Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
I've always thought that if I was ever thrust into the horrors of war, I would be a sniper. I'd be that guy covered in branches on a hilltop five-hundred metres away from the action, picking dudes off one by one. With a packet of Doritos by my side. With my small frame and impressive peripheral vision (it's bordering on super human) I reckon I would be quite the one man army.
That was until I played Sniper Elite V2. Afterward, I now think I might be better suited strapped to the side of a tank to help deflect enemy shells. This is simply because Sniper Elite V2 is incredibly challenging. While many FPS fans might think they're master headshot collectors after playing Battlefield, let me tell you that this is a completely new kettle of fish. Purely because it's also the most realistic sniper themed game that I've ever played.
Sniper Elite V2 is a remake of Rebellion's Sniper Elite that appeared on the last gen consoles and PC back in 2005. It received mixed reviews, mainly due to a ruthless difficulty curve, a slower pace to the gameplay, and also a lack of polish. However, while the console versions suffered from a lack of precise controls, it proved to be a cult hit amongst PC users with their accurate keyboard and mouse configurations. It also rated well with gamers looking for a sense of realism in their WW2 shooters.
Sniper Elite V2 revolves around Karl Fairburne, a US infiltration specialist posted in 1945 Berlin during the final days of World War II. Taking pages from the history books, the plot is loosely based around real operations Paperclip and Overcast, where the US army planned to steal Nazi scientists and recruit them for their own. Naturally the main obstacle was first sneaking into the heart of Berlin, Germany - past heavily defended bases and into laboratories and testing facilities where these evil masterminds were entrenched.
This is where you, as K. Fairburne, come in. Armed primarily with a knife and a sniper rifle, you'll be up against both Nazi and Soviet forces as you attempt to sneak behind enemy lines and locate enemy scientists working on the potentially war-winning V2 rocket. On top of the espionage, you'll also be tasked with taking down patrols and even assassinating top Nazi generals under the American flag.
When combined with a brutally realistic "X-Ray camera" mode that shows your bullets penetrating flesh, bone and vital organs in glorious slow-motion; the ingredients for a killer sniper simulator are all here. Unfortunately though, Sniper Elite V2 suffers from a variety of downfalls that stop this game from being a mainstream contender in an already saturated shooter market.
The realistic sniping aspects in the game, which are personally a highlight for me, will deter a lot of players. Players must employ excruciating patience and methodology when both moving around the map and lining up their shots. The ballistics engine is insanely detailed and successful kill-shots will depend on your distance to target (bullet drop), wind strength (bullet deviation), the type of bullet (weight and aerodynamics) and even Fairburne's own heartbeat and breathing patterns must be checked before pulling the trigger.
Although the game has other weapons like pistols and machine guns, the shear number of opposing forces and your realistic health meter will ensure that 'running in all guns blazing' results in instant death and humiliation. Despite Sniper Elite V2 having the modern standard of automatic health regeneration, dying is incredibly easy to do in this game. It also does admirably in making you feel like a lone-wolf. The odds are constantly against you, forcing you to use strategy and forethought, stalking your prey and always keeping a clear exit for when things go horribly wrong.
However the problem with Sniper Elite V2 is that things always go wrong. The enemy intelligence