I like playing snipers in shooting games. Give me a bolt-action rifle, a scope and a vantage point with some cover and I’m a very happy bunny. Nothing quite beats the satisfaction of a nicely lined-up headshot – unless it’s making a headshot with a snapshot against a moving target.
And I like Second World War games. All the fun of shooters without the moral ambiguity of modern geopolitics or the overwhelming levels of technology of the modern battlefield.
So I’m naturally predisposed to love Sniper Elite. You’re an OSS sniper sent into Berlin in 1945 to take out a series of high-profile military and scientific targets before the Russians capture them and learn the secrets of rocket science.
Let’s do the really good stuff first: the one shot that matters. Click to use the scope on your trusty 1903 Springfield and you’re in sniper mode.
You’ve got a heart-rate monitor, the controller pulsing so you can fire between beats. Draw fire and your heartbeat goes up and the shot becomes harder.
You’ve got a button to empty your lungs of air, slowing your heartbeat further. This also increases the magnification of your scope, which I think is supposed to reflect your focus on the target. It also gives you a time limit on aiming, as you can’t cope without breathing for more than a few seconds.
So you’ve got the target slap bang in the middle of the crosshairs. Ready to fire? Nope. You’ve got to take range, relative altitude and windspeed into account as well. You’ll have to judge how much that’s going to affect your shot.
Yes, it’s a sniper sim. And that may be all you really need to know. My fellow snipers are already adding this title to their next purchase list; the assault shooters and shotgun-wielders are already shaking their heads and moving on.
But there’s more to Sniper Elite than that. Before you even make the shot, you have to get into position. And once the target’s down, you have to get away safely. You have to do the infiltration and exfiltration, in military jargon.
And that’s the part that stops me giving the game a five-star rating. It’s a bit linear, with regular objective markers to lead you by the nose.
It isn’t all bad, though. There’s an element of Thief in getting into position undetected. You’ve got a pair of zoom binoculars to check out what’s in front of you, and a couple of mines to lay booby traps to help you get out. You can take out a lone sentry with your silenced Welrod pistol or, if you can sneak up right behind him, with your knife. And you can throw rocks to draw sentries out of position.
If everything goes pear-shaped, you have a Thompson submachinegun for close quarters – but you only have one magazine, and using it will alert all those guards you’ve been trying so hard to avoid.
If you do get into a firefight, your best bet will still be your sniper rifle. For some reason, all the German soldiers I’ve encountered so far only carry MP40 submachineguns, which means you can use range to your advantage. In this game, the Wehrmacht only issues Mauser K98s to their snipers (yes, they have snipers too, so use those binoculars).
Get a well-placed shot, and the game goes into bullet time, giving you a close-up of your target as the bullet hits him in slow motion. That gets a bit graphic.
With a really good shot, you get what the game describes as the ‘X-Ray Kill Cam’. I found that a little unsettling when I read about it, but in play it’s rather more cartoonish than the close-ups.
Sniper Elite isn’t going to appeal to everyone by a (ahem) long shot. But it is offering something very different from the usual style of shooters, and bringing much-needed diversity to a saturated market can only be a good thing.