Thursday, 12 February 2015

Sneaky Sniper Shoots Some Slo-mo

Patience - they say - is one of the principal characteristics of a good sniper. So it is with some satisfaction that my long wait for STEAM to drop it's price of Rebellion's Sniper Elite III finally paid off and I bought the game for the acceptable sum of £11.95 (down from £39.99).
Now I will pre-empt the criticism of the game by saying I know it's only mediocre on the PC (and apparently unplayable on the consoles), but the fact is I don't care. Everyone knows what the Sniper Elite games are about and that's not innovative and enthralling gameplay. 

Let's fact it folks - Sniper Elite's single player mode is all about the 'kill-cam'! (And it's the single player mode I am interested in at the moment.)

I discovered SE's infamous X-ray Kill-cam feature when I bought the Zombie version of the original Sniper Elite when - agin - it was on sale on STEAM. I was instantly hooked!

'Tis only a scratch!'
Call me a ghoul if you like but there is something very relaxing about the CIS-esque skeleton mode for watching the destructive results of a particularly well-placed bullet! I find it particularly relaxing after a bad day at work! (Say no more...But before you jump to conclusions, no - I do not have a copy of 'Catcher in the Rye' on my bookshelf. So if you are a work colleague reading this you have nothing to fear!)

Anyway, Sniper Elite II is just more of the same except now we have the - wait for it - 'testicle-kill' kill cam shot! I literally nearly fell off my chair the first tie I got one.

Aside from this it's all just 'more of the same' served up in some new - admittedly very attractive - new settings. I was in fact very pleased with the quality of the graphics and I was especially happy with the North African campaign settings of this game.

The graphics are quite nice and the portrayal of the North African campaign
environment is very nice indeed.
However, I was less well pleased about the continued inability to chose your own character as the eponymous hero. You still have to endure Rebellion's pale copy of MachineGames "B.J." Blazkowicz character. Even the voice acting is nothing more than a poor man's Wolfenstein series script, but without the rye humour or intended over the top plot. The 'plot' and voice acting in Sniper Elite is just plain bad.

Moreover, why oh why are we playing a North African campaign with an American main character? Yes, the Yanks were there - post Operation Torch - but by their arrival all the hard work had been done. How much additional work would it really have caused Rebellion to allow you to chose an alternative British character?

There again, going on American game developers' track record of producing an acceptable 'British' accent (thinks of Call of Duty and shakes head) it's perhaps a blessing that they didn't include a British narrative! (And as if to prove the point the British NPC's 'accent' in the game is shocking!) 

Anyway, gameplay.

To be honest it's similar to the Call of Duty single player format. It's all pretty linear - no matter how creative they get with the maps - and the old rule for playing these games still holds true - keep your back to the edge of the map and work your way around the outside!

One of the nice touches in SE3 is the ability to make 'Anti-material' sniper kills.
Here I take out a German flak-wagon with a nicely placed shot in the engine.
Obviously the results are a bit 'Hollywood' as in reality I don't think this sort
of shot would have such spectacular results!
In fact, because this is mainly about sniping this rule is even more relevant as where they try to hide a lot of the map (so you can't just snipe everything from the periphery) each sub-section of the map is so self-contained that you can pretty much handle it in isolation without fear of alerting the enemy in the adjacent section. Whereas where the map is fairly open you can  pick off targets clear across the other side of the play area!

No, the game isn't all that hard. 

There is some sneaking about to do as well at times, and you have a range of weapons that allow you to either go stealthy or cause diversions or set up some booby-traps. But as much as the game tries to make the cloak and dagger stuff an integral part of the experience you do get the feeling that sometimes you are just as well wading in and blasting everything, the poor AI hardly makes the extra effort to sneak around worth the effort.

The AI...Oh dear. I do like the idea that the AI can react to suspicious noises and movements as you try to navigate the map, but the bottom line is that by standing still or relocating the Nazi guards simply return to their normal routine patrol paths again. Even if they do find the body of one of your eliminated victims after a few minutes of initial concern all the enemy go back to their normal duty once the 'ALL CLEAR' criteria have been satisfied (i.e you hide).

Poor old Hans! Lying there with a hole in the back of his head and nobody care for more than a few moments! Some comrades! 

All that said I do repeat though in this case the actual logic of the gameplay or AI is secondary...It's those slo-mo long-range kill-cam moments that you enjoy.

There's a real 'get the popcorn out' feel to these sequences and I still find myself on the edge of my seat as I watch the path of the bullet as it streaks (in slow motion) towards a critical organ in my skeletal victim. And I still expound a hearty 'OOOOPH!' when the hit reveals itself.

So, despite all it's flaws I still get a kick out of the game and I guess other people do too - which is why the franchise keeps on going I suspect. And I fully expect a Sniper Elite IV or a zombie version of SE3.

On a final note, some amount of credit must go to the authenticity of the North African environment - they did a really nice job of both the locations and the uniforms and equipment of the combatants. Likewise the weapons are nicely done and there is a good selection - the customising or which can be done as you earn rewards for completion of the campaign. 

The selection of weapons to you is varied and you get the chance to save specialist
loadouts to match particular mission types. The default sniper rifle is the American
M1 Garand rather than the Springfield - I suspect this is to give the new player an
easier semi-auto rifle option.
I, naturally, chose the good old Lee Enfield SMLE - and the Welrod silent pistol is indesensible for the sneaky close-in jobs.

(I haven't mentioned the intriguing co-op mode. I am always pleased with game developers who include co-op modes and this game seems like it would be particularly suited to a team play-through. But as I haven't played that particular mode I can't say if it is fun or challenging.)

I'd give the game 3 out of 5 - mainly for the gruesome novelty of the kill-cam feature. I would NOT have been so happy had I bought this game at the full price however.