIA?

If one can stomach the questionable story choices, Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 has some of the most engaging sniping action around. Whether a player wants to simply click a button and watch a slo-mo bullet explode a head, or whether they want to be forced to calculate exactly how far an enemy will walk in the one and a half seconds between the bullet leaving the barrel and closing the deadly distance, SGWC2 scales exactly to any level of interest and skill. It may be brutally violent, but it’s an intensely satisfying sniper experience.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by CI and published by 505 Games. It is currently available on PC, XBX/S, PS. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 20 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: The game was rated M by the ESRB and contains Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, and Strong Language. Swearing, torture, drug and alcohol use, destabilizing the Middle East — this has everything a parent needs to keep kids far away from.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. I played most of the game without sound and encountered zero difficulties. There’s a detailed HUD onscreen that warns players of enemy position, alertness level, and what direction they’re being fired at from — the game couldn’t be any friendlier. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, the game’s controls are remappable.

Daniel Weissenberger
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