Whether you play videogames on a PC or console, if you play shooters you’re familiar with the term “spawn camping.” Those on the receiving end of a camper are invariably frustrated, while those doing the camping are inevitably pleased with the easy kills. By and large those “easy kills” come from long-distance sniping, a tactic adored by gamers who like to rack up their points stealthily, regardless of the ethics of spawn camping.
That’s not to say all snipers are spawn campers. In fact, I despise spawn campers yet often count myself among those gamers who prefer to take shots from afar. So it’s with that backdrop that I played Sniper Elite, a WWII-themed shooter driven by sniping alone. I like long-distance kills, so logic would have it that I’d enjoy the game. Apparently, I’m not that logical. The beauty of PC and console shooters is that sniping is just one gameplay technique in a larger game, which mixes the variety and opens up the possibilities. Sniping, in my opinion, is an enjoyable piece of that gameplay puzzle, but on its own, snipping gets really old, really fast. And, by extension, so does Sniper Elite.
Sniper Elite takes place in a war-torn WWII urban setting that, for some reason, feels like a decades-earlier version of Full Spectrum Warrior (review). Granted, FSW was a strategic shooter in that gamers never fired a shot, but the cities in both games have multiple paths to each objective. They both can be cleared of enemies in any order, regardless of the anticipated mission structure. They both use burned-out vehicles and rubble for cover, which is an absolute necessity because your sniper must remain as hidden as possible to avoid confrontations against better-armed troops. Heck, the mission structure in both games is even similar, with the two or three objectives outlined during a mission briefing consistently becoming at least twice that number as scripted events occur in mid-mission.
In spite of these similarities, the difference in the games, aside from Full Spectrum Warrior looking and sounding infinitely better, is that FSW was trying to do something new (a real-time strategy shooter on a console), whereas Sniper Elite is trying to prove that a single gameplay element can exist as a stand-alone game. Unfortunately, it can’t. When sniping is used as one element in a shooting game’s arsenal, it’s a nice breather from the frantic pace of the rest of the game. But when you spend the majority of a 20-hour game in the prone position, darting from cover to cover and lining up headshots on just a handful of Russian troops, the novelty of sniping starts to wear off.
For the first five levels or so, the sniping action is really quite fun, mostly because of the bullet-time sequences that go into effect when you successfully snipe someone. Imagine, if you will, lining up a headshot from 80 yards away, accounting for the wind, gravity, your posture, your ability to hold your breath when firing and, let’s not forget, any movement the enemy might make. Once you pull the trigger, the game determines whether the shot will be successful and, if it will be, switches the camera from behind the hero’s back to behind or alongside the bullet as it speeds across the landscape and enters your enemy’s body. If it’s a headshot, you’ll see blood splatter and the face deform accordingly in a Zapruder-worthy animation. Gruesome, yes, but that’s the nature of sniping. If the shot isn’t successful, you’ll stay in your normal zoomed-in sniping view and watch as debris chips off the wall behind your foe, alerting him to your presence and perhaps even blowing your cover.
As you progress in the game you earn access to new guns (or snatch them from fallen foes), each of which has slightly different sniping abilities. Practically speaking, though, the only real difference you notice is each gun’s range. With increased range you can increase your chances of staying hidden from enemies, even with unsuccessful shots, and you can breathe a little easier when practicing your detail-oriented handiwork. What do I mean by “detail-oriented handiwork”? Things like taking out tanks by blasting off its gas cap from a hundred yards away or killing a group of enemies by sniping a grenade on one soldier’s belt. Fail at these things close-in, and you’ll be spotted for sure. Unload them from hundreds of yards out, and a miss isn’t nearly as consequential.
The thing is, in spite of these cool sniping features, they aren’t quite enough to carry an entire game. Sniper Elite does allow you to pick up and throw grenades, you can set trip wires, and you can even use silenced pistols and machine guns that are somehow always low on ammunition. But after five levels, you’re ready for something more, something a bit more action-packed, even if you normally consider yourself a sniping fan, as I generally do. You can only play so many rescue, infiltration, assassination and rendezvous missions before you get tired of the game. And tired is exactly what Sniper Elite becomes.
Graphically the game does some good things, from great-looking weapons and believable character animations to flying debris in Berlin’s streets and planes flying high overhead. For each good thing, though, Sniper Elite also has a misstep, be it a drab color palette and repetitive character models to an artificial “fog” that not only limits your field of view but also creates some instances of “cheap” hits from opposing snipers. The audio is a different story, though, as monotonous sound effects and sporadic music combine with horribly repetitive teammate AI for a mute-worthy presentation.
Sniper Elite does have online stat-tracking via GameSpy, split-screen co-op through the Berlin campaign and online multiplayer options, but these features can’t compensate for the tiresome gameplay. Lining up headshots for 28 missions sounds like fun, but when you realize that’s all the game offers, it loses its luster. Kudos to Namco for testing the sniping-only waters, but let’s not try this experiment again, OK?
- Gameplay: 6.5
- Great sniping features, but the gameplay loses its fun factor just 20 percent through the campaign.
- Graphics: 7.2
- Decent animations and weapons, but the environments and characters look a bit drab.
- Sound: 4
- I’ve heard white noise that was better than this.
- Replay: 7
- Split-screen co-op, online score-keeping and multiplayer sounds good, but it can only work so much magic.
- Overall: 6.6
- Sniping can be cool, but this game finds a way to make it much more boring than it should be.