In the real world, children and adults alike are rightly encouraged to keep their conflicts with others free from violence and bloodshed.
In the virtual world of video games, however, such mess-free engagements are rarely the goal. In fact, some games, such as the tactical shooter Sniper Elite series, are all about glorifying as much bone-shattering destruction as they possibly can.
Sniper Elite 4 airlifts gamers back to World War II and plops them down in the boots of a gifted trigger-puller by the name of Karl Fairburne. This gravelly, deep-voiced OSS (Office of Strategic Services) operative is once again attempting to wipe every Nazi off the face of the earth, one well-placed bullet at a time.
This go around, Karl finds himself sent to Italy in 1943. He’s assigned to the Italian underground—including contact with some Cosa Nostra mob boss operatives—to undermine German strategic assets. Specifically, his mission is to assassinate high-ranking German officials associated with a certain radio-controlled missile project. And he must do so before General Eisenhower himself becomes a casualty of the new weapon’s destructive power.
Frankly, though, the who, what and why historical details of this shooter are nearly superfluous. This game isn’t so much about WWII storytelling as about stealthily plunking Nazi targets with bloody glee. There’s very little run-and-gun action in this war game. Oh, I guess you can pick up a machine gun and give that a go if you choose. But the real goal here is administering that quietly lurking, 200-meter head shot … in all its gory glory.
This is a game built around stylish, slow-motion kills and death-dealing-at-a-distance challenges. Gamers look down their virtual gunsight and must make a number of decisions before squeezing that trigger. Will this kill use regular ammo or the rare and precious silenced type? How much lead is needed for a moving target? What about wind speed, gravity, scope drift? And are you at such a distance that you’ll need to hold your breath to steady your aim?
Once you let fly, though, that’s when the game figuratively grins and brags, “OK, sit back, and watch this!” The fourth entry in the Sniper Elite franchise pumps up its brain-splattering visuals with an “improved” bullet’s-eye view. With X-ray and slow motion precision, players watch as their deadly projectiles shatter a victim’s skull and slowly puree his brain.
Exploding items spew shards and shrapnel that blow flesh and bones into pulpy human mulch. Spinal cords are severed, eye sockets blown out, lungs mangled, intestines ravaged, testicles removed. And if you choose to crawl up and work your assassin’s handiwork up close, well, the game offers similarly macabre details of your melee kills. Karl’s knife grossly explodes one victim’s heart, for example, while his fists shatter German jaws elsewhere.
As egregiously gruesome as all that sounds, some will hear that description and wonder how bad a bit of cathartic Nazi slaughtering can really be. It’s all just bloody fun and games, right? And the Nazis, well, they’ve always got it coming, right?
For those folks I can only offer one truth: visceral vivisection, organ obliteration and skull-splitting shooting get old in a hurry … and leave players even more desensitized to the very real violence we hear about back in the real world almost every day.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.