Four games in - five if you count Hitman Absolution's Sniper Challenge prequel - we can say with confidence that sniping games are clearly their own genre, which makes it all the more puzzling that none of them have been any good. Focusing on one element of the modern FPS and ditching the rest should, logically, make it easier to excel, but instead we've had tedious shooting galleries that delighted in killing you the moment you made an error.
Amid such dismal competition Rebellion's third attempt is probably the best. While its predecessors suffered from confined levels and supernaturally well-informed AI, it has locations that are actually a lot closer to a Hitman game - closer even than Hitman Absolution managed, with sprawling open-world settings that are refreshingly short on artificial restrictions and let you choose your own path to the target.
Alerting guards no longer causes the whole platoon to zero in on you, and inquisitive searchers can be distracted temporarily with a thrown rock or permanently with your clunky silenced pistol. This leaves plenty of time to tag guards with your binoculars Far Cry 3-style, line up your shot, and be rewarded by the gruesome kill-cam of the bullet sailing across the level and into a 3D X-ray of its target. You get so used to watching skulls explode in slow motion that you start targeting different body parts just to see what happens.
This remains unsettlingly satisfying and something you definitely shouldn't cite in the next games-and-violence debate, but becomes less so as you realise how dim the AI really is. You're given XP rewards for remaining undetected, but the guards are so thick that a brief sprint is usually enough to have them stop hunting and return to duty, often standing atop the corpse of the person you took down in the first place. That's assuming you haven't made yourself totally invisible by, say, climbing a ladder that their pathfinding doesn't notice.
On normal difficulty the sensation is of shooting stupid fish in a particularly large barrel, and a pretty rough-looking barrel at that, although in some respects the slimline budget actually proves an advantage. The bland desert setting and minimal visual tricks (save a preponderance of blinding god rays, which are overused with an enthusiasm that suggests they were either a free plugin or a specific fetish of the designers) means it can offer big levels and extremely rapid load times on Xbox One, and it has neither the money nor the inclination to waste time on an elaborate storyline for a protagonist.
This is game quite happy to cast you as a potato-headed Caucasian male with a seemingly insatiable bloodlust who makes leaden observations like "that barrel looks dangerous" or "this is a good place to use my binoculars" in a sub-Batman 20-a-day growl, and it's better for it. An elaborate narrative would be embarrassingly poor and only detract from the cranial trauma you're here for, and like a cut-price video nasty, this is something to be cherished as a budget genre piece rather than criticised for not matching up to Infinity Ward's output.
Glitchy level geometry and the gung-ho tone render it a touch too charmless to rank as one of the great B-games, but it competently delivers on its premise. With each level supporting multiple different approaches past its idiotic guards, and stuffed with collectibles you'll easily overlook amid the drab design, it could easily soak up those long days waiting for the next Xbox One release. You'll know that you could be doing better things with your time, but you probably won't mind.
Clumsy but just about competent, this plays its one note well enough to satisfy anybody who wants to spend hours peering through a scope.
- Commendably open levels
- Slo-mo kill-cams still appeal
- Considerable replay value...
- ...but only for the easily distracted
- Goldfish-like AI intellect
- Glitchy level design