Right, what we have here is a sort of historical Splinter Cell, minus the handstands and nightvision goggles. Lots of sneaking from one bit of handily-placed rubble cover to the next. Lots of seeing the enemy before they see you, then poking their eyeballs out with high velocity bullets fired from 15 miles away. Lots of tightly controlled action across a series of 20 or so tightly contained levels.
Background: it's the sequel to WWII, coming up on the final stretch of the action. The Third Reich has fallen at the final hurdle and Russian and Allied troops are advancing all over the shop. It'll all be over by Christmas, give or take a few months, but the danger hasn't quite passed.
You're about to fire the first shots in the all-new Cold War, even before the current one has finished. Talk about impatient. Reason seems to be that those pesky Soviets-to-be are intent on nicking the German's atom bomb secrets and it's your job, as part of the American's highly elite sniper division, to pop along and stop them by shooting people in the neck from long distances.
Which means a set of objective-based, pre-planned maps to negotiate, mostly rubble-strewn cities and towns, with the usual goals being to sneak in, contact an agent, identify a target and find a good bit of cover until the chance for a shot turns up.
SHUFFLE & MOVE
There is slightly more creativity at work though. Killing Martin Bormann (Waylan Smithers to Hitler's Montgomery Burns, if you will) by sneaking up to his staff car, planting some TNT and then blowing it up with a well-placed shot is one example. Being as how the word 'sniper' is in the title of the game, you'd expect there to be quite a large amount of emphasis on this side of the shooting match. I'm not certain we're talking the most accurate long distance murder simulation ever committed to C++, but there's enough elements to play here to keep you amused for a fair bit. Hold your breath for ten seconds or so to steady your aim. Go prone for greater accuracy. Aim for different parts of the body and factor wind and gravity in too.
On the higher realism settings it all adds up to some pretty satisfying shots when you pull them off. Especially as the viewpoint switches to 'bullet-cam' and zooms in on the action, complete with JFK-style head giblets flying off should your aim be as true as Lee Harvey's.
What doesn't really work is the part where you're called upon to wield conventional bullet-lobbers and mow down soldiers that get too close. The third-person engine just doesn't really hold up to that kind of action with any degree of satisfaction of believability.
Nor do the actual maps convey any sense of being more than limited-scope playgrounds designed for a specific purpose. No real sense of realism is on show (the old invisible barrier trick rears it's very ugly head once more). In a sense, they're just giant 3D puzzles, waiting for you to work out the single correct route through to the end.
Sniper Elite could well have been a terrifically good simulation of being a wartime sneaky fella had there been a greater sense of ambition displayed in the design process. As it is, you're left with a game that doesn't really offer a great deal more in terms of ammo delivery that we haven't seen done equally well in more popular, less subject-specific shooters.
- A change from the usual kill 'em all gameplay
- Bullet-cam for tricky shots
- Sniping dynamics seem quite believable
- "HA har!" etc.
- NICE profile shot.
- Levels design not too realistic
- Visually dated
- Very much trial-and-error