Sitting in a window across the map from the enemy is normally the kind of activity that would get you called a camper in any other military shooter. Now what if you were told there was a game where this behaviour was encouraged? The pleasure of watching a Nazi guard in the distance through the scope of the famous Mosin-Nagant, his life resting on a pull of your trigger finger, is simply visceral. But the best feeling is to come: when you pull that trigger, the game enters a kill-cam slow-motion cinematic that follows the bullet as it flies through the air and then hits your target, going so far as to show an x-ray of your enemy complete with the internal damage your shot does to them. It’s truly intense and thrilling to see, but is that the only feature that makes this game? And does it get old?
The game in question is Sniper Elite V2 from British developer Rebellion Developments, who are also responsible for Aliens vs Predator, Neverdead and of course the original Sniper Elite released in 2005 on PC, Xbox and Playstation 2. Sniper Elite V2 is more of a reimagining than an actual sequel, and that’s fine seeing as this is a chance to bring in a new generation of gamers, although it does make you wonder why the developer didn’t just call it Sniper Elite. This seems to be a path many games and movies are taking, with revamps and reimaginings of original titles.
There is a demo on both PC and PS3, so you should have a fairly good idea of what you are getting yourself into, and you may wonder how the game will keep you interested and immersed throughout the entire campaign if it’s simply more of what the demo offers. Taking place during the conclusion of World War 2, you take on the role of United States elite sniper Karl Fairburne, and there’s quite a bit of responsibility on your shoulders. Your mission is to prevent the Nazi V2 rocket program from falling into the hands of the powerful Russians, while also aiding scientists wishing to defect to the US, and terminating those looking to help the Red Army.
The first mission is your basic tutorial, getting you used to the mechanics, weapons and gadgets at your disposal, and while it isn’t terribly exciting, it does do a good job of settling you in. What follows is the same mission you play through in the demo but with a few minor changes – the difficulty is increased for one, so if you are expecting an easy campaign, you’re sorely mistaken. The mission takes place in a war-torn street of disfigured buildings containing all kinds of nooks and crannies where snipers can sit and watch from the shadows. After taking out a handful of Nazi patrolmen and planting C4 explosives, you retreat to an upstairs window and wait for a convoy to make its way down the street. As the vehicles pass the position of the C4, you take aim and fire a shot, getting a direct hit on the explosives and causing bodies, metal and fire to litter the streets below. Then the ground begins to shake as a German tank pulls around the corner and takes aim at your position. This is just some of the action you can expect from the first 15 minutes of gameplay, and it just gets more intense from there.
The gameplay is a very mixed bag in terms of what works and what doesn’t. Unfortunately, it’s a little more of the latter. On too many occasions, the controls feel clunky and unresponsive. Not so much in basic movement and gunplay but more when it comes to getting into cover, attempting to be stealthy, and navigating the environment. There are instances where you will try to stay hidden from the enemy by taking cover against a waist-high wall, but things take a turn for the worst when you get spotted, as trying to detach yourself from cover becomes more and more frustrating every time it happens as it feels unresponsive and can cost you your life. However, sniping is a joy and has never been more satisfying – the kill-cam feature is revolutionary. The campaign does feel repetitive after an hour or so, but this doesn’t take anything away from the sniping mechanics. Depending on the difficulty you choose, the rifles used will change. For example, on the easiest setting, bullets are like lasers – just point and shoot and your target goes down. It’s when you increase the difficulty that things like physics, gravity and wind must be taken into consideration. Depending on how far away the target is, you’ll need to aim above it accordingly, and if there is wind on top of that you’ll need to adjust to the left or right too. All of these aspects work brilliantly and enemies also become much more deadly.
Unfortunately, while the game does give you tools such as trip wires, it becomes apparent fairly quickly that none of the stealth is essential. After the first few times you are spotted when trying to be stealthy and have to go all guns blazing, you realize you could just go into every area with this mindset. It’s too easy to go about things in this way, even using the rifle at close range rather than utilizing your submachine gun. The campaign comes in at around ten hours, so there’s a decent amount to do here even if you’re just playing alone. The environments are beautiful and painstakingly modeled. There are times where things feel repetitive and bland, but there’s enough variation in objectives and possibilities to not hinder the experience. Yes, it’s possible to play through the campaign with a friend, and on top of this there are other co-op specific modes as well as competitive death-match modes.
It’s clear that a tremendous amount of love and hard work went into crafting Sniper Elite V2, which is a special feature most triple A games don’t have. DirectX 11 graphics on the PC look good and there’s some impressive lighting, but nothing groundbreaking. There are some issues with stuttering and jittering, sometimes rendering the game unplayable, but this may be something only a small minority will experience and will most likely be patched soon. What we have here is the most refined sniping experience ever in game form, and it’s nice to get a World War 2 shooter every now and again after the influx of modern-day military ones. Try the demo on your chosen platform and see how you feel about it – if this sounds like your kind of game, you won’t be disappointed.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Steam version of Sniper Elite V2 by Rebellion Developments