Slow your breathing. Prepare your aim. Time the moment of decision perfectly. And then, when you’re done, put in the PayPal details and wait for the post to arrive. Yes, the closest most of us can get to actual sniping is nipping in on an eBay auction at the last second – but thanks to videogames, there’s a way we can all experience the same thrill of long-range power over life and death that air traffic controllers must feel every day.
Sniping is a skill that many videogames do, but which few do well. Early FPS games like Doom and Quake concentrated more on fostering a quick-paced arcade atmosphere than rewarding stealth and accuracy. But as gaming AI became more sophisticated, video resolutions higher and simulations more accurate, the ability to snipe became more and more nuanced. The sniper rifle didn’t just represent another weapons option in a game, it represented a whole new way of playing it.
So, to mark the release of Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2, we’ve picked out some of our favourite videogame sniper experiences. Some titles are about being a sniper. Others allow you to choose to become one. But they all give you the chance to dispatch your enemies with nothing more than a single, well-placed bullet before disappearing into the shadows – and in the end, isn’t that what being a sniper is really about?
In a post-apocalyptic wasteland where every bullet counts, what could be a better companion than a trusty Sniper Rifle? They’re fragile, slow, and the ammo is hard to find, but when you’re out in the open desert you can take an aggressor’s head off from the very moment you spot them. And of course, in Fallout 3, being a sniper isn’t a choice you make on the weapons screen – it’s one you have to live throughout all aspects of the game, from the equipment you carry to the friends you make.
Even though the game is geared for all sorts of combat types, there’s a subtlety to Fallout 3‘s sniper mechanic, with scopes that sway if you’re unskilled in firearms combat or sporting an injured limb, and shots that do more damage if you remain unseen before firing. There are even some special unique rifles to be found in the game – the Victory Rifle, which is more durable and can knock down targets, and the Reservist’s Rifle, which can be fired faster and has less recoil. Perfect for fine-tuning your game.
Far Cry 2
Far Cry 2 was another game that used a level of accuracy to make its sniping fun, realistically modelling the bullet’s travel time so that sniping wasn’t just about lining up someone’s head and firing, but about taking into account some real-world conditions like distance and momentum. Shoot where they’re going, not where they are.
Of course, it helped that the enemy AI allowed snipers to toy with their prey. Injure one man, wait for his friends to investigate, and then finish them both off before they even get the chance to see what happened. Or take out an entire encampment at long range by plugging a few rounds into one of those conveniently-placed fuel tanks that only exist in computer games.
The game even gives snipers a second choice of weapon, with the Dart Rifle – a silent, neurotoxin-delivering flechette gives a guaranteed one-shot kill wherever you hit your enemy. It’s not much use long-term, its condition deteriorating quickly, but sometimes the best weapon is the right one for that particular job.
Sniper Elite V2
Set in 1945 Berlin, Sniper Elite V2 follows a capture-or-kill mission on the trail of the Nazi scientists who built the V2 rocket. A noble quest indeed. The third-person approach encourages the use of stealth and distance, but the game allows you to choose your preferred vantage points and routes between them in open-world style. Although you get a selection of sidearms and equipment to help you survive, when push comes to shove it’s the sniper rifle that’ll help you complete your mission.
What makes Sniper Elite V2 so much better than other sniper-centric games is its realistic modelling. Various factors affect each shot – wind direction and strength, bullet drop from gravity, even the possibility of ricochet that could expose your kill or take out the wrong target. A variety of postures lets you choose the best way to wait out your shot – you can even control your breathing.
And if all that sounds like work, it’s all worth it when the X-Ray Kill Cam gives you a Three Kings/David Fincher-style fly-through of your bullet’s path, right into an enemy’s spleen. Grisly, yes. Crass, perhaps. But fun? Always.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior
This 2010 tactical FPS practically reinvented the genre after years of dormancy, giving players control of an elite sniper team sent into a fictional South American republic to fight revolutionary rebels. Assuming control of various characters, each with different specialities, players are given the chance to experience various forms of firefight, from long-range stealth missions to close-up sniper versus sniper close quarter battles.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior was the first sniper game to accurately model things like bullet trajectories, crosswinds, gravity and flight time on shots, making it more complex than any other sniper simulator. On easier difficulty modes, it gave players the option to see whether their shots would hit before firing, but those more comfortable with the game could go it alone.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior was also unique in showing you a sniper team’s operation from multiple angles. Sometimes, you didn’t control the sniper – rather, you became a target painted for an AI sniper, showing them where and how to shoot while trying to survive in the hostile enemy environment.
It’s fair to say that the game was an interesting experiment rather than an unqualified success, but considering it practically invented the genre, it’s due plenty of respect. And with the sequel now on shelves, we’ll be looking with interest at the ways in which they’ve made improvements.
Of course, these are just our favourites, and there are plenty of games out there with sniping mechanics we’ve not played. If you’ve got your own video game sniping experience that you think trumps any of these, feel free share it in the comments. Just don’t say “Halo” and we’ll get along fine.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 is out on Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC on the 15th March.
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