Earlier today, at the EGN event in London, we met with Jason and Chris Kingsley of Rebellion and got our first look at the Xbox version of Sniper Elite: Berlin 1945. Also in development for the PlayStation 2 and PC, Sniper Elite is a third-person stealth-based shooter that will cast you in the role of an elite American sniper charged with carrying out a number of missions in Berlin toward the end of the Second World War.
Before we tried the game ourselves, we got to take a look at a number of movies that did a good job of highlighting some of the game's features. One of the videos, for example, compared photos from Berlin circa 1945 with the city that you'll be exploring as you carry out your missions. Rebellion has obviously devoted a great deal of time to re-creating the city as accurately as possible and has even included models of buildings that no longer exist. Other videos concentrated on the game's AI, which, as we saw for ourselves, will go a long way toward ensuring that no two plays will ever be the same. We actually got to see one event played out three times, with enemies responding in completely different ways each time when our sniper character deliberately fired a shot at the truck they were standing next to. On one occasion, the enemies split up and tried to flank us; on another they ran for cover. More impressive still was a video in which a wounded enemy was rescued by two of his comrades--one of the enemies drew our fire away from the injured soldier by taking shots at us and moving in and out of cover, while a second went and examined the soldier that had been shot, picked him up, and then moved him out of sight to receive treatment.
All the enemies we encountered in Sniper Elite displayed an impressive level of intelligence and would, for example, always take cover behind an object before attempting to reload their weapons. The game will include scripted events and set pieces, of course, but for the most part it seems like your enemies will be free to move around the city and hunt you however they see fit. Of course, being a sniper is as much about remaining concealed as it is about making shots, and as such, you'll want to move between vantage points as often as possible. Enemies will be alerted by sounds as well as sights, but because Rebellion has done a good job of making you feel like there's a war going on around you, it'll actually be possible for you to disguise the sound of your gun by having your shots coincide with the noise of artillery fire. We were told that if enemies are alerted to your location there's a good chance that you'll be able to move on to another vantage point before they get there and then take shots at them as they search for you.
Depending on which of the game's difficulty settings you choose, shooting enemies in Sniper Elite can actually be pretty challenging. On the easiest setting, your bullet will hit the center of your crosshair every time, but as you move up through the difficulty settings (which can be changed for every level, incidentally) you'll have to take things like gravity and the effects of the wind into consideration. On the most difficult settings, your aim will also be affected by your heartbeat and your posture, although you'll have the option to steady it by exhaling and using the sniper's empty lung technique.
Shooting enemies won't always be a part of your mission objective in Sniper Elite, and since you'll be disguised as a German soldier you'll often be able to bypass infantry and tank battles between the Germans and Soviets without getting involved. When you do shoot an enemy, though, you'll occasionally see messages come up on the screen, such as "Covert Kill," "Silent Kill," or "Longest Shot - 307 meters." When you make a particularly noteworthy shot, you'll automatically be switched to a bullet-cam that allows you to follow the projectile's progress to its target in slow motion. The bullet-cam definitely isn't overused, so it's actually pretty satisfying when you make a shot that's considered worthy of the treatment.
Once you've downed an enemy, you'll have a number of options as to how you proceed. For one thing, you can retrieve the enemy's dog tags for kudos and then conduct either a quick or a thorough search of the body to see if your target was carrying any ammunition or items that might be of use. You'll also be able to pick up and move the corpse if you wish, either because you want to hide it or because you want to deliberately place it somewhere that it'll attract attention.
Other weapons and items that we got to see during our time with Sniper Elite included first-aid kits, rocks (which can be thrown to attract attention), a knife, a pistol, binoculars, grenades, and a number of different weapons and ammunition types that were looted from enemies. Your character can carry only a limited number of weapons at any one time, and rather than having these hidden inside a giant magic pocket of some description, your current arsenal can clearly be seen strapped on your back.
In addition to the single-player game, Sniper Elite will feature cooperative play for two players via a LAN or Xbox Live. We didn't get to see any of the multiplayer options in action, but we were told that the cooperative mode will cast one player as the sniper and the second as the sniper's observer--how that will work out remains to be seen, but it's certainly an interesting (and wholly appropriate) idea.
No publisher for Sniper Elite has been announced at this time, but Rebellion is hoping that the game will be released sometime early in 2005. We'll bring you more information on the game as soon as it becomes available.