We have good and bad first-person/third-person shooters, but they are all basically the same. Rebellion is trying to shake things up a bit by making you concentrate on a single weapon that is found in nearly all shooters: The Sniper Rifle. In Sniper Elite you play as a lone American sniper (pretending to be a German soldier) who is sent to Berlin in 1945 in order to prevent Stalin from getting his hands on nuclear weapon information. We took a look at an incomplete PC version of the game to see if the most deadly of weapons can really star in its very own video game.
To clear things up, you aren't entirely restricted to using sniper rifles. You can pick up various other weapons, such as pistols, machine guns and grenades, but these are really only to be used in extreme circumstances. For the most part you should be out of sight, sniping enemies from a distance. If you're spotted or an enemy soldier catches you off guard you have your close combat weapons to get you out of a tight spot; you just won't last too long when you're under fire. Anyone who must play all games in a Rambo persona shouldn't bother with Sniper. It just isn't that type of game.
As a sniper you must move around your surroundings with care, scoping out the streets and buildings ahead of you with a pair of binoculars and taking out any enemies from a safe location. To stay covered your best bet is to go prone, only moving to your feet when you must dash from cover to cover. Once you have fired off a few shots the enemy will have some idea of your location, even if they can't see you, so it's important to move to another safe location in order to remain hidden.
If you choose to play on the easiest difficulty you'll be able to get away with a little bit of running and gunning, but it still isn't advised, and really isn't the way the game was intended to be played. To get the most out of it you need to bump up the difficulty and play the game as if your life depended on it. Enemy soldiers could be hiding behind any piece of cover and other snipers could be perched on roof tops waiting for their moment to take you down.
You've got to be incredibly careful, making sure the area ahead is entirely clear before moving on to find new cover. Progress through the levels is slow as you can't risk anything, always in fear of who might appear from behind a wall, or at a window. Really, Sniper Elite has more in common with the Splinter Cell games than it does with most shooters, even giving you a reading on how hidden you are at all times.
In the levels we played we had to rescue stranded comrades, take out senior members of the opposing military, provide covering fire for an agent as he tried to escape, and much more. Each mission will start off by giving you an objective (marked on the easy to use map) and will then give you more objectives each time you successfully complete the last one. It isn't as if you are doing vastly different things to complete each objective, but it's more than killing one enemy after another.
Controls are simple, but there is some depth to the sniper shooting. Breathing and heart rate both affect how steady your aim is. You can empty your lungs to get a steadier aim (how long this lasts depends on the difficulty level), but a high heart rate will prevent you from doing this. If you really want the hardcore sniping experience then you can make wind, gravity and your posture affect your aim. The AI's intelligence can also be varied, and on high difficulty the game is incredibly hard. Grenades are thrown using a simple on-screen throwing arc that indicates where the grenade will land, and fallen enemies can be searched (a thorough search takes more time and leaves you open to attack) for weapons and supplies.
The PC version of the game runs very well, but shows clear signs of a console port. The detail in the environments just can't compete with the best looking games in the genre, but levels are designed well, with plenty of opportunity to take cover. If you take someone out from distance you'll be shown a slow-mo bullet-cam shot of the bullet as it flies through the air and into the enemy. The impact will leave a nasty looking wound, but strangely, a foot shot will sometimes cause instant death. The war torn skies are often filled with planes and random gunfire, giving the game a suitably dangerous atmosphere, and there are some impressive hazy lighting effects.
Sniper Elite will also include multiplayer support, but we weren't able to test this out. How the long range combat will work with groups of people remains to be seen, but some interesting level designs could make for a rather unique online game. Sniper Elite is due in September for PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC, and looks like it will offer something a little bit different to the norm. We'll bring you a full review near to the game's release.