Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts – Hands-On Impressions & Developer Interview

Last week, I had the opportunity to play some of Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts, the latest in CI games’ first-person sniping game franchise. I was also able to chat with some members of the CI team about the game. So, how’d it go? Read on to find out!

I’m pleased to say I had a wonderful time with the game itself. The sniping gameplay is wonderfully meaty and satisfying, and it’s paired with a gorgeous visual style to create an experience that feels as brutal as it does cinematic. Contracts draws inspiration from stealth greats like Hitman and Metal Gear, but the end result is something all its own and definitely worth experiencing in its own right. I will have a full review of the game up closer to the game’s release, but know that this game really felt special.

Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts Dev Interview

I also had the pleasure of sitting down with CI Games’ Michał Jaworski, Karol Banaśkiewicz and Asim Tanvir to ask them some questions about the new SGW game.

Not only are we proud of our sniping mechanics – we feel like it’s the most realistic out there in the gaming space – we’re proud of our stealth mechanics as well, we’re proud of the gadgets, we’re proud of the action part as well.

First of all, thanks so much for having me! I’m having an excellent time with the game. So, the game’s set in Siberia – really cool setting, lots of opportunities for different biomes and everything. What kind of research have you guys had to do to bring that world to life?

Karol: Well, we went through the usual process – for environments, we made some out of references, out of videos… In many areas it looks similar to our Polish environment. Of course, we haven’t been there! We didn’t send anyone out to Siberia [Laughs]. It’s a process we try to follow for most of our projects. In the previous instalment, we had Georgia so it was much more convenient to send people, send artists to make some notes. But, I feel that it looks very authentic. Besides that, we’re trying to emphasise and to show people the diversity of this region – that’s why we’ve got the harbours, we’ve got the forests, we’ve got the glaciers: so the end user will not feel bored while exploring.

Asim: I think a lot of people think Siberia and think “Ah, that’s snow, right?” And there is snow in it, there is a snow map in there, but the rest of the maps kind of cycle through mountainous areas, there’s lush forest areas as well, there’s a harbour area as well, so it’s kind of diverse, as Karol mentioned. And, in terms of inspiration as well, there’s lots of reference material out there. Lots of movies you see that have snipers and stuff in, kind of based in Siberia and based in that region, so I think that’s part of where the inspiration comes from as well, so it made perfect sense for that sort of region to be the basis of the game.

Karol: We are very proud of the quality of the world!

A screenshot from Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts. This one shows an image of the game's slow mo killcam.

The feedback you get for each kill in Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts is a very important part of the game. Image Source: CI Games.

Absolutely! Another thing I noticed is that when you get a kill in this game, the feedback that you get – the slo-mo, the sounds and everything – it’s really meaty. How important is that type of feedback to the player?

Asim: Oh absolutely 100%. For especially our type of game, it’s a sniping game first and foremost, right? So you need to.. once you nail that shot whether it’s 100m, 200, 300, 600 you want to feel the satisfaction of nailing that shot. And, first of all, that comes from the slo-mo bullet cam, and then second of all, even if you don’t get the bullet cam, it’s the dismemberment now that we’ve added in. So obviously, it’s a bit over the top – we didn’t want it to be super realistic, we want it to be kind of a nod to classics like Soldier of Fortune. And a lot of our fans were kind of referencing that when they were asking for it to be in the game, like “Look at Soldier of Fortune, we love that game!”. Not kind of super realistic, but almost like B-movie type violence and gore, to make it funny rather than, ew, kind of in your face like that. So there are two types of feedback and that was really important, I think, to have that there because if your primary focus is sniping, you need to give the player that feedback and that satisfaction of nailing that shot and either way we have that in there.

Karol: We emphasise this in particular, the gore, because actually the sniper rifle itself is a powerful, powerful weapon, and you should feel that. Because it’s not even playing with the sound effects, it’s just showing you “Okay, it must be huge because, you know, it works like a turret”! (laughing) So, the dismemberment is actually is a great addition because we hadn’t implemented it before in other instalments and we’d been asked by the community to do that, so right now is the time. And now we feel that even more, you feel the shot and it feels satisfying.

Asim: Not many games have dismemberment – obviously it doesn’t make sense for every game to have it, but we saw a lot of people asking for it in other tactical shooters similar to ours and we thought well, the technology is good enough for it now, we’re in 2019 so it should be doable. So we added it into the game, and we’re quite proud of how it’s looking.

Karol: Of course, it’s a pretty complex feature so it of course not easy, but finally we got it.

A screenshot from Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts. This one shows the game's world.

The world of Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts is both gorgeous and scalable. Image Source: CI Games.

