Reviewer: George Damidas
Overall: 7 = Good
(Originally published on November 23, 2005)
A historical fiction tale set in the latter end of World War II, Sniper Elite is the story of the U.S. and England cutting off Soviet Union ambitions before having the actual time and resources that peacetime affords. It’s all very Enemy at the Gates in how it plays, with bombed-out cities offering shelter and escape to assassins and informants. While it largely feels more like a fast-paced action title than a methodical hunt, Sniper Elite manages to provide some exciting moments with a gluttonous amount of satisfying slow-motion kill shots.
In the beginning, I was a sniper; in the end, I was a soldier with a sniper rifle. For a game called Sniper Elite, the feeling of actually being a sniper is fairly moot most of the time. After all, it’s hard to consider yourself stealthy when you have a PPSch-41 and a panzerschreck strapped to your back, along with a host of unseen goodies (rocks, health packs, grenades, trip wires, etc). As I ducked below windows and hustled around barricades and bombed-out vehicles, randomly pulling up my binoculars to scout for patrolling enemies, I couldn’t help but wonder how the guy running around with the giant piece of anti-tank weaponry wasn’t noticed sooner.
So you don’t feel like a sniper at all times; so what? Play online and experience what a more faithful recreation of being a sniper is all about—a ratio of boredom to excitement that would drive most gamers insane during the campaign. There is always a little bit that can be tweaked to make the experience a little more true to life, like adjusting the difficulty to take into account gravity, wind, heart rate, and even lung capacity (emptying out the lungs then inhaling and holding for a steady shot); plus there are norms that are within the levels themselves, like using loud noises to mask the sound of the gunshot (which didn’t seem to always work for me) and taking the appropriate amount of cover behind rubble with varying stances (standing, kneeling, or laying down).
If you’re playing for score or for a stealth experience, you can always use the silenced pistol and get some silent kills. Not only will these not alarm other guards, but they’ll also add quite a few points to the end-level scorecard.
Staying hidden is important, but not always easy. While the enemy isn’t always on point and is prone to infrequent bouts of being stuck in mid-animation, they are incredibly good shots with automatic guns and can often display a Spider-Man-like sense of awareness. A good example of each would be that, despite the sounds of circling airplanes dropping bombs and the row of buildings separating you and the enemy, your foes will know to run down the alley you’re in simply because you’ll be right there. Another fine example is the enemy’s ability to kill you from a block away with a machine gun. That isn’t to say that the enemies are all crack shots, as they do miss and will often fire erratically, it’s just that accuracy as a whole is somewhat off in the game. That is especially true in the game deciding on what shots to use the slow-motion Bullet Cam effect on. Why any two headshots are different when they’re from equal distances away from the enemy isn’t really explained, just as a bullet in an enemy’s side can kill them, or just be one of several that it takes to kill them. Actually, I often found that, despite not being able to take too much damage, the auto-aiming with one of the confiscated machine guns made quick work of enemies more so than the rifle. The Rambo of snipers, possibly?
The levels are long and will focus on portions of a city, with objectives that tend to include meeting and protecting agents, and assassinating higher-ups. Aside from completed objectives not always being recognized immediately and the game’s overuse of throwing in a few more things to do when a level feels like it should be wrapping up, they aren’t a bad sort. While the mini-map shows large routes, there are all sorts of back alleys and buildings that can be inhabited and crawled through. Unfortunately, the routes in many situations are often so direct that you aren’t left with much choice, and despite being an elite sniper, you don’t seem to know how to hop over a fence or go around barricades. Many times, an excellent vantage point in a building will yield no results because there are just no enemies around—though they do become somewhat handier online. Other things, like the absence of wind noises (wind interference is instead indicated by a number), make setting for wind adjustment less of an issue when inside a structure—which should be a problem, since there are objects breaking up the sound. Invisible walls, cars, and boards block off certain areas, which is understandable, but the boarded barricades become tiresome when there are literally dozens scattered throughout the city streets; I know it provides protection for the player, with the slits cut out to fire from, but it really makes areas look redundant and strikes an odd chord. Why would the enemy have them and not use them? Navigating around the obstacles can be a hassle as well, with the controls sticking and lagging on occasion, as if the game failed at mimicking momentum. Thankfully, the controls are as smooth as can be when zoomed-up to the optimum sniping view.
Objects can also be difficult to spot due to the bland color tones and the jagged edges, which is not entirely the fault of the game—The PS2 Effect, I’ll call it—but can be problematic as everything seems to blend together at points.
There are definitely some plusses to Sniper Elite, beyond the encouragement of multiple kills with single shots and close-ups of enemies being taken down. Grenadiers can be targeted and dispatched by either hitting the grenades they are carrying or while they are about to throw one, and it’s a pleasant surprise when a shot results in a small explosion. The ability to lean while prone is also a plus, and often overlooked in games. Bullets can also pierce rusted vehicles, making that old pick-up truck the worst place for the enemy to run behind. You can also scavenge items from dead enemies; while some items are just dropped and require picking up, there are quick searches that result in a little more. Longer searches can result in things like health packs, and what’s more, bodies can be carried away and discarded whenever you’re finished. Enemies will also try to pick up wounded comrades, offering up shots too tantalizing to not take; and there are also the macabre moments when the game’s already gory aspect is brought to a head as wounded enemies lay on the ground flinching after being shot. They can be left to die, shot with the pistol, or done away with via a trick shot from afar. Tom Berenger would be proud.
While a slow game, Sniper Elite isn’t nearly as methodical as someone would expect when picking up a title based on sniping. The game is definitely rough around the edges, both in terms of design (accomplished objectives lethargically acknowledged) and technology (so much looks alike), but it also offers so many small tidbits that aren’t available elsewhere that it’s easy to get caught up in it. Adjusting for wind, gravity, holding your breath, blowing a grenade up in someone’s hand, nailing three people with one bullet, and watching the more satisfying shots in slow motion all provide a sense of excitement, and much more so than elsewhere because of the game’s slower nature. Sure, it eschews the more pronounced aspects of sniping, such as staying focused while bored, but it does so to keep you entertained. Sniper Elite won’t go down in the record books, but it’s a fun subset of one of the most overused time periods in gaming.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)