Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Sniper: Art of Victory Review

Sniper: Art of Victory, developed and published by City Interactive on Gamer’s Gate.
The Good: Realistic breathing and wind effects, decent graphics for the price, only $10
The Not So Good: Unflinching difficulty, unfairly stupid mission design, questionable ballistics and unreliable targeting, linear levels limit sniping positions, unintelligent AI , short, multiplayer could have been neat
What say you? It would be a decent game in theory, but the core mechanic in this stealthy shooter (you know, shooting) is broken: 4/8

Nothing is more feared on the battlefield than snipers (well, that and Gary Coleman). You don’t know when they are going to strike, and one shot is all it takes. Obviously, this kind of action would make for a good computer game, and that’s the goal of Sniper: Art of Victory. This is another one of those budget first person shooters at the low, low price of $10. You should probably lower your expectations when dealing with a game as cheap as this one, but as long as the core mechanic of shooting people remain intact, then some good fun should be had.

Sniper: Art of Victory looks better than you’d expect a $10 to look. The game uses the Chrome engine developed by Techland used primarily in racing games. It performs pretty well here as Sniper: Art of Victory is populated with good, high resolution textures and small details in the more civilized areas like furniture to create a more believable setting. The completely linear level design is very apparent with drastically tall mountains or fences surrounding each of the game’s levels (who knew Russia was so hilly!), but the interior of each locale is done well. The characters in the game have nice death animations that are entertaining (if a bit overblown) every time I see them. This is coupled with a follow-the-bullet camera view that is gimmicky but still amusing most of the time. As for the sound design, Sniper: Art of Victory comes with generic voice acting where the characters enunciate very well (a hallmark of translation). The creepy, tense background music fits for foreboding theme of the game well. The weapon sounds are exactly what you would expect and they seem to be realistic enough. Overall, I was a little impressed by the quality of the visuals in Sniper: Art of Victory considering the price of the game.

Sniper: Art of Victory consists of eight levels where you play as a single Russian (not surprising considering the eastern European development team) during World War II picking off those nasty Nazis one at a time. Each level takes around twenty to thirty missions to complete if you can make it all the way through without dying (unlikely). A tutorial is incorporated into the campaign that teaches the basics of the interface. There are two difficulty settings: recruit (as opposed to veteran) will show the actual path of the bullet with every outside influence taken into consideration, although how well this really works will be discussed later. The objectives of each level are very basic and do not vary: reach the other end and shoot everyone along the way. The levels themselves are very linear, offering only one path to the objectives; this is a surprising limitation considering that part of sniping is positioning and Sniper: Art of Victory just eliminates this freedom. The enemies are not randomly placed, so playing the same mission again will result in no surprises. Enemies will occasionally move when they are triggered (or given a path by the scenario designer), but this is always in a small area. More disturbing is the completely unfair level design: in the second mission, you begin at a truck in plain view of a guard tower twenty feet away. That has got to be the worst covert operation ever. It goes without saying that you are instantly shot and die about half of the time before you’ve even done anything. Nice. After you are done with the eight missions (assuming you survive past the first five seconds), you are done with Sniper: Art of Victory as there is no multiplayer, either cooperative or competitive. Either way would have been great fun but that fun is not to be had here in Sniper: Art of Victory.

The shooting is, in theory, quite realistic, which is exactly what you would expect in a sniping title. You must pay attention to your breathing and the wind, which is randomized and presents quite a challenge. You can hold your breath to get a more steady shot (about the only way to do so), but it is impossible to pull off two shots in a row if you do so: your sniper will hyperventilate even after holding their breath for only a couple of seconds. The game actually disables shooting during this time period, and since most of the patrols consist of more than one enemy soldier, you will most likely die. Who hyperventilates after holding their breath for three seconds? Answer: the worst sniper ever!

If that wasn’t enough, your sniper rifle shots constantly get stopped by invisible walls, while other times flying right through solid objects. You can be looking directly at your target (who has been conveniently placed in a building that negates the whole sniping dynamic of the game) and then your bullet just doesn't hit. Sigh. This goes for both your sniper rifle and other weapons like pistols and submachine guns. You can be aiming right at a guy at point-blank range and pump an entire clip into him and not hit him once. I’m sorry, but if the shooting in a shooting game does not work, then you can’t enjoy it. Of course, the AI can shoot perfectly through walls and it only takes one shot before you are dead. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

The AI in Sniper: Art of Victory is both the dumbest and smartest opponent you’ll ever meet. You can shoot at them and sometimes they will react and run to alert others, but most of the time they will just stand there are you continue to fill them with hot lead. Enemies appear on your minimap without even spotting them: a convenient unintentional cheat. You can also see shadows under buildings and through walls to help you out. Once the AI has “sensed” you, they will open fire and hit you dead-on, even through walls. Yes, the AI can also see you through solid walls; it's a wonder the Germans lost the war!

Sniper: Art of Victory had the potential to be a decent game, but it fails in several key (and annoying) areas. Shooting is broken: perfectly lined-up shots hit nothing and the assisted targeting reticule on recruit level is inconsistently accurate. I like how breathing and wind are incorporated into the shooting, but since the result of pulling the trigger is so unpredictable, Sniper: Art of Victory is frankly unplayable. The mission design is poor, as the game commonly places you in plain view of enemy units at the start of the level. The levels are also too linear to support true sniper positioning strategy. The AI doesn’t consistently react to being shot at, but once they “find” you, they will hit you every time, even if walls or other solid objects are in the way. The short eight missions could have been expanded with multiplayer, but Sniper: Art of Victory lacks this feature. You do get some good graphics for $10, but the basics of Sniper: Art of Victory are too useless to warrant a purchase even at a drastically reduced price.