There’s a new Sniper Elite game coming soon.
On one level this is super-exciting because as a longtime fan of the series I’ve reviewed all of them for Gamecritics, and have watched as the franchise has gradually improved and been perfected over the years by developers with a passion for delivering the most intense stealth and sniping experience possible.
The setting this time – France – promises castles, rivers, ports, and the kind of verdant forests we don’t get enough of in the franchise, The wooded area in Sniper Elite 4 was a delight, and the little bits of nature that I saw in this hands-on preview were both gorgeous and a perfect place to explore and stalk through.
Gameplay-wise, Sniper Elite 5 mostly offers refinements to the design elements we saw in SE3 and SE4.
For example, instead of swapping out their starting kit, players scavenge weapons from the fallen dead and hold onto them as temporary weapons to be used for a few minutes and discarded. It’s a decent system, and does a good job of showing off the different ways guns can be customized, as enemy weapons come with a wide variety of sights, barrels, and magazines. This leads to some questions about why there’s a silenced colt .45 with a 17-bullet capacity lying around a French farmhouse, but players are ostensibly expected to enjoy sampling the armaments rather than worrying about the realism of the situation.
The game even takes a note from Hitman‘s book by setting up specific ways to kill mission targets for rewards. In the level I played, I was asked to drop a chandelier on an officer’s head while he was surveying stolen art in a ballroom. It’s an interesting addition that should encourage players to go back to levels multiple times and test out a variety of approaches.
If these were all the changes that Rebellion made to Sniper Elite, it would be one of my most-anticipated games of the year.
Tragically, this isn’t the case.
Why? Because they made one additional change that transforms the adventure from a delightful fantasy to be savored and turns it into a nightmare to be deeply concerned about.
That change? Non-lethal options.
I was genuinely aghast when I watched the ‘how to play’ video and saw Karl Fairburne – the main character of the SE series, and a man known only for massacring nazis – flip his knife around and clonk a nazi over the head instead of slitting his throat. I don’t have footage of this because why would I ever do something like that in this game? I do, however, have footage of SE5‘s menus which clearly establish that not only does the game have fantasy non-lethal ammunition for weapons, but there are actual badges for getting through a level without killing any non-key targets.
That’s right – Sniper Elite 5 will award experience points for NOT killing Nazis.
To be absolutely crystal clear, this is the Sniper Elite franchise – a series that leads the industry in depicting the brutal murder of Nazis, and I revel in the joyful depiction of shrapnel perforating the internal organs of Nazi soldiers in gruesome slow-motion. Indeed, the point of this series is to remind people that Nazis are monsters, and to allow them to deliver brutal deaths to the Nazis whose actions have earned them… and yet, apparently the developers at Rebellion have decided you should be able to liberate France and dispense justice without hurting Nazis?
To those who might say – ‘Well, this is for people who don’t like games to be disgusting‘ I say turn off the x-ray death cam.
To those who might say ‘Maybe there should be less-violent options for people who are interested in the story‘, I say play something else – Sniper Elite is, and has always been, a game about murdering Nazis. If you want to avoid killing things, play a Thief game, or play Metal Gear – they require or at least heavily encourage stealth without murder.
For disturbed individuals who want to play as a Nazi, I’m sure EA and Activision will be happy to take your money, but this is Sniper Elite. This is a game about killing Nazis.
What makes this design decision even worse is the reality that in our current political climate, American politicians go in front of cameras and use Hitler as a role model and an actual fascist is in a head-to-head runoff to be the president of France. At this moment in time as literal, real-world fascism is on the rise, Rebellion has decided to make killing Nazis optional. The game is literally about stopping a Nazi invasion of America and the developers think it’s a good idea to say that hey, maybe we don’t have to kill Nazis?
Who was asking for this? What were the developers thinking??
And no, that question is not rhetorical. I actually need to know because this game has been in development for years.
Hundreds of people have worked on it.
At some point, at least one of them had to say ‘Maybe Nazis shouldn’t die in this game.’ and then some number of people had to approve that decision.
And then people had to code in an ‘unconscious’ state to enemies.
And then they had to craft animations of people getting knocked out.
And then they had to design the badges that players get for not killing Nazis.
This didn’t happen accidentally. People decided that Sniper Elite, which had, up until this moment, been where people who want to kill Nazis in videogames go to have the best possible experience killing Nazis – should suddenly become be a game where maybe it’s okay for Nazis to get a pass??
This is disgusting.
Luckily, there’s still time to fix this. Sniper Elite 5 doesn’t come out for another six weeks, and this isn’t a difficult thing to patch out. Remove the ‘knock-out’ button and prompt. Delete all references to non-lethal ammunition from the loadout screen and game world, and erase those badges from the awards menu.
Nazis need to die, and it’s Sniper Elite‘s job to make those deaths as entertaining as possible. So fix this, Rebellion, or be remembered as the company that pulled an abrupt about-face in a world with real, actual fascism on the rise and said ‘Hey, maybe the Nazis weren’t so bad, after all…‘