World War II is coming to an end, and the first vestiges of the Cold War are beginning to take shape. In Namcoâ€™s Sniper Elite you control the fate of a lone OSS sniper in the heart of war-torn Berlin between the battling forces of Russia and Germany. Disguised as a German working covertly behind enemy lines, can you use your sniper skills to prevent Stalinâ€™s forces from stealing Germanyâ€™s nuclear secrets? Take aim, hold your breath, itâ€™s time to shape history.
Ultimately, playing an entire videogame as a dedicated sniper has a slightly twisted moral undertow. Usually, the sniper element of a first or third-person shooter is a token or minor aspect in a much wider gameplay picture, and when engaged in Live multiplayer itâ€™s generally the notoriously â€˜sadisticâ€™ member of your clan who hogs the scoped weaponry and chortles maniacally over the headset to the pulpy smack of every headshot. Building a whole game around the premise of calm, calculated killing is somewhat unsettlingâ€”so how does Sniper Elite deliver its content amid a decidedly wobbly arena of taste?
Beyond the gameâ€™s basic tutorial feature, most of the in-game thrills are left to your own discovery, as youâ€™re thrown into the war zone with only your weapon skills and sniper training as known quantitiesâ€”which proves to be an uncomfortably authentic mechanic in terms of battle anxiety. Game missions initially entail little more than finding operatives, retrieving intelligence, and invisible extraction. However, unlike usual run-and-gun iterations, missions are stringently regimented in terms of nail-bitingly slow pace as Sniper Eliteâ€™s mercilessly accurate A.I. demands a stealthy approach throughout in order to stand any chance of successful completion. This enforced pacing and overly attentive A.I. may well cause frustration with most gamers, especially as enemies are able to pinpoint your location within milliseconds of an expelled rifle shotâ€”which simply would not happen across vast distances and amid sprawling cityscapes. Yet, if you can rein in that familiar desire to rush headlong into certain death and truly adopt the mindset of a lone sniper surviving on his wits while surrounded by superior forces, then Sniper Elite certainly provides a uniquely attractive brand of gameplay.
Although players are primarily tasked with tackling mission objectives with their sniper rifle, there are also plenty of other historically accurate weapons that can help during moments of enclosed or vehicle-based action. Beyond the 3 standard scoped rifles at your disposal (Gewehr 43, Tokarev SVT-40, and Mosin-Nagant M91) the game also offers up such goodies as the MG42 Heavy Machinegun, MP40 Schmeisser, P-38 Luger, and PPSch-41 for any desperate troop encounters where single-shot rifles simply clear the room. You can also utilize Fragmentation and Stick Grenades, Panzerschrecks, Panzerfausts, and even Tripwires. All in all, everything the discerning yet stealth-loving one-man army could hope to take into battle.
Having an expansive selection of weaponry to hand is vitally important, because you will need it. Players hoping to do nothing more than snipe their way to victory will be sorely disappointed. The first time you come across outrageous A.I.-fuelled patrol tanks that sense your very movements while youâ€™re outflanking them behind covering buildings will soon see you hunting and hoping for a handily placed Panzerschreck. And if thereâ€™re none available youâ€™re left with the completely suicidal option of abandoning stealth to plant explosives on the tank itself, then retreating to a safe distance to snipe the explosive chargeâ€”all without getting massacred by the over-evolved A.I. However, as indicated, the central mission target(s) and opposing troop forces can usually be negotiated with extremely stealthy sniper action and a great degree of patience.
This brings up the contentious inclusion of slow-motion confirmed kills, which pushes the boundaries of acceptable content just a tad too far. If the repeat process of controlling your breath while calmly and deliberately lining up distant targets between your crosshairs is not enough to instill a sense of remorseful unease, then watching the ensuing bullet travel and connect in Matrix-esque slow motion goes beyond the pail. Targets taking a round in their extremities or torso are generally spared the gory exposure of slow-motion death, whereas those unfortunate enough to suffer a headshot have their brains spattered gloriously about them as the bullet rips home. Frankly, a little too much authenticity, thanks all the same. A completely unnecessary visual element that adds nothing to the overall gameplay yet somehow sickeningly detracts from Sniper Elite as a whole.
Graphically, Sniper Elite adequately portrays a gritty, war-torn realism that serves the gameplay and overall atmosphere extremely well. However, environments can lapse into blocky repetition and the general dirt and grime aesthetic does begin to wear a little thin in terms of variety. Animation is pretty solid throughout and holds a convincingly strong level ranging from enemy soldiers, weighty tanks, and burning airplanes falling from the skies. Oddly, the crawl movement of your characterâ€™s legs when stealthily navigating environments does tend to portray a somewhat spastic swimming action rather than a deliberate clambering over rough terrain. But itâ€™s a minor quibble amid an otherwise satisfactory visual package.
Game sound is also fairly run-of-the-mill when it comes to achievement. While the music and sound effects are thoroughly dependable to help create and sustain an atmosphere of tension and authentic detail, thereâ€™s nothing on show in Sniper Elite to elevate it aurally into the heady realms of Call of Duty or Brothers in Arms. Voiceover work is also ably executed, and manages to convey a level of believability, which can be so easily lost or sullied through poor sound editing and generally lapse directing.
Sniper Elite also provides the stealthy chance to quietly quash the challenge of your friends while peering down the scope of Xbox Live. Once signed in, you can look forward to multiplayer regulars such as Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, as well as Assassination, where one team is assigned as assassins for a designated target and the other team are bodyguards. Live offers a wealth of gameplay settings to be enjoyed with your pals, as well as balance settings, pick-up availability, and even HUD specs. Itâ€™s not a great Live package in terms of mode variety, but there should still be enough to occupy a few hours.
The sniper-specific gameplay opportunity granted within Sniper Elite is interesting and strangely attractive; no other sniper game carries off the tension, isolation, and anxiety of war to this degree, and the arcade leanings of games like Silent Scope simply canâ€™t compete. That said, across an entire campaign the central sniping component slowly becomes a little dulling to both the senses and the motivation to continueâ€”especially when pitted against such unbalanced A.I. opposition. Combined with a generally acceptable but uninspiring aesthetic and the thoroughly unnecessary slow-motion headshots, Sniper Elite can only claim itself as such because thereâ€™s really nothing else on the market to stand as opposition.