Something else that surprised me while I was playing was that there’s a very real traversal element that I really wasn’t expecting – there’s a lot of climbing and that sort of thing, and that really plays into the gameplay a lot. When did that come into the development process, was that an early thing, or..?

Karol: Yeah! Because we’re trying to encourage the player, because Snipers mostly are in the highest spots. So, if you see the sniper on higher ground, you should be allowed to reach the spot and eliminate the enemy silently and take his spot, and then eliminate other enemies from his vantage point. So, this is very important, and we’re trying to make these locations for sniping around the map. The intention from a level design perspective is to make these spots very obvious. You need to enter an area and go “Okay, there’s a good vantage point, I need to take this spot.” So that’s why we’re making sure there’s a climbing spot, there’s objects you can jump on and reach those locations. For every big area, there’s about 3, we call them “perfect sniping spots”.

Asim: Traversal, and climbing and kind of the parkour-ish element, is, I wouldn’t say a massive part of the game, but it is a pretty hefty element of the game because you need to get to certain areas. Especially on certain maps as well, you need to climb up to get the best spots – it’s up to the player how they want to approach things – but if you want the best sniping spots as Karol mentioned, you’re gonna have to traverse mountainous environments or climb cliffs. We had it in previous games, but this is, I think the most polished we’ve got it.

You mentioned Soldier of Fortune – I actually noticed a lot of influence from a few games – the traversal kind of reminded me a bit of Mirror’s Edge, when I was scouting out a base I immediately thought of Metal Gear Solid V.. are there any other games you think might have influenced Contracts?

Karol: Funny thing: Dark Souls. The dying part. [Laughs] Learning by dying, you die, you need to take a different approach, and this is the core of the Soulslike titles. And this is something for which we received feedback from fans, that this game is kind of similar because of that punishment.

Asim: Each death is a learning experience.

I felt almost like I was in kind of a Groundhog Day situation. I wasn’t very good at first, but as I went on and played more and more I got better. It was a very satisfying experience. 

Karol: Yeah, you do pick stuff up! That’s why we’re trying to put checkpoints in good spots, so if you die you’re not too far from where you were.

Asim: I mean, it’s not super Dark Souls in that enemies respawn, there’s no bonfires right now! [Laughs] But yeah, the kind of games you’ve mentioned there, Metal Gear, huge compliment, I’ve heard people mention Hitman as well. We’re super honoured to be mentioned in the same breath as those types of games and we feel proud, because not only are we proud of our sniping mechanics – we feel like it’s the most realistic out there in the gaming space – we’re proud of our stealth mechanics as well, we’re proud of the gadgets, we’re proud of the action part as well, if you choose to go down that route. It’s a balance of things, but I think we’ve struck that balance quite nicely.

You mentioned being compared to AAA games. Obviously, as a developer, you guys have come a long way in quite a short time – when you guys were City Interactive, you were making more of those budget titles, but now you’ve been really breaking into that AAA market. What’s that been like for you as a team?

Karol: I’ve been with this company for 7 years, we’re always trying to provide the highest possible quality, since we went triple-A, of course. Every instalment in the Sniper Ghost Warrior franchise was different, and I think, from my experience, that this one is one I feel most comfortable working with. I like all the ideas connected with this futuristic stuff, this is something actually gamey – it provides a lot of possibilities and a lot of cool stuff. And I think right now, because we’re selling, the price tag for Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts is €39 for consoles, and €29.99 for PC.

Asim: In terms of pounds, it’s like £22 on Steam, which is a huge value for money we feel.

Karol: Almost 20 hours, let’s say we’re aiming for that. So this is great value, and I think the diversity of the environment… I think the price is 20 euros less than the AAA and, from my perspective, you’re getting the experience of a AAA title. And I hope that this is going to be the feedback from fans and this is probably something that’s pretty obvious, but of course, we’ll see after release day.

Asim: I’ve been at the company for four or five months – in terms of the evolution you mentioned from City Interactive to CI Games where they are now. As a developer having been in the industry for 10 years, you know, you go on a journey. You don’t go big straight away, you start small, and build-up, and build up. And I think we’ve reached the stage now where the Sniper series especially has a big following, and the series has sold over 7 million copies worldwide, which is by any stretch of the imagination a success. [Laughs] That’s a huge amount! So it’s time to reinvest in the series and improve things, which has been done upon every instalment. And at the point we’re at with Contracts, I think it’s at that stage where it’s super polished and super focused.

Karol: Just to add to Asim, right now it’s just convenient for a publisher, because we’ve already got this company we’ve built for years. The Sniper Ghost Warrior franchise is very recognisable by other people – each instalment is different to the previous instalments of course, but we’ve still got people waiting for this title, so it’s much easier in terms of marketing and sales.

