They call me The Seeker
The calm of the night is broken only by the crunch of snow underfoot as you slowly make your way to the vantage point atop the hill. An encampment blocks your path to the objective. You take to your stomach and begin a scope of the area. Using your binoculars you tag five enemies – three grouped in the middle with the other two toward the rear. You notice a breaker to the left, a chance for distraction. You wait for the perfect moment. Your first shot hits the breaker, distracting one of the grouped guards. With his attention fully stolen, you start your takedown. Your second shot kills the distracted guard followed by a swift takedown of the furthest. The guard closest to the fence is next to fall, leaving just two guards chatting unaware. Another shot and the fourth is down. Just before the fifth registers what has happened, they’re taken down with a swift shot to the skull. Encampment clear.
It’s not often that Contracts makes you feel like some kind of Bourne-like-motherfucker but when it does, the feeling is incredible. It’s these self-orchestrated moments that make Contracts shine but the bits in-between unfortunately don’t quite match that feeling.
Contracts is classed as a first-person shooter but don’t let that mislead you. This isn’t an action-filled blockbuster à la Call of Duty. It’s instead a slow and more calculated game. It’d be more accurate to classify this a first-person stealth strategy game but FPSS sounds a bit shit. There’s an element of open-worldness here but this isn’t an open-world game. The gameplay is instead focussed around completing a set number of contracts in a large-scale playground, of which there are five in total. There’s also no handholding here, it’s a case of “here’re your contracts, go at ’em”.
It’s this style of open-ended gameplay which is one of Contracts’ plus points. Levels need to be completed to progress to the next but within each level, there are no barriers. Everything is open from the get-go so you can truly approach each contract however you like and in whichever order you like. Each level has several additional contracts to complement the primary and they consist of things slike “hack this thing” or “inspect this thing” so it’s not a case of beelining it to a person of interest and assassinating them for the win. It’s this method of play that makes Contracts more akin to Hitman 2016 than your average FPS.
Your approach to completing contracts is made easier with the equipment you can take along with you. You have a primary and secondary weapon alongside consumables (health, adrenaline) and thrown equipment (grenades, knives) and of course your sniper rifle. You can also come equipped with a remote sniper rifle which can be deployed and made to shoot tagged targets on your command. This is fucking awesome!
You can adjust your loadout between levels and it’s here where you can unlock new equipment. You do so by spending money and tokens, both of which are collected through completing contracts, bounties, challenges and looting bodies. Challenges are completely optional but completing them gives you more plentiful rewards. They consist of things such as “Take out your target without alerting any enemies”, “Get x number of headshots”, “Assassinate the target within x minutes” and some truly live up to challenge moniker. Your collected currencies can also be spent to unlock perks for your character. These are spread across 4 categories each with several talent trees. Unlock the first and you have the option to unlock the next one up the tree. You know the sorts of things; increased inventory space, additional ammo capacity, better camo and upgrades to your mask.
The mask plays a big part in Contracts. I’m a sucker for interesting UI and theirs is integrated into the via your mask. This fancy prismatic facepiece serves as your HUD, allowing you to mark enemies and make use of area scanning to highlight areas of interest. The features themselves are nothing unseen before but the way CI have integrated it into the game is a nice touch. One of the other great features is a dynamic sniper scope which paints a bullet trajectory to account for wind and distance drop off. This curved (dependent on distance and strength of wind) line runs alongside the sight’s reticle and needs to be lined up with the enemy to ensure a hit. This, alongside the toggling of scope zoom (distance), lets you perfectly line up long-distance shots and take down your enemies with a beautifully timed headshot. This may well sound a bit “cheaty” but it’s not just pointing and shooting. There’s still very much an element of skill required to pull off these shots but it all adds to the fun of sniping in this game. You’d expect a game focused on sniping to nail this portion of the game and they fortunately do.
The core gameplay of Contracts is that of a stealth game and you’ll seldom need to whip out your AK. Close-quarter combat is part of the game but it’s seen more as a last-resort than a recommended play style. Instead, you’ll be creeping around on your belly and planning your every move. There’ss a takedown mechanic which allows you to quietly take down enemies when you get close enough to them but there’s also the option to interrogate them before slipping your knife into their neck. It’s nothing more than a button press to activate but can lead for some pretty cool moments such as enemies giving away the position of all their comrades, after which your HUD lights up like a Christmas tree, alerting you to their whereabouts.
But it’s not all good news. When Contracts is in its element it works well but outside of that, the experience is a little rough around the edges. Graphically it’s a decent looking game but whilst playing on the base PS4 I noticed a number of technical issues. There’s a frequent slowdown with dropped frames and general sluggishness. This admittedly doesn’t impact on the key moments too much due to the games slower nature of play. It does, however, become more noticeable when shit goes south and enemies begin to close in on your position. AI is also a little temperamental with enemies outright looking at you and not being alerted or them instantly spotting your location after making a wrong move. It all equates to a fairly mid-budget experience but then it is releasing at a budget price. This price doesn’t excuse these downfalls but it does mean that you shouldn’t expect the level of polish seen in a multi-million-dollar game such as Call of Duty. But in spite of these issues, I can’t help but enjoy this game.
It’s a game that, whilst modern in its approach, feels familiar as an old-school game, warts and all. It’s rough around the edges, sure, but poses itself well as a stealth/sniper game and it’s just simply fun. It’s unlikely that Contracts will appeal to fans of action-led FPS games but if you’re looking for something a little more strategic, and can look past the slightly shonky presentation, there’s a decent game here.