With a title as awkward sounding as Sniper Elite, you might not expect a game that can impress. However, developer Rebellion has built a respectable game for fans that really, really like sniping. To clarify, this game is pretty much all sniping. If you don't snipe, you're pretty much dead. If you're one of those players who disregard the main gameplay in titles like Call of Duty or Far Cry: Instincts to try and line up perfect sniper shots, there's definitely a solid experience waiting for you in Sniper Elite.
It's 1945 and you're a West Point trained American soldier disguised as a German and working to prevent an advancing Soviet force from stealing atomic technology. Get all that? Basically, at the end of World War 2 it's clear that the Soviets are threatening to take over all of Europe. As an American spy codenamed Eagle Watch, you'll need to stop the Soviet secret service, the NKVD, from obtaining Nazi nuclear technology though a series of assassination, rescue, intelligence, and assault missions.
Trying Not to Get Shot in the Face
Missions in Sniper Elite play out by assigning you a large scale mission and then breaking it down into several smaller missions once you're on the ground. Also, conditions may change at any time, so you're objectives will frequently be changing. None of these missions are particularly short, though you'll eventually be able to play through them more rapidly as you memorize enemy positions. If you really want to get through the single player campaign while dying as little as possible, you're going to need to get on your belly and crawl through most of the game's environments while using your binoculars to scout the surroundings.
As a gamer, you basically must possess two qualities to enjoy Sniper Elite: you must be incredibly patient and you must be willing to reload your game ad nauseam until you properly manage some of the game's sections. You need to be patient because not all of the game's enemies are going to be visible. In many instances you won't be able to spot your enemies unless they actually kill you, in which case the camera will zoom in on their position. Though there is an indicator on your compass showing where enemy fire is coming from, it still proves to be particularly vague. Sometimes you're able to scout upcoming areas from special vantage points like apartment windows or trenches. A lot of the time, though, your enemies will only start attacking after you've killed a specific target or crossed into a certain area.
This can get frustrating at times, especially since the game gives you a limited amount of saves in the higher difficultly levels. If you use your Panzerschreck to blow up a tank and think you're in the clear, you'll be surprised by two soldiers that run up behind you. Had you not blown up the tank and instead tried to find an alternate route around, you could have avoided the whole hassle. The problem is there's no way you could have known that until you actually blew up the tank. If you were being frugal with your saves up to this point, you'll be forced to retread a large chunk of ground.
While it's true that surprises are a requirement for keeping things from getting boring, your soldier is seriously lacking in quick response combat capabilities. You'll gain access to weapons like MG-42s, different types of sniper rifles, PPSH41s, and P-38 silenced pistols, among many others. The array of weaponry is actually impressive, even including sticks of TNT that can be detonated at a distance, trip wire grenades that can be planted to protect your flank while you're sniping, time bombs, and various other kinds of explosives. Yet with even such an expansive arsenal, you're dead almost as soon as you're spotted out of cover.
This can be attributed to two main factors. First, your weapons take a few seconds to be readied. The cause for this is obvious. Your character carries all large weaponry on his back and when you switch to a weapon he actually has to swing his current weapon over his shoulder and bring the other one into the ready position. Given how the game is going for a hyper realistic atmosphere, this makes sense. What doesn't make sense, though, is how your enemies can be so accurate.
Even when you're hidden behind cover your enemies possess the uncanny ability to peg you several times with a PPSH burst as they sprint sideways across an open plaza. This is a large part of what makes the game difficult and why you'll be reloading your game so often. If I'm sitting behind partial cover and over a hundred yards away, I'm not expecting to get hit with mobile machine gun fire, but it will happen. This essentially renders most close range combat ineffective, since you'll take even more damage there, You can perform stealth kills with your pistol but only if your enemy hasn't seen you. Good thing there is a decent supply of health packs and bandages sitting around the maps.
