What an odd little title. Publisher Namco, and more importantly developer Rebellion, definitely deserve kudos for making a game like Sniper Elite. They wanted to make a World War II sniper simulation and they stuck to their convictions. Be warned, this game is hardcore for sniper fans only. And, as you’re reading this review, you’re probably thinking you are a big fan of sniping games. But before you plop down your hard earned ducats to enter the very realistic world of Sniper Elite, realize that in this game you are a sniper and all that it entails. Also, as a side note for any Xbox 360 gamers, know that my copy of SE would not load the actual single player campaign. It would only get so far and then totally freeze up. The disc played fine in a regular Xbox so the problem was obviously with the backwards compatibility. So as of the time I am writing this, know that if you plan to play the game in a 360, you could come across some problems.
It’s 1945, and in the game you play as an American soldier with exceptional sniping skills trained by the OSS. In a nice twist to WWII-esque videogames, you are not killing Germans, but rather Russians. In the game’s time line the Nazis have already all but given up, and the biggest threat to the world, in the eyes of America, is the Soviets getting their hands on the Germans’ atomic bomb capabilities. The Russians have sent a secret team by the name of NKVD, to steal the Germans’ technology, and it’s up to you to stop them from accomplishing their goal. Disguised as a German soldier, it’s just you and your rifle that stand in the way of the Russians. World War II is over, this is the start of the Cold War.
This is a project unlike any other that I have experienced, including the very realistic Rainbow Six and Swat games. Sniper Elite is hyper realistic to the point where you’ll be at a slow crawl throughout the better part of the game, and if you’re anything like me you’ll have to stop every ten to fifteen feet to make sure you haven’t been spotted. This game is not like the exhilarating sniping levels in other games, and it’s not as exciting as any sniping movies. Sniper Elite is an extremely slow paced game. And this slow pacing directly affects the overall fun factor. For some, this is probably the kind of game they have been dying for, but I suspect that for the vast majority of the gaming world Sniper Elite is just a few notches above watching paint dry. Now this isn’t to say that Elite doesn’t do some things well, it’s just that the pace, and challenge resulting from said pace will turn a lot of people off before they really give the game a chance. And if a game makes you want to turn it off before you see all it has to offer, it’s clearly got some significant issues.
Take, for instance, the save feature. You can save anywhere, but for some reason your saves are limited. So why give the player the choice to save anywhere, and then limit its use? Why not just go with save and check points instead? Combine this with the fact that your protagonist is a very weak character in that he can’t take more than a few bullets and you have a failsafe recipe for multiple deaths and replays upon replays of tough stretches in missions. With this in mind, I found the best strategy to work with when you’re getting shot at is to run away. More often than not in a firefight, it takes far too much time to look around for your enemy, which will just result in your death. It’s a lot easier to run away and find cover (there are an exorbitant amount of barricades and roadblocks in the game). This gives you time to regroup and possibly locate your opposition. For the most part, avoiding the enemy is the best tactic, and to its credit, SE lets you know that right off the bat. Sniper Elite is about as anti run-and-gun as a game can get.
The enemy A.I. can be pretty spotty. Russian soldiers find you much too easily at times, but other times they won’t notice that either the person right beside them has just gotten shot in the face, or that they themselves just got shot. They are either standing around waiting to die or they’re genius super soldiers pursuing you mercilessly. One good thing about the Russians is that when they are hunting you, they’re really hunting you. They don’t just overrun you with numbers like in countless other games, these soldiers will find cover, look for good sniping positions, help out injured comrades, and flank you like there’s no tomorrow.
With the overall lack of mission variety, it's hard to enjoy the A.I., though. None of them are very imaginative, and they become even less fun when you have to keep replaying them from certain spots because you were afraid to use a save slot. Many times I found myself wishing something actually exciting would happen, but nothing ever did. I had to settle for the obligatory “kill a lot of enemy soldiers” objectives, rescue missions, and “recover secret plans” tasks. The maps for each mission aren’t always entirely accurate, but they’re still helpful in finding what seems to be the safest way to your goal. It would’ve been nice to have been able to zoom in on the map, though. Another problem I had with the missions was that little info tips would pop-up far too frequently at the beginning of the game. The levels are already long enough, without the pop-ups taking more of your time.
The actual sniping mechanics aren’t anything new, so most gamers will be able to adjust to it fairly quickly. Basically, you have to take a handful of factors into consideration when lining up a shot, such as heart rate, moving targets, breathing, gravity, and wind. The real eye candy of Sniper Elite are the head shots. And with the easy controls you’ll be pealing back domes to see the pink mist in no time. The problem with this, though, is that all the head shots look the same. They’re not very graphic or fun to watch after your 50th kill. The developers really dropped the ball here. Developer Rebellion had the chance to shock people with the realism of war and gun violence. And while I’m not saying they should glorify violence, they did have a chance to make something as over-the-top as say, Kill Bill, but instead they settled for the equivalent of something more PG-13, like a Scream movie.
Another big problem Sniper Elite suffers from is that it’s a surprisingly ugly game. There’s no type of visual flair or style to speak of, unless you call muddy and repetitive textures a style. Graphically, everything in the game is either barely average or an eyesore. Backgrounds are religiously bathed in browns, grays, and blacks. You’ll see the same planes flying overhead, the same broken down cars, and the same dilapidated buildings over and over again. Character models are uninspired and completely forgettable. There is a camouflage mechanic that works like the one found in Metal Gear Solid 3, only less useful. If the developers were going to go this route they should have gone all the way with it like in MGS3, minus the silliness of course. They could’ve incorporated a shadow system comparable to the Splinter Cell games as well, but the lighting and shading that are used in the game are so horrible that it would’ve been impossible to pull off. It’s just so disappointing, and ridiculous, that a game this late in the current cycle of videogame systems could possibly look this unattractive and shameless.
The sound isn’t that much better. The rifle shots lack any kind of real punch. The ambience is far too generic with the same explosions, screams, and artillery fire repeated at nauseam. There’s hardly any music to speak of. Enemy chatter is okay, but again it’s just too repetitive. The best part of the audio is when you use your enemies’ footsteps and voices to locate them, and that’s still nothing truly different from anything we’ve already seen in a game.
Sniper Elite just doesn’t have that much to offer your average gamer. A few will disagree with me and see SE as a diamond in the rough, but those fans will be few and far between. The multiplayer livens things up a bit, but it’s done better in other games like Halo 2 and Call of Duty 2. Sniper Elite isn’t a terrible game, it just misses on so many levels that it could only appeal to a select few, and that’s sad because it’s very obvious that Rebellion knew what it was shooting for. Unfortunately, gameplay of an acquired taste, bland graphics, and merely serviceable audio helped them miss their mark.