Sniper Elite Updated Hands-On
We discover the perils of camping as we check out the latest PS2 and Xbox builds of Rebellion's upcoming sniper simulation.
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Regardless of your feelings toward players who like to arm themselves with sniper rifles and "camp" in multiplayer first-person shooters, there's no denying that it's incredibly satisfying to pick off an unsuspecting enemy with a long-range headshot. UK-based Rebellion knows this and has spent the last two to three years developing Sniper Elite--a gritty World War II-inspired sniper simulation game in which you'll assume the role of an undercover American sniper operating behind enemy lines. We recently had the opportunity to play through the first few single-player missions of Sniper Elite on both the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, and can report that those of you with a penchant for sniper rifles are in for something of a treat.
One of the first things you'll notice about Sniper Elite is that its gameplay options do a great job of catering to players of varying ability. In addition to four difficulty levels (rookie, cadet, marksman, and sniper elite) there's a custom difficulty setting that lets you play around with different levels of enemy intelligence, the size of a grenade's blast radius, and even the length of time that it takes you to switch between your binoculars or scope and the regular third-person gameplay camera. You'll also be able to tinker with "realistic sniping" options, such as the effects of wind and gravity on your bullets, whether or not your heart rate and posture will affect your ability to aim, and how long you'll be able to steady your aim using the "empty lung" technique. Sniper Elite is quite challenging even on its easiest setting, so we'd recommend leaving most of the advanced options switched off the first time you play. Then, once you've got a feel for your rifle, you can experiment with the realistic sniping options that make every shot significantly more challenging and every kill much more satisfying.
Your sniper rifle won't be the only weapon in your arsenal, of course, so when your enemies get a little too close for comfort you'll be able to switch to a silenced pistol, a machine gun, or whatever weapons you've scavenged from supply dumps and fallen enemies on the battlefield. You'll only be able to carry one weapon in addition to your rifle and pistol, so you'll frequently have to make decisions on which weapons to scavenge or leave behind based on both your current situation and the availability of ammunition. Other toys that you'll get to play with as you progress through the game will include frag and stick grenades, sticks of dynamite, trip mines, and the all-important medical kits and bandages.
Much of your time in Sniper Elite will be spent looking through your rifle's sniper scope and your binoculars (which are more powerful than the scope, and afford you a wider field of vision), but that doesn't mean that you'll be able to complete missions without moving around and getting into some hairy situations from time to time. In fact, camping is the last thing you should be doing in Sniper Elite, because you'll quickly learn that your enemies (even on the easier difficulty levels) are intelligent enough to realize where your shots are coming from after a while, and are often quick to retaliate. Moving between vantage points and areas that afford you cover is of key importance then, as is knowing when it's safe to take shots and when you'd be better off waiting. Shooting a guy in the face when one of his colleagues is close enough to see (or even hear) what's going on will invariably attract unwanted attention, for example. And shots at moving targets are always risky, because your enemies will rarely be oblivious to bullets flying past their heads. It's also worth noting that headshots, while incredibly satisfying (especially when you're treated to Sniper Elite's excellent bullet-cam view of the kill), aren't always the best way to go. You might want to injure an enemy and then pick off others who attempt to assist him, for instance, and if you see an enemy wearing frag grenades on his belt…well, you know what to do.
You might be thinking that being so reliant on a single weapon in Sniper Elite makes the game repetitive, but the level designs and constantly changing mission objectives do a good job of keeping things interesting. You might be attempting to locate and rescue an injured comrade (carrying him on your back) one minute, and then providing covering fire for infantry from a high vantage point the next. Other objectives that we've been tasked with during our time with the game thus far include destroying an enemy tank, clearing out enemy pillbox defenses, and infiltrating a heavily fortified enemy base against the clock so that we're inside in time to assist friendly forces in a planned assault. There are invariably lots of different ways for you to go about completing each objective, but we'll tell you right now that charging around with an auto-targeting machine gun is rarely a good choice--especially on tougher difficulty settings where enemy snipers are every bit as adept as you.
When you find yourself under fire, Sniper Elite's minimalist heads-up display does a great job of letting you know roughly where the shots are coming from, at least to the same, realistic extent that you might figure it out in real-life if you were able to hear it. The compass in the lower left-hand corner of the screen (which incorporates a watch and health gauge) will flash in the direction that the shots are coming from, and the color of the flash indicates whether or not the enemy in question has actually managed to hit you. Most of the locations that we've visited in Sniper Elite thus far feature plenty of objects and debris for you to take cover behind, and we're pleased to report that the game's default controls (which are fully customizable) make it easy to move around and to switch between standing, kneeling, and prone postures.
If we have one criticism of Sniper Elite at this point it would be that the game's visuals look somewhat dated, with textures that appear great from a distance but generally look a bit nasty once you get close to them. With that said, there are some really nice touches in the game, such as animated skies with planes flying overhead, the way the screen blurs for a moment when you zoom in and out using your scope or binoculars, and the way drops of rain land on the aforementioned lenses when appropriate.
We've enjoyed our time with Sniper Elite's single-player campaign, and look forward to bringing you information on the game's multiplayer features in the near future. Sniper Elite is currently scheduled for release in September.
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