Asim: And they’re very open with feedback as well, which is what we wanna hear.

Karol: That’s why each instalment was so different!

A screenshot from Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts. This one shows a closer look at an enemy base.

Influence from other games is clear in Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts, but the end result is something completely unique. Image Source: CI Games.

I’ve gotta ask: Have you guys done anything with VR yet? Have you experimented with it in maybe a Sniper game, or maybe in another project?

Karol: VR is something we haven’t even considered for our game. Maybe for the future, because the limitation here is the engine. Moving to the newest CryEngine which of course supports VR… I think this is something that… even now it’s difficult to imagine something that could be done using VR, but we haven’t been in discussions.

Asim: I think it needs to make sense for the game as well. I think any publisher will always look at new opportunities and new platforms to deliver new experiences, whether it be in existing franchises or new franchises, but it needs to make sense in terms of that franchise. Maybe other games in the same space have released VR content, but it probably made sense for them at that point. Right now, our focus is to deliver a great single player experience with Contracts, and then whatever comes after that…

Karol: Especially from my perspective, you know, we thought that by now VR would be a standard for consoles. That… didn’t work out.

Asim: It needs to be right. The best VR experiences, I feel, are the ones that tailor the game or the experience to VR. It’s an experience you can only have in VR. You can only be Batman in Batman VR, you can’t be him anywhere else. It just needs to make sense, I think.

Bringing the focus back to Contracts, I felt it was very open-ended and was tailored to cater to a lot of different playstyles – was that something that was a focus during development?

Asim: Absolutely. That was a huge focus in terms of design – that’s how the levels are designed, that’s how the gameplay mechanics are designed, that’s a huge focus. In terms of AI, it’ll be scripted to a degree, but the game is generally unscripted. So you can play how you want, you can tackle any scenario you want. The maps are very sandbox in nature, and we give you the tools and the toys to play with and you choose how you want to play in the sandbox. And that was a conscious decision.

Karol: Since the beginning, we wanted to provide the player with opportunities that they can choose whatever path they want that suits him, so it’s up to the player.

Asim: You can complete a contract on a map, you can exfiltrate, and then come back to the other contracts on that map later. You will need to complete all the contracts on that map to progress to the next map, but the contracts on that map you can tackle any way you want. You can complete it, get money, get some upgrades and customisations, come back and be in a better position to tackle the next contracts. Or you can do all five at once, if you’re feeling lucky! [Laughs] It’s completely up to you, and whether you want to focus all on sniping, or stealth with a stealth pistol, it’s up to you!

Is this approach something you learned from the last game, obviously open-world mostly, do you think that you sort of took the best parts of that and brought it into this? 

Asim: Yeah, absolutely! The feedback we gained from Ghost Warrior 3 has absolutely shaped Contracts. And the feedback from not only fans but from press in terms of critiques and reviews etc, we absolutely took that on board.  Not only just with the mechanics, but with scaling back things. Because 3 was open-world, massive open-world but maybe there wasn’t a lot to do in it, so that was a lot of feedback we got and that’s fair enough. Sp over here we’ve scaled things back – still big open maps, but they’re sort of about the moment-to-moment gameplay and not having too much downtime in between that, so there’s always something to do or something to think about in terms of what to do next. So yeah, 100% that shaped that.

My last question is still focusing on playstyles. If someone wanted to go into the game, full Rambo, no snipers… is that a playstyle that’s viable?

Michał: It’s possible, but you need to very good.

Karol: Yeah, very good, and ammunition will be limited. It’s possible still, we’ve even improved the aim assist system for consoles, it’s just more fluent and more satisfying to use. Of course, you can do that, but trust me, it’s tough. But, still, the perfect use is sometimes when you’ve almost killed the whole outpost and you get inside, and there are 2 people you didn’t notice so you pick up the rifle and make some really cool shots.

Asim: I’ve seen people kind of mix it up, just, go-round with a pistol, bang bang bang, and then snipe a few people, maybe use an assault rifle. You can, as mentioned, but it’s gonna be very, very hard. You never know, there might be some challenges or achievements linked to that stuff, so it might encourage you in certain ways to play like that, but all the way through it’s gonna be tough.

To Conclude…

My time with the game was a very promising one, and I very much look forward to playing the full thing soon. Talking to the developers, I really got the impression that this game was a labour of love, and it shows in a lot of the finer details of the game itself.

Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts releases November 22nd. Will you be playing the newest Sniper game? Let us know in the comments! While you’re here, why not take a look at our YouTube Channel here?

MORE: Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts Releases November 22nd

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Hi, I'm Dan! I grew up with all the fantastic games that came out during the PS1 and PS2 era. Now I love all games old and new, but I'll always have a soft spot for that part of gaming history!

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