The Many Methods of Sniping
Nobody interested in this game should be disappointed to learn that the close range combat is flawed, since you'll want to use your sniper rifle most of the time anyway. Rebellion recognized this and has constructed a very entertaining and satisfying system for sniping. In both the Xbox and PS2 versions you'll press down on the right analog stick to bring up your sniper scope. Bringing this up takes you from the third person perspective from which you play most of the game to a first person view through your scope. You can zoom in and out as well as lean around corners and reload without exiting this view.
If you're able to pull off a killing blow on an enemy that's associated with a notable stat, be it length of shot, head shot, or moving target among others, you'll be treated to a slow motion view from the perspective of the bullet. After your bullet punctures your enemy's skull and you've watched the grisly bits of flesh and brains spray into the air, you're given satisfying stats readout on your screen showing how far away the enemy was and whether you got any other bonuses. These stats are then recorded and tabulated to give you a final score for each level. At any point during play you can check the stats to see how many two for one kills, silent kills, long range covert kills, and remote detonations you had.
Pulling off the slow motion sniper shots is decidedly fun, and without a doubt an experience that will have you continuing through some of the more frustrating areas just to do it again. Accurate sniping will take some thought and consideration. It's not just point and shoot, you need to take into account wind direction, gravity versus length of your shot, heart rate and breathing, and several other factors. The most apparent effect is gravity, but everything else still causes slight alterations, making every shot a unique experience. Enemies whom you haven't killed in one or two shots also occasionally drop to the ground and writhe in pain. This can work at some points to lure other enemies out into the open who will try and save them, giving you an excellent opportunity to hollow out their heads.
It's Sniper Elite's multiplayer modes that push it beyond the scope of a decent game. Both the Xbox and PS2 versions support online. You can customize your character's appearance and play either Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Assassination modes, all of which help to expand the gameplay experience and make this game much more entertaining. After all, it's much more intense to face off against a human controlled sniper than one that's following some artificial behavioral pattern.
Even better than the online play could be the two player co-operative mode that lets you play though single player missions together. This opens up a range of new gameplay options, including using one player as a decoy and securing multiple vantage points in a particular combat area. Better yet, if one of you happens to die, which will undoubtedly happen, the other is capable of reviving you. This partially eliminates the annoyance of having to constantly reload your game, making the co-operative mode a more enjoyable experience than the single player. If you both die it's time to reload and the game limits how far apart you can actually get, but still, this mode is Sniper Elite's most fun.
The game doesn't look that bad either. Aspects such as the sun flares and luminosity across the tops of ruined buildings and the distinct and realistic blurring effects while zooming your sniper scope and binoculars are impressive. Enemy death animations are strikingly realistic, especially when you're able to snap their heads back with a well-aimed bullet. You'll also notice smaller visual aspects, like fluttering papers, scurrying rats, and bombers flying high overhead help to flesh out the game's environment. While the environments are complex and well textured, they tend to blend together in a mix of browns, muted greens, grays, and yellows.
The Xbox version looks better than the PS2, as might be expected. The main differences are in the texture detail, which is noticeably less on the PS2. Also, the Xbox version's colors look richer and more vibrant, despite the drab color scheme. Don't get me wrong, I know Berlin wouldn't have been the most colorful city in 1945, but visually the game's environments tend to blend together after a while. One more criticism is that the fire and explosion effects look dated.
What stands out most about the game's sound are the ambient environmental effects. Clanking metal, distant gunshots, and echoed screams help to help to immerse you in the game's environments. The voice acting is solid but does not approach impressive, and the weapon effects are what you might expect.
A few other cool features are the ability to perform quick and detailed searches of enemy corpses. While a quick search my let you pick up some ammo, a detailed search will let you pick up extra medikits, grenades, and dog tags. It all depends on how much time and cover you have while you're around bodies, but it's definitely encouraged to perform detailed searches since the number of dog tags you can collect is added to your overall mission score. What's even better is that your scores for each mission will get posted into an online leaderboard, letting you see how well you stack up against the rest of the sniping community.
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