I’d happily put my reputation on the line and predict that sniping games will be explored a lot more in the future. After all, who hasn’t played that awesome mission in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in which you shoot off Zakhaev’s arm dressed head-to-toe in a ghillie suit and thought “wouldn’t it be cool if there was a whole game of this?”. Sniper Elite V2 doesn’t quite fill that role but it does once again show the demand for a triple-A sniping game, after City Interactive’s effort Sniper Ghost Warrior became a commercial success despite its critical failings. Sniper Elite is an evidently better game than Ghost Warrior, but it has far too many flaws for it to be the defining sniping experience available.
You control an American sniper named Karl Fairburne during the end of World War II, partaking in missions revolving around taking out both Nazi and Soviet soldiers in order to capture German scientists who have knowledge of producing V2 rockets. The plot references an actual US operation, but this is rarely put across to the player and so the interesting premise provided by the game’s story feels like a wasted opportunity for the game to provide a compelling narrative. It doesn’t help that the game’s protagonist is an unlikable, emotionless military stereotype either. The story of Sniper Elite V2 is told through black-and-white clips at the start of each level along with compulsory cut-scenes and texts describing each mission’s objectives. If you’re looking for a narrative experience then I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place.
For that reason Sniper Elite V2 relies on gameplay, and whilst some elements to the game don’t succeed the actual sniping is sublime, providing one of the most rewarding shooters I’ve played in a long time. Depending on your selected difficulty, gravity and wind speed will have an effect on your bullets, making it trickier to pick off your foes the further you find yourself from them. Getting a perfect shot is rewarded by a gruesome kill-cam lovingly prepared every single time to look absolutely astounding. The kill-cam shows your bullet fly through the air until it reaches your opponent, with blood flying everywhere on impact. Even more impressive is the full body x-ray presented each time a bullet hits an enemy’s brain, heart, wrist or even *shudder* testicle, which expertly shows the devastating effect of each bullet you fire. It simply never gets old. The nature of these kill-cams may be enough for some to look past some of the game’s flaws, but from my experience there were plenty of hick-ups that plagued the overall package.
Each mission begins with stealth as the main emphasis, and Sniper Elite V2 provides you with a silenced pistol, the ability to perform melee stealth-kills and noises to mask the sound of your rifle in order for you to remain undetected. This is a third-person shooter and so you’ll also have to use cover to get around opponents, but the cover mechanics consistently feel clunky with enemies often detecting you even if you’re clearly behind cover. Developers Rebellion have provided you with an authentic World War II sub-machine gun for when you’re detected at close quarters, but unless you’re on the easiest difficulty setting you’ll find it extremely difficult to come-out of a fire fight of this nature alive. It can therefore be frustrating when you’re detected through no fault of your own.
The game makes full use of the devastated 1945 Berlin setting, with the superb level design providing plenty of vantage points and bombed-out buildings for you to pick off enemies from afar. It’s a shame then that these levels are full of remarkably dumb-AI that will often just run into open space instead of using cover and sprint to mounted turrets, eager to join the pile of dead bodies beneath them. You’ll also often come across counter-snipers as you progress through each mission, but unless you’re playing on the hardest difficulty setting you’ll be able to allow the enemy sniper to shoot you (thus revealing their position) and have more than enough time to line-up a shot and put a bullet through their brain before they can retaliate. Instead of feeling like that famous scene in Saving Private Ryan, coming across another sniper never really feels the tense challenge it could have been.
It’s because of these problems that Sniper Elite V2 fails as a tactical shooter, even if it thankfully succeeds as an action game. There are a few additions that make the experience a little more tactical, like placing trip-mines on doorways or throwing rocks to distract those in your way, but the stealthy approach requires the patience of a saint and you’ll probably just want to shoot people instead and watch the cool kill-cams.
The main story provides the majority of content in Sniper Elite V2, and you can get through it in about ten hours providing you can shoot straight. You can also play each mission co-operatively online, but without the use of a headset you won’t be able to communicate with your online partner and therefore you may find it easier to play each level alone. There’s also three other co-op game modes set across locations visited in the main game. ‘Kill Tally’ is a wave-based survival mode that could be likened to Gears of War’s hoard mode, whereas Bombing Run sets you and your buddy with the task of finding parts to repair your vehicle so you can evacuate an area before it gets blown to smithereens. Both of these modes are fun enough, and provide a few extra hours of game-time if you get in to them, but of far greater interest is ‘Overwatch’, the last of the three modes set outside of the campaign. One player controls a sniper who is confined to a rooftop and the other plays as a spotter that must carry out objectives on the ground whilst highlighting enemies for the sniper to shoot. It requires both players to work together and is by far the best co-operative experience that can be had with Sniper Elite V2.
All said and done, Sniper Elite V2 delivers for those that just want to disfigure Nazis and blow-up tanks. Attempts made at being a tactical shooter or a strong stealth-game experience are there in concept, but are not fully realised. Thankfully the game doesn’t rely on its admittedly incredible kill-cams, with masterful level-design and fun co-op strengthening the overall experience. If your trigger-finger is itching and you want perhaps the best sniping experience out there, then by all means pick this one up (and do so quickly so you get to shoot Hitler!). Just don’t go expecting anything close to this year’s defining action game.