There’s something about the Steam Summer Sale that often causes me to throw pecuniary caution to the wind and try things that I would normally avoid like a cat avoids bathing. A case in point is Sniper Elite 4. I don’t avoid these games out of any kind of hyper-sensitivity to simulated violence delivered via warmer-than-ambient temperature lead, nor am I squeamish when it comes to melee killing. No, my innate reticence comes from what I can only describe as inherent infantry incompetence, or on occasion, I-cubed. Simplified, it simply means that I hate dying. Over and over and over. It wears on the soul.
So why take a shot at Sniper Elite 4? Why not continue my long-standing tradition of victory through abstention? Well… when it does come to shooting, there’s something to be said for maintaining a healthy distance from my virtual opponents. Sniping provides an appealing “reach out and touch someone really, really hard from far, far away” model, if you will, that appeals to my hyperactive sense of virtual self-preservation. With Sniper Elite, my hopes were that I could make a contribution to the war effort without getting my hands dirty. Or my brain perforated, for that matter.
Spoiler: It didn’t work. I died. Then I died again. And again. Repeat ad nauseum.
That would have been extremely frustrating if not for my number one most favorite feature of the game: you can save your game progress at any time. Note that this is a huge crutch that at times encourages far riskier behavior than one would consider if the penalty of death was higher, which could be considered a demerit of the game to stronger players, but for me it was, for want of a better word, a lifesaver.
I recognized this as something of a cheat, though, so in order to restore a modicum of Karmic balance to my world, I selected the more accurate (and thus more difficult) bullet physics option. By doing so, I ensured that I would miss most of my carefully timed shots which, because getting shot at really gets those AI guys worked up into a frenzy, often sent me right back to the Load Game screen for another try. Chalk up another untimely demise. I eventually came across another game feature that improved my accuracy immeasurably, but I’ll get to that.
Premise-wise, there’s nothing earth shattering to be seen here. I played the part of some guy named Karl Fairburne, an American secret agent during an arcane, relatively unknown conflict known as WWII. Yes, that was sarcasm. This time around it’s 1943 and I’m serving as an elite sniper in Italy. Because it’s 1943, the weapons involved are relatively simple, as compared to more modern arenas and eras. That suits me just fine. I have to confess that I don’t pay a great deal of attention to the storylines when I play games like these, and in this case it seemed to not matter. I knew who to shoot and, more importantly, so did they.
Geographically, I found myself placed on an island for the first mission. A fairly large island, to be precise. With no means of transportation. That isn’t to say that there weren’t any useful vehicles lying about for me to purloin and repurpose to my needs - there were. But this ain’t Far Cry - I had to walk. That can take a great deal of time if, like me, you’re a coward and if, as is the case with this game, you can take any path you want. Whatever the opposite of “linear” is, Sniper Elite 4 has it.
Remaining undetected was a big part of my overall strategy, and the combination of crouching while moving, and hiding in shrubberies when not, is not heroic in either appearance or fact, but it eventually got me to where I needed to be. I also did a lot of climbing, although that often proved to be the more dangerous method of getting to high ground. It’s easy to climb, but harder to surreptitiously crawl over the lip of whatever wall or cliff you have climbed. They very well might be waiting for you up there, and once they see you, there’s nowhere to go but down.
Lucky for me, I had a very good map to help me navigate the island, and a strong pair of binoculars to assess the dangers I would be encountering from a safe vantage point. The binoculars also gave me the ability to mark enemies, which in turn allowed me to see them even when they were obstructed by solid objects. If you were wondering how a single sniper can eventually eradicate an island of a few dozen enemies, this is a clue.
Also lucky for me is something called “empty lung” shooting. This occurs when you slowly creep around the island rather than running. Creeping keeps your pulse low, and when your pulse is low you can enter a deep concentration that makes calculating wind drift and bullet drop very accurately. In less flowery words, it aims the gun for you. I missed far less often once I found that out.
Also in the interest of remaining undetected, I spent a lot of time waiting for ambient noises to cover the report of my rifle. I was also able to find a few “suppressed” rounds for the rifle which mooted the need for other sounds to mask the sound of my shooting, but there never seemed to be quite enough of those bullets to finish the job. I also had a silenced pistol that uses regular easy to find ammo, but I soon learned that I needed to be very close to the target and to hit him in the head; it was a quiet pistol, but it was not a strong pistol.
