Sniper Elite is a rewarding gaming experience and a must have for the sniper aficionado. Thoroughly enjoyable.
The un-named hero of the story, an American OSS agent known by his codename, "Eagle Watch" must prevent Germany's nuclear research and scientists from falling into the hands of the Soviets. Eagle Watch is a sniper and uses those and other combat skills to accomplish his missions. He is dressed in German uniform and consequently can usually avoid combat with German forces, in all but a few specific missions. The emphasis is on successfully completing objectives and missions. There is negligible character development as Eagle Watch is already a professional sniper and covert operative when the game commences.
This is Berlin as no other WWII shooter game has previously captured it and the gloomy visual impact is enhanced by the sounds of artillery fire, screams, nearby explosions and shots whistling past. Fortunately the player is spared most of the horrors of the Soviet capture of the city, indeed the streets are largely deserted except for die-hard German forces and the Soviet forces. This emptiness, distant weapons fire and disembodied screams adds to the overbearing eerie atmosphere.
It is quite possible, if it suits your gameplay style, to play the game with a stealth approach and avoid incidental combat and focus on the sniping mission. Some missions or locations will limit stealthy gameplay and some of the later missions make close range combat unavoidable, usually when you have completed your main mission and are heading for the extraction point. You just never know what is around the next corner, whether at ground level or in doorway, by a window or on the roof. The key here is to realise that you do not have to enter combat with every enemy unit you see; you can simply avoid them.
The setting is decidedly gloomy and indeed eerie. Berlin is a war ravaged city, and the battles rage, largely unseen, but within earshot. Our un-named hero must navigate his way through the ruined streets to complete his missions. While some events in the game are obviously scripted, such as the arrival of various sniper targets or convoys, the missions themselves are not. Eagle Watch is pretty free to explore the streets, find shortcuts or tunnels, or enter buildings in order to outflank or bypass roving Soviet and German forces and to find a good sniping position, one that offers an alternate way out. Some streets end abruptly with constructed, or at times invisable, barriers blocking progress and these are shown on the mission breifing mini-map.
The mission briefings give the background of each mission and the interface, once you are used to it, can provide useful information and maps for each stage of the mission. Alas the presentation of text on the briefing screens is poorly formatted with many desriptions ending mid-sentence. Nevertheless it is worthwhile refering to the maps from time to time to locate yourself and the objective location. The HUD also features an indicator compass that points to your objectives, although as noted some streets are blocked off so the briefing maps should be used.
While I have numerous first and third person shooter games with sniper missions, this is the first dedicated "sniper game" that I have played. The game is certainly rewarding, especially when you manage to get a particularly good long range head shot, albeit the grisly slow motion may eventually become old or indeed put some off (however this can be disabled). Engaging in street level close range fire-fights in third person view can be quite deadly and should be avoided. Being a third person, when using an SMG, for example, firing from behind cover may mean you are firing into that cover due to the camera position.
Unlike other WWII-themed games that have one-off sniping missions Sniper Elite, by definition, focused entirely on sniper missions. Mostly you will see your enemies through your rifle's scope and by choice you will rarely want to get closer. That said, there will also be brutal close range fire-fights, usually with SMGs and grenades, as you make your way through the city streets to your next sniping position.
Sniper Elite is big on building up tension and you never know what is around the next corner or indeed what may be following you. Indeed you may try an alternate route that avoids known enemy positions only to stumble across an enemy patrol lurking in a doorway or a concealed sniper overwatching a street or plaza.
The game settings in Sniper Elite is highly customisable. There are four basic difficulty settings Rookie, Cadet, Marksman and Sniper Elite which are analogous to Easy, Normal, Hard and Extreme. These default settings also adjust the enemy AI and sniping ballistics to include gravity, wind, posture, heart rate and breathing. Additionally these setting can be individually customised such that, for example, you can focus on realistic sniping ballistics but lower enemy AI. The choice is yours. I initially played through on Cadet and found it quite challenging and later tried the higher difficulty settings once the missions were unlocked.
The enemy AI in Sniper Elite is exceptional compared to most shooters. Enemy soldiers, usually Russians, will move from cover to cover and work co-operatively to flush you out. Every now and then, they will heedlessly advance on your position in the open, but this is the exception rather than the rule. You can adjust enemy AI via the the difficulty settings or you can customise them. The harder the setting, the quicker they will find you and eliminate you.
Generally, once you fire, enemy forces, including their snipers, will home in on your firing position either directly or indirectly. Always scan an area in which you take up a sniping position, especially check the rooftops and windows for enemy snipers and be aware that enemy snipers will relocate and/or duck, so look carefully. Note that you can lean (only) when you are in sniper (first person) view and this will aid in your concealment.
Snipe Elite is comprised of nine (9) lengthy missions and each is different enough, with a number of levels and secondary objectives, to keep you interested. Each mission stage, or level, starts with an infiltration and ends with an exfiltration and your health and ammo situation at the end of one stage is retained for the start of the next stage. The missions can be summarised as follows:
1 Karlshorst - (Pt1) infiltrate city, meet resistance agent, rescue prisoner and deliver to safehouse, destroy tank; (Pt2) kill enemy in pillboxes, meet resistance, destroy tanks at headquarters, fight off Soviets at ammo dump. Basically this is the game's training mission but is quite challenging even with the hints (which can be disabled) that pop up on screen.
2 Assassinate Bormann - (Pt1) infiltrate the heavily guarded Reichstag area at night, Soviet attack occupies Germans, retrieve document, neutralise German AA guns to clear your escape path; (Pt2) infiltrate the Brandenburg Gate environs, retrieve new sniper rifle, plant bombs, locate a suitable sniping position await meeting between Bormann and NKVD, kill Bormann and his Soviet contact, battle your way to the exfiltration point. This challenging mission can play out in a number of ways depending on if you are spotted before Bormann arrives at the rendevous point.
3 Extract Agent - (Pt1) take position on bridge overlooking city streets, fight off NKVD assaults, meet agent, destroy tank, NKVD looters; (Pt2) locate courier, destroy tank and armoured car; (Pt3) find agent, avoid or eliminate German patrols, kill officer and retrieve uniform; (Pt4) infiltrate church tower to provide cover fire for agent escaping German custody during air raid, escape church and evade German ambush; (Pt5) evade patrols on way to exfiltration point. Note, the only safe pathway to the church tower begins behind and to the left of your initial start location.
4 Karlshorst Reprise - avoid hidden snipers among trees, infiltrate fuel depot, eliminate guards and hide bodies, place charges to destroy fuel dump, NKVD commander arrives by train, locate NKVD codebook, escape and watch plant blow up. There are at least three entry points into the fuel dump compound and it is possible to avoid killing most guards. A relatively short mission that while emphasising stealth does not lock you into that approach.
5 The Scientists - (Pt1) prevent relocation of German to Russia, cross bridge to infiltrate well guarded underground railway (U-bahn) station, defend against counterattacks, head to town square, NKVD snipers and tank, retrieve intel about scientists relocation plans; (Pt2) infiltrate major railway station, set charges on train to prevent evacuation of scientists, destroy trucks, find sniping positions on rooftop and within buildings to deal with NKVD reinforcements. Quite a challenging mission where its easy to get "cornered" if you don't watch your back.
6 Nordsig Heavy Water Plant - (Pt1) battle way into U-Bahn advance carefully along tunnels, avoid or deal with German patrols, exit tunnel at next station, (Pt2) encounter more patrols; make way along the streets to the plant, tank and guards; (Pt3) infiltrate the plant, destroy trucks and armoured car, battle reinforcements; (Pt4) infiltrate the plant complex which comprises three multistory buildings each of which has one or more objectives (finding scientist, activating pumps, planting charges, retrieving documents from a safe, using a radio); (Pt5) provide cover for OSS team infiltrating plant to finish the job, destroy tank; (Pt6) time to exfiltrate but first deal with enemy snipers and patrols. Eagle Watch at various stages battles both Germans and Russians in this mission.
7 Recover V2 Technology - (Pt1) prevent Russians from relocation captured V2 rockets held at Schloss, prevent Soviet motorcycle couriers from gatting message through; (Pt2) battle NKVD patrols, plant timebombs to destroy two ammo dumps; (Pt3) destroy four Katyusha rocket trucks; (Pt4) infiltrate partially destroyed train yards, destroy fuel tankers, battle numerous Russian guards and patrols using rafters and pipes (reminiscent of the sniper duel in Enemy at the Gates); (Pt5) traverse streets, battle way into Schloss, find sniping location to cover OSS team and fend off Russian counter assaults. This is another challenging mission which balances stealth and sniping with close quarters firefights.
8 Escape from Berlin - (Pt1) rescue captured pilot by ambushing convoy; locate pilot's captured brother in observatory, escort pilot to safety; (Pt2) deal with Russian ambush comprising two tanks and support troops; (Pt3) stealthy infiltration of hangar at air base, eliminate guards, plant bombs, seize control tower, snipe NKVD in radar truck, cover plane while it prepares to take off, jump on board to escape! Quite a challenging mission to end the game, especially if you trigger the alarms as guards will appear from all directions.
9 Secret Mission - a short unlockable or bonus mission, battles rage on the streets, locate OSS agent in hotel, Russians find out about rendevous, defend agent against Russian combat groups while he destroys intel, escort agent to safety through streets evading numerous Russian patrols. THE END.
Players will find a dearth of walkthroughs or guides online for Sniper Elite and one can only assume that this is because the game is not at all linear, either in the order you complete your objectives or indeed how you may navigate the maps. I replayed a number of mission segments, from various save points, trying different approaches and found interesting back alleys, tunnels, pathways through partially destroyed buildings, etc that make each mission play out differently. If you are killed by a hidden enemy sniper, the camera will zoom in on his position so next time you will bear that in mind.
Health packs and ammunition are scattered around the maps, often in cellars. You can also search bodies to find ammunition and bandages. If bodies are in the open you can move them to cover to hide them and search them there.
Sniper Elite gives you a statistical report and score on your mission progress including ammunition expended, number of head shots, hitting moving targets, maximum range of kill, etc. Though it is the challenging, multi-part, missions themselves that I found satisfying. Each mission has a limited number of saves, however you can still save over the limit but this will reduce your score.
The graphical presentation, while arguably having a dated look, is indeed quite detailed and more than adequate for the devastation it portrays. Sniper Elite is a good looking game with much atmosphere created by its visual presentation, the understated musical score, debris and smoke drifting across the streets and the ever present sounds of gunfire and those haunting screams.
Unlike a number of games I have recently played, Sniper Elite is a very stable game with no notable glitches encountered apart from the text formatting on the mission briefing screens. The ability to save as and when desired is a bonus, especially if like me you become so absorbed in the game that you find yourself still staring down the scope in the wee small hours.
Personally, I recommend staying with the more powerful Tokarev SVT-40 sniper rifle, rather than upgrading to the Mosin-Nagant M91, unless you have enabled wind effects.
OVERALL: Sniper Elite is a superlative WWII shooter game and one of the few highly regarded sniper simulations irrespective of era. This game is heavy on immersive atmosphere and tension and the challenge of making that long-distance head shot. This is a game where you will feel that your patience is amply rewarded. Replayability is high given the open nature of the maps.