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Sniper Elite (Xbox) artwork

Sniper Elite (Xbox) review

"Karl Fairburne: survived WWII Berlin, Germany despite having to deal with soldiers seeing through solid matter."

Normally, when you're three missions into a game, you should have already been comfortable with its initial design and flow, not be left pondering if it's trying to be in one genre or the other. Sniper Elite threw me into such a confused state, because the opening tutorial and constant notes during the first mission gave me the impression that this was a stealth-heavy title: don't run, crawl, hide under objects, avoid fights, use a silenced pistol, blend into the background, and so on. But no matter how hard I tried, the game threw me into situations that involved battles with groups of World War II German and Russian soldiers. Extract a hostage without causing a commotion? Too bad, there's a post-shootout. Quietly kill two guards in pillboxes? Not so fast! The status changes mid-kill and apologizes for not knowing there were more soldiers on patrol.

By the time I was knee deep in the third mission, trying desperately to complete the whole thing without being discovered, and failing horribly due to rooftop snipers, pillboxes, and tanks galore, I gave up. At that point, I accepted Sniper Elite as a third-person action title with light stealth elements, and applied Hitman 2 Logic, where one goes as far as they can without being seen, then go guns blazing when everyone and their grandchildren know of the protagonist's presence. When I started viewing it from that perspective, the game actually became somewhat of an entertaining product as I fiddled with its sniping mechanics.

Now, as Sniper Elite's overall concept revolves around video game sniping, the act of going into first-person view and killing people from a distance, the devs had to do quite a bit to make this sustainable for a full-length, mission-based release. I wouldn't say they went above and beyond with the final product, but they certainly guaranteed players wouldn't simply line up easy shots, one after another, and breeze through everything without thought. As one Legendary Reviewer of the berried kind once put it, lining up a solid kill through the scope in Sniper Elite is the equivalent to setting up an impressive swing in a golf game: you need to consider the wind (conveniently marked on the scope), think about how much the bullet is going to drop based on distance, and time your breathing so that you stop rattling for a steady shot.

You're not always going to get the desired head shot or vital body part hits, and the targeted soldier might just run for cover as you fill him with panic shots. However, when it works, you don't get a mandatory kill with the body hitting the ground, but prized instead with a dramatic sequence; it begins with your bullet exiting the rifle in super slow-motion, across the landscape with multiple camera angles, and eventually into a soldier, ending with blood splatter, gut chunks spitting out, and a cringe-worthy scream. It's brutal, but gives off such a rewarding feeling after the challenges of setting up the kill, especially one that's moving. The depth of aiming and sense of satisfaction that comes with it definitely set it apart from other titles of the day which used sniping as an extremely easy way to one hit kill opponents.

You're probably thinking that such a thing, shooting soldiers at a distance as they try flanking your sniper, could get repetitive in short time.

To that, I say... you're not wrong in your assumption.

A huge chunk of the game is devoted to these battles, sprinkled in mission objects that are purely Point A to Point B scenarios on maps with 99% damaged Berlin structures that look similar to one another. Though, occasionally, tanks come into the fray, which require explosives or a well placed shot at their tiny fuel cap to destroy. Opposing snipers crop up as a threat, too, the ground versions being one of the most clever enemies in the game. They're harder to locate, since they keep their distance, change positions after shooting, and are usually crawling around. There's no radar in Sniper Elite, either, so finding one (and anyone) takes some legitimate effort on your behalf. The rooftop versions are complete bastards, however, as they take forever to find, because they quickly vanish into their hiding places after every shot. And when you do discover one, usually an inch of their head is exposed thanks to the rooftop's cover.

Also, to my surprise, genuine stealth sections really show up in Sniper Elite! And some of them actually raise the stakes by forcing an immediate game over when your sniper is found. Unfortunately, these segments aren't as smooth as they should be, thanks again to perplexing behavior by the AI that plagues the entire game. Once you fire a loud weapon and relocate in a supposedly hidden spot, soldiers still zone in on your position, sometimes even pointing and firing their weapons before they round a corner! An example that personally stood out to me was when a soldier found me, fired a shot, then disappeared behind a wall where he wasn't keeping an eye on me. I took this opportunity to crawl quietly around the other side of the building and sneak up from behind. But when I was about to round the corner, he was glaring in my direction, gun raised. It's like they're intentionally designed to see through solid objects.

Despite this buffoonery, some missions centered on stealth are actually pretty neat for a game that's mainly about sniping. My favorite is the one that's actually cliched when I think about it: sneak into a fuel depot at night, complete with searchlights, to place timed charges and steal a codebook. But for Sniper Elite, it's such an unconventional mission with its environment being outside a wrecked town, the huge emphasis on stealth the entire time, and the fact that it actually doesn't fall apart halfway through. The whole thing just felt dramatic, what with hidden snipers you need to kill while timing your shots with a nearby bombardment to mask the sound, and it's one of those sparse moments where concealing bodies is a necessity. I was never told the length to set my charges, too, so I was seriously panicking when the commander in possession of the codebook took his sweet time arriving at the base.

Sadly, that's just a very small example of variety in this game. I wish... well, I wish Sniper Elite did a lot of things and fixed its odd problems. But the product isn't a disaster; it's awkward, sure, but I'm not lying when I say that sniping, along with its theatrical kill sequences, is the reason I played to the end of this very average game. If you ever have an inkling to try this particular Sniper Elite, though, I need to warn you: play on the default Rookie difficulty setting. The AI on higher difficulties turn the soldiers into abnormal freaks, giving them insane accuracy with standard weapons at 30 to 40 yards away! It's ridiculous seeing a soldier running around like an idiot, shooting blindly into the air, yet still manage to hit you with every damn bullet, draining two-thirds of your health in the process...


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (August 10, 2014)

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