Metropolis Software's Soldier Elite is like a low-budget, direct-to-video version of Metal Gear Solid. It doesn't have the big names, the peerless production values, or the engaging, intricate plotline. Instead, this Polish-developed third-person stealth action game is saddled with frustrating, half-realized sneaking mechanics, English-as-a-second-language voice acting, and very little inspiration or originality. In short, this is a bad facsimile of a much better game and has a hard time justifying its existence.
Kicking things off derivatively, Soldier Elite casts you in the role of White Fox, a grizzled operative who has retired himself into the cozy confines of alcoholism, only to be begrudgingly called back into service for an extra-special mission involving terrorists, a sunken nuclear submarine, and, somehow, zombies. Like Metal Gear Solid's story, the story here can be difficult to follow. Unlike Metal Gear Solid's difficulties, though, Soldier Elite's problems are due to clumsy storytelling and some phenomenally bad voice work, rather than dense and intricate plotting. Like his serpentine role model, White Fox gets dropped off at an Arctic military research station staffed by unfriendly and eagle-eyed soldiers. From there, it becomes a game of trial and error supported by liberal use of the quicksave and quickload features.
Soldier Elite gets the fundamental conceit behind stealth action, which is that you have a better chance of surviving if you avoid face-to-face enemy encounters, but the tools it gives you to make that happen are few, and what's there is often broken. Save for the moments when you're looking down the barrel of your standard-issue sniper rifle, the game is played from a third-person perspective. You can tap the spacebar to switch between a behind-the-back view and an overhead view, the latter of which is ostensibly for improved sneaking, though since it doesn't show you much that can't be seen in your onscreen minimap, and it actually reduces your range of vision, it's basically useless.
The basic controls use a standard WASD keyboard-and-mouse configuration, though there are a few goofy quirks tossed in there for good measure. You can modulate the speed of White Fox's movement using the mouse wheel, which goes from sneaking, to walking, to running. The faster you move, the more noise you make, though even at his fastest gait, White Fox's movement is pretty sluggish, and even though enemies can hear your footsteps through walls if you run too fast down a hallway, they're all but oblivious to gunfire. This kind of inconsistency in the enemy's response to your presence is the cause of much frustration in Soldier Elite. On the default difficulty setting, you'll regularly find yourself spotted by enemies so far away that they don't even appear on your minimap, and it's basically impossible to discern where their line of sight begins or ends.
Beyond the ability to walk real slow and a handful of noisemaking gadgets that you can draw enemies in with, you don't really have any stealth tactics at your disposal--no sidling up against walls to peek around corners, no sneaky surveillance devices, not even a simple crouch mechanic. Without the ability to sneak effectively, you'll find yourself in straight-up firefights that you often have little chance of winning. As bad as Soldier Elite is as a stealth game, it's almost worse as a shooter.
For all the pomp and circumstance, White Fox isn't a very tough operative, and it only takes a half-dozen hits from consistently crack-shot enemies to empty a full life bar. By contrast, the enemies are either much tougher, or at least much better shots, since it seems like you have to empty a full clip into most enemies to get them to go down, which can be especially problematic since ammo is often pretty scarce. Headshots can definitely reduce the amount of ammo enemies will soak up, though the time spent standing out in the open trying to line up your shot is often time wasted, since you seem to miss your target half the time, and while you've been standing there, most of your life bar has probably been drained away. You can hold the shift key to lean out from behind cover, theoretically reducing your exposure, though your aiming reticle moves off target just enough when you lean out that you'll have to readjust your shot anyway, sapping much of this mechanic's usefulness.
The clunky fundamentals of Soldier Elite are only exacerbated by the bland mission objectives, a pedestrian selection of weapons, a boring and overused computer-hacking mechanic, and some really half-baked vehicle sequences. The only redeeming quality in Soldier Elite is its presentation, which is technically proficient but creatively bankrupt. Character models look and move well enough, but they also repeat a lot, and their reactions to getting hit with hot lead are understated. While the game pretty much nails the whole chilly military-installment look and feel, the grey corridors simply get old quick. There really isn't anything nice to say about the game's sound design, which consists of terrible voice work, ineffectual weapon reports, and some of the most repetitive, urgent techno music we've heard in a game.
Why would you play Soldier Elite? This is a third-rate knockoff of an aging stealth action game that's already been ripped off several times over and to much better effect. While there might be some parallels between Soldier Elite and some corny action movie you catch on late-night TV, the key difference is that you have to pay money to find out just how bad Soldier Elite is.