Sniper Elite Captures the Horror of Being Shot

Recently I got my hands on Sniper Elite VR. I’ve played the game at E3 before, and I’ve been pretty excited to see how the full product is. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Sniper Elite series, mostly because I am absolutely terrible at stealth, but hearing that Sniper Elite VR would be a little more action based gave me some hope that it’d be the perfect entry for me. Yet very early in I’m reminded of the X-ray cam, the crown feature in the series. I’m also reminded just how much this one feature makes me absolutely terrified of being shot in a way no other piece of media has ever managed.

Just to give a quick rundown on the new entry, it doesn’t do anything dramatically different than what you’d see in any other Sniper Elite game. You get a sniper rifle, you get Nazis, and you get to shoot them. However, instead of playing as British sniper Karl Fairburne, this time you play as an Italian Partisan whose name I’m not sure I ever remember hearing. There’s more of an action focus rather than a stealth focus. Levels are small and you’ll go through them usually in about 10 to 15 minutes. You can hold a rifle sideways which is funny, but also useless. It’s more Sniper Elite, just it’s in VR now.

However, the series has always had one major defining feature that has been in all the entries since Sniper Elite V2: the X-ray Cam. The idea behind it is pretty simple. Sometimes, when you kill an enemy, the game goes to slow-mo, follows the path of the bullet, and you get to see it hit them. What separates this from something like Max Payne or Sniper: Ghost Warrior, which has similar features, is that the game then shows an X-ray of the person you shot. You’ll watch the bullet pass through their body, destroying vital organs, shattering bones, exploding eyeballs and testicles, and finally bursting out from the other side. This isn’t just someone ragdolling, this is a complete and total horrifying annihilation of someone’s body.

In many of the games, one of the rifles you can find is the M1093 Springfield. It was first made in 1903 and over 3 million of them were built. It was used most widely in World War 1 and 2, but it saw use from plenty of wars until 1975. It fires a .30-06 Springfield, which when fired is a piece of metal ultimately smaller than half an inch. The M1093 Springfield can shoot this little piece of metal at around 1,800MPH. When this contacts the human body? It doesn’t just put a hole in them, although it does rather effectively do that. It tears it apart.

Many other games don’t really respect the damage a gun does to a human body. I’m currently playing Yakuza 0, a fun Japanese crime drama set in the 1980s that I’m enjoying quite a bit. It has a lot of slapstick violence, with people beating each other up in dramatic ways. When it comes to guns, however, they often feel subdued. One character gets shot in the hand and back, and later is fine outside of occasionally complaining his hand hurts. Another gets shot in the shoulder and knee, and after a three-hour time skip is walking and fighting like nothing happened. It’s strange the other way too, with one character getting a single shot in the back that makes a tiny red splotch, yet it kills him instantly.

The latter is super common. Even first-person shooters noted for powerful guns like F.E.A.R. or Killzone 2 often have little more than a red splotch and a dead body. A few games do try, I will admit I do love the over-exaggeration that the Soldier of Fortune series always put out, but not quite to the extent that Sniper Elite has it down. The whole point of the series is to show how a single bullet can change something. Maybe not the course of the whole war (outside of the series-famous “kill Hitler” DLC missions), but how it can change a single part of the human body.

Sniper Elite isn’t a horror series in any way, and Sniper Elite VR doesn’t change that. However, they’ve firmly managed to make me fear this one specific scenario of being shot. Will I ever get shot? I mean, it’s more likely than being hunted by an unstoppable giant vampire woman like Resident Evil Village makes me believe. I know it sounds a little strange, but it really is such a simple, terrifying, horror.

If you want to experience this horror yourself, and in VR, Sniper Elite VR is available right now on Steam, Oculus Quest, and PlayStation VR. You can also grab the rest of the series on Steam as well.