Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: City Interactive
Developer: City Interactive
Release Date: October 16, 2008
I'll admit that I didn't really have high hopes for City Interactive's Sniper: Art of Victory. Perhaps it was the slightly convoluted title. Perhaps the game's usage of the Chrome engine tipped the scale. Either way, I suspected from the beginning that the game might let me down. Now, after having played the game to completion twice, I can honestly report that Sniper fulfilled all expectations of mediocrity, and at times even strayed into the territory of outright badness.
Sniper: AoV is set during the Russian counterattack of World War II, a mine from which game developers have officially stripped all possible ore. After surviving a plane crash, the main character is tasked with fighting his way through enemy ranks and rejoining his comrades as they participate in the recapture of Stalingrad — or something. The story line is so unenthusiastically explained throughout the course of the game that by the third or fourth level, I simply forgot that it was there.
As the name implies, Sniper focuses heavily on scoped rifles and precision marksmanship. While the game resembles most other FPSes at first glance, upon zooming in, the player is presented with a host of interesting gadgets. All of these are ostensibly geared toward a simulation level of realism. A (nonsensical) EKG ticker monitors your heart rate, a gauge tracks wind speed and direction, and each breath shakes the scope in what seems to be a very authentic way. It all looks very good and coaxes a hesitant sort of faith from the player because all of these bells and whistles must mean something.
Perhaps they do, but if that's the case, then their arcane wisdom is lost to me. On one occasion, I lined up a series of shots precisely the same way, ensuring that the crosshairs rested on the same point, the wind was neutral, and my breath was held. Without fail, the rounds struck in wildly different locations. This at least implies that the various gauges and monitors are bunk, and that the aiming system is a cobbled-together chaotic mess with no real method behind it.
This is somewhat mitigated by the inclusion of the Recruit difficulty mode. With this setting, a tiny circle indicates definitively where the bullet will strike. Predictably, though, this flips the dynamic of the game from being punishingly and nearly unplayably difficult to being laughably (and nearly unplayably) easy. Being able to automatically determine where the shot will land allows the player to go from firing entire magazines at a single enemy in Hard mode to mowing down vast armies with almost no planning or thought. This disparity in difficulties might be acceptable, if not for the fact that there are only the two difficulty modes in Sniper: AoV, so the game is either way too easy or way too hard, with absolutely no middle ground.
To further complicate the issue, the AI is simply unexplainable. At times, passing scouts will appear completely unaware that the player has felled another soldier a few feet away. Entire patrols will be eradicated one by one as each enemy fails to notice the carnage occurring around him. By direct contrast, some enemies will become aware of the player from miles away as if by prescience, their unerring aim with the MP40 resulting in numerous sudden deaths and subsequent reloads. Some enemies spot the player and then simply forget what to do next! It isn't particularly uncommon to see an enemy sniper pathing back and forth repeatedly instead of returning fire.
The silly missions and level design flaws conspire to make Sniper: AoV feel like more of a chore than a pastime. On one such level, the player is tasked with fighting his way past several guards to eliminate an enemy marksman somewhere in Stalingrad. Unfortunately, City Interactive's reimagining of the massive battle is just a mess. Only a handful of enemy soldiers patrol the area, making the giant map feel uncannily empty. Blocky, inexplicable architecture inhibits progress at every turn. To steer the player away from aimless wandering, minefields have been littered throughout the city. I won't even touch on the historical inaccuracy of this design choice. What is bothersome, though, is that these mines have been planted in absolutely ridiculous places: inside buildings, under concrete streets, etc. The game is kind enough to warn you if you stray too close to these obstacles, but it does so in broken English that's difficult to decipher.
Graphically, Sniper doesn't fare any better. The Chrome engine is woefully incapable by today's standards. The textures are extremely pixel-heavy and rough, with a dull color palette that swathes every surface in uninspired earth tones. Nothing stands out, and nothing can be described (even briefly) as attractive. The character models aren't horrendous, but they suffer the same limitations. They are jagged and poorly textured, with lifeless colors and exceptionally limited animation. Furthermore, since there are only a handful of models throughout the game, the same poorly realized figures are seen again and again.
The poor graphics go from simply unattractive to maddening at certain times because for some obtuse reason, windows are nearly completely opaque to the player. This is a convention that appears in many games (and one that I despise), but it takes a never-before-seen sinister twist in Sniper:AoV. While glass seems to unfailingly inhibit the player's view, it provides no such handicap to the AI. Enemies will frequently fire from behind these one-sided (and unbreakable) portals, meaning that it may very well take the player several deaths to determine the source issuing the constant stream of lead.
The sound design is perhaps the best aspect of the game, which isn't to say that it is any good at all. Comparatively speaking, though, Sniper fails less in this department than in many others. The ambient noises are appropriate and fairly well realized, and weapons sound more or less like one might expect them to sound. All of this is undone, though, by voice acting that makes almost no sense by any measure. The main character is voiced with a neutral American accent, but his two comrades (both Russians) are, of course, voiced by an Englishman and an Irishman. Wait, what? It's as if the casting director for Sniper, unable to decide on a suitable generic European accent, just decided to hire one of each.
Sniper: Art of Victory is a terrible, awful game. The campaign, which clocks in at around two hours on Recruit difficulty and around 10 years on Hard mode, is plagued with horrendous graphics, senseless level design, and nerve-wracking voice acting. The mechanics of combat border on the absurd and cause numerous inexplicable and sudden deaths. Enemy AI acts in every possible unnatural manner, destroying even the slightest shred of immersion. Mission objectives, which include such gems as destroying Panzer tanks with small caliber sniper rifles, are patently silly. Ultimately, there are no qualities within Sniper that redeem it, and it is a title that is best given a miss.
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