On the not infrequent occasions when the target was only wounded, I got a taste of the angry AI enemy’s skill in seeking me out and adding to my ever-growing Load Game count. The AI soldiers were an interesting mix. Some of them were able to sniff me out and end me, while others were as bad at this kind of warfare as I am. At one point, three of them had me cornered in a tower. One climbed the ladder. I blasted him as soon as he came over the precipice. Number two went the same way. Number three milled around on the ground for awhile, then disgustedly complained that I had “gotten away” before walking back to his post. I can’t decide if he was the smartest of the three, or the dumbest. Either way, I’d be lying if I claimed to not be happy to see him leave.
I am not through the entire campaign yet, and I don’t know what the future brings, but I have already learned two things: I can complete the missions as a “pure” sniper, by which I mean using only the scoped rifle and none of the other interesting devices like trip-wire mines and grenades, and I much prefer the game with the “guts and gore” animations turned off. I understand that the latter is the veritable trademark of the Sniper Elite games, but to me it was simply gratuitous and an unwelcome interruption in the flow of the game. I’m happy that the ability to disable it was provided.
I should point out that there were occasions when “using only the rifle” might not be as constrained as it sounds. Sometimes the rifle is just a remote trigger for far more damaging explosives such as fuel tanks, ammunition boxes, and vehicles. It’s also possible bring gravity into play with a well timed and well aimed shot by crushing guards with pallets, if you’re lucky enough to get the opportunity to shoot the rope it’s hanging from.
I don’t normally pay a lot of attention to the multiplayer aspects of games - I prefer the pace and convenience of offline play. If I do look at multiplayer, it’s always and only for co-op games. Groups of anonymous people might just as well be AI to me. I get dead either way. There is a co-op mode in this game, though, that is perfectly designed for two players. In my experience, it’s a lot easier to find an opportunity to play with one adult rather than having to herd together three or more.
The game is called Overwatch. One player plays as a sniper, the other is a scout. The two maps included with the game are generously sized, but not to the vast scale of a campaign map. Just as in campaign games, there are goals to be accomplished. The scout can mark targets for the sniper to take care of, although it’s not uncommon for the sniper’s view to be obstructed and thus unable to help. It doesn’t seem as if the sniper can return the favor of marking targets for the scout, though.
The sniper doesn’t have it easy. The AI will also move against the sniper too, and until one of the AI is killed and his weapons retrieved, the sniper has only his long rifle or melee for defense. This makes strict control of the usage of suppressed ammo critically important. Suppressed ammo allows the sniper to take a shot without the AI hearing it. That keeps them from triangulating on the sniper’s position. If there is no suppressed ammo to be found, the only way for the sniper to remain unfound is to only shoot when a distracting noise (thunder, etc.) occurs to cover the sound of the rifle. Those don’t come often and because the AI seldom stand still, there is no guarantee that there will be an available target anyway.
As for the scout, he has a great time! As much as I thought I would prefer to do my killing from a long distance, there are certainly some seriously cool things to do on the ground too. Just about an hour ago, I was perched on the second floor of a fairly solid building trying to figure out what to do about the idling tank parked just a few meters away in the courtyard. There wasn’t really much I could do - I decided to try to get up next to it, close enough that the turret couldn’t be depressed enough to shoot me.
That cost me three lives. That’s not a big deal, though - you spawn eerily close to where you made your most recent disastrously bad decision. Once I got up next to it, I saw that there were viewing slots propped open. This was easy to see because the game did me the favor of painting them red to indicate that they were targetable, but I like to tell myself that I would have thought to shoot up in there anyway with the hopes of some productive ricochets calming those fellows down a bit. Sure enough, a nice burst settled them right down. One satchel charge later, and KABOOM!
So very gratifying!
Sniper Elite 4 has turned out to be everything I had hoped for, and because of the inclusion of an option button to turn off the gratuitous meat show, none of the things I was afraid it would be. I’m always happy to find a deal in a Steam sale, but I would have paid the full nut for it if I had known it was this much fun.
I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.
My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.
While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.
My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.