Sniper Elite is full of both surprises and disappointments. Based off of the marketing for it, there are some pretty big promises in there, some of which the game lives up to, and some where it doesn’t. There is quite a lot to cover here, both good and bad. So I will just focus on the things that will benefit you the most.
The game promises “non-linear game play”,however the game structure itself is entirely linear and the levels for the most part are designed to follow a very linear path of objectives. Indeed, most objectives do not unlock until you finish the other objectives in order. On top of that, the developers intentionally put one or two alternative routes to each objective that will always be heavily guarded. Thus the only real, non-linear elements in the game, is that you get to decide which route to take to your objectives, playing the same level again but doing a different route or hiding in a different spot, which doesn’t really change the experience at all. In terms of actual levels or missions, there are 28 that follow each other in a linear fashion, each level is a surprisingly small area for a sniper game and some of which are even entirely indoors! Most of the time spent in each level will be focused on crawling around to each objective. The time spent on each level however will entirely depend on the difficulty you are playing at and your personal play style. A level can be completed within minutes or take up to a full 30 minutes.
50 shades of brown.
In terms of objectives there is a decent amount of variety. Being a sniper game you would expect each objective to be a mundane: go here, kill this person and then get out. Actually, this game’s objectives are more commando orientated. While it does include going to a place and killing a target there are many other types of objectives ranging from infiltrating an area and extracting important personnel, gaining access to intelligence placed by American spies (you also play as an American sniper in this game), taking out key positions or vehicles of the enemies, etc... Some objectives even involve protecting allies as they do some kind of mission; this is when I actually felt most like a real sniper, as this is the real role of a sniper in the army. While there is a lot of variety, given the different types of objectives and level designs, most levels sadly boil down to about 80 percent crawling and 10 percent shooting and another 10 percent running and gunning (if you need to escape fast). As such, after about 10 levels into the game I already started to get quite bored. The main issue perhaps is that the payoff to all that crawling and sneaking just is not enough and the second issue is that the levels feel very empty and bland. It is not that I do not enjoy stealth games, I quite love them in fact if they are done correctly (as a reference point, my personal favourite to date is Hitman Blood Money when it comes to stealth games). While the package as a whole did not manage to impress me at all, there are some elements that did. One such element is the shooting mechanics of the sniper rifle. The cool part here is you can actually fully customise how the rifle mechanics will be in the singleplayer campaign (and multiplayer if you are the host). So if you prefer it to play as a full on simulator, you can set it as such either on custom mode or Sniper Elite difficulty. In this case, your heartbeat and posture, the wind and gravity will all affect your bullet and gun in a realistic manner. If you prefer Call of Duty style gameplay, you can also set it to be like that; with no wind or gravity and your posture and heartbeat will not affect the gun and bullets. As mentioned before, you can also set it to custom difficulty and choose exactly what things you want on or off in terms of affecting the gun motion and bullet. To sweeten the deal, you even are rewarded with an awesome slow motion bullet cam on good kills (fortunately not on every single kill).
Graphically this game is really good, while I did have some issues running the game on my Windows 7 64bit. Even with compatibility mode and Windows Aero disabled I had the same issues. Officially this game only supports XP and Vista so issues on Win 7 do not surprise me. For the most part it ran fine as long as I did not play multiplayer, which for unknown reasons would bump the graphical settings all the way down from 1920x1080 with highest settings – down to 800x600 with lowest settings upon loading into a multiplayer match. In the singleplayer most of the time the game did stay on 1920x1080 with maxed out settings and as long as I did not try to load a save game or quit my current game and start a new game. At those settings though it does look surprisingly good and crisp for a game from 2005, there are games from that time which looked far better and far worse, but Sniper Elite definitely is up there though with the better looking games of 2005.
You'll spend most of your time laying down and crawling around.
While the graphics are solid, the same cannot be said about the sound, the voice acting in particular. Considering that games like Star Wars Republic Commando, Knights of the Old Republic 2 and Guild Wars came out that very same year – Sniper Elite’s voice acting is easily one of the worst of 2005. It is so bad in fact, that it is not even funny. It just makes you want to skip all dialogue entirely, so your ears don’t have to bleed. The dialogue itself is also poorly written and the story is non-existent. While they do manage to give context to each mission, it is hard to figure out whether or not there is some kind of overarching story that encompasses all 28 missions. The sound effects are decent, though the other games that same year definitely had better quality sound effects (e.g. Battlefield 2). The game actually has a decent soundtrack though but it is not used very well. At specific points or moments in the game the soundtrack is scripted to play specific music. However, at some points I had extremely dramatic music play for no apparent reason. Considering that all I was doing was crawling at that time and nothing else happened, to have really dramatic or exciting music play while you are crawling just feels silly, in fact just thinking of it makes me burst into laughter.
While I played the game now in 2012, there is a surprising number of people (300 people worldwide to be exact) playing the multiplayer. I presume though it does have something to do with Sniper Elite 2’s release on Steam. In terms of multiplayer I did play some MP despite the graphical issues I had. The multiplayer has 3 different modes: assassination, deathmatch and team deathmatch. The multiplayer is also peer to peer, with one person creating his own game with the ability to change all the game’s settings and weapon settings, and supports up to 8 players. There is not really much to say about the multiplayer, except that unless the host disables certain weapons it can become quite boring as mostly it is just people camping and sniping while setting up booby-traps.
Overall, I would not really recommend playing Sniper Elite, not today and not back in 2005. There are many better alternatives for stealth games and there are many better games from 2005 and before in general. While Sniper Elite does have some cool features and well made sniper mechanics that can be fully customised to suit each players’ personal preferences, the game as a whole falters in many areas. I just hope Sniper Elite V2 is a lot better as there is a lot of potential in Sniper Elite to be improved upon and put together to create a very fun game.