Developer: Rebellion Developments
Released US – May 1st Europe – May 4th (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
The role of the sniper has been somewhat embellished when it comes to the realm of video games, (and even cinema) usually portrayed as the person who sets up in a hidden spot or high up in a tower who moments after looking down their scope takes one shot and eliminates their target. In reality, the role of the sniper can be one that – by contrast – is quite boring, requiring them to stay almost motionless in one spot for 14 hours, constantly peering down their scope, waiting for that perfect moment, all the while having to urinate in empty coffee pots; far less glamorous, and far more understandable as to why there’s never really been a game made that accurately emulates that role, although someone’s certainly trying.
Both third and first person shooters have shoehorned sniping mechanics in their gameplay, but rarely have they offered more mechanics than simply picking off enemies from afar without having to traverse vast expanses of land to engage in close quarters combat; Sniper Elite V2 attempts to make you think laterally, rather than making you question whether you have enough firepower to handle or even escape a given situation, it asks you to think how you can approach an area that can be littered with enemies, to consider how you can keep hold of the upper hand, and increase your odds of surviving. Whilst these are all quite clever ways of making you think about how you play the game, the problem is that it only asks you how to approach it, which is where Sniper Elite V2 falls flat.
Much like its predecessor, Sniper Elite V2 is based in the closing days of World War 2; you play a lone sniper, Karl Fairburne, who’s been ordered to look into the Nazi and Soviet development of V2 missiles. In order to disrupt their plans, you must either kill or capture key scientists involved in the program, thus weakening their efforts and aiding the allies in their goals to end the war (the plot is a reference to the real life Operation Paperclip and its predecessor, Operation Overcast, which was the US plan to recruit scientists of Nazi Germany). The story itself is interesting enough, and never becomes intrusive with gameplay, but unfortunately doesn’t serve as much of a drive to keep advancing; the real drive here is – unsurprisingly – the sniping.
Depending on what difficulty you play the game on, changes how the sniping mechanics work: in ‘Cadet’ (or, ‘easy’) mode, sniping is at its most simplistic; there’s minor sway on the scope, and all you have to do is line up your shot in the cross hair and fire and you can take a considerable amount of damage, survive and regenerate health within moments. On harder settings, you have to take other factors into consideration before taking your shot; bullets now drop when travelling over considerable expanses, wind can affect the direction of trajectory, and your heart rate can affect how much your scope sways, so you can’t run from one spot to another and expect to get the perfect shot. You can, however, hold your breath for a limited amount of time, which steadies your shot, slows down time, and even offers some aim assistance. On the hardest difficulty mode, the challenge is ramped up considerably; the aim assistance and time slowing mechanics are nowhere to be found, and a couple of hits from an enemy’s rifle is all it takes to fell you (or one well placed shot from a counter-sniper). Although these changes in mechanics are inherent to their difficulties, the game kindly allows you to customise your own parameters, so say if you wanted to play with the hardcore sniping mechanics but not suffer the penalty of near instant deaths, then you can do that.
The problem with Sniper Elite V2 lies not in its ambition, but its execution; as I mentioned earlier, the game asks you how to approach certain situations and consider how to deal with it most efficiently. Unless you’re playing the game with most of the difficulty settings ramped up, you can essentially throw the stealth approach out of the window; I revisited a mission on a medium difficulty setting and went through it with reckless disregard, brandishing my Thompson automatic and mowing down any enemy that approached me with ease, and even dealing with another sniper became easy, as I could make use of cover and eventually reach their nest, or easily take a shot with my rifle, knowing that I’d take minimal damage which would recover anyway. The clever flourishes Rebellion Developments included in the game, such as using the sounds of sirens or bombs falling nearby to mask your shots become irrelevant when you know survivability isn’t a great issue.
The experience is further hampered by clumsy AI; enemies will scurry around open spaces despite knowing there’s a sniper present and the bodies of his fallen comrades are on the same path he’s currently running down, and on a particular mission where a tank was patrolling a street along with various troops on foot, it would run them over with little hesitation, and upon another soldier inspecting track covered corpse, they would announce the presence of a sniper for no reason.
It’s worth mentioning that one of the standout features of Sniper Elite V2 is the death animations: if you’ve seen any footage of the game, you’ll have no doubt seen the gruesome x-ray shots which take place upon a successful fatal hit. Each impact gloriously renders in real time the exact point where the bullet hit and the damage it causes to the target’s anatomy; this can include anything from fractured skulls, pierced lungs, and even shattered testicles (yes, you can shoot someone in the balls and see the damage it causes, and it never fails to make you wince). The frequency of these animations can be adjusted, so it doesn’t have to be something constantly witnessed if it starts to frustrate you, and they are indeed gratuitous, but on harder difficulties there’s little else more satisfying than seeing that near impossible shot pass through your target.
Multiplayer comes in both competitive and co-operative varieties; the former I found could be an exercise in tolerance, there were times when I thought I’d found the perfect vantage point and I’d gone unseen, only to lay prone and be immediately shot down by another sniper who got the drop on me. Co-operative mode sees you either going through the campaign with a second friend joining you on sniper duty, or special missions where one of you plays a ground troop with a sub-machine gun and grenades, and the other plays the role of guardian angel, sniping from above and helping you survive. The constant duress of being the ground troop can mar the experience compared to the leisurely duties of the sniper, so it’s really more dependent on whom you play with on these missions.
Sniper Elite V2 is a game with great ambition, caught between the lines of wanting to be a simulator and a game, but failing to place a foot in either category. It’s a fun experience and the campaign will last you a decent ten hours, but little else will keep you coming back beyond wanting to witness its unique yet gory death animations. It’s a vast improvement on the first game, but maybe it’ll warrant a third attempt for Rebellion Developments to get the franchise just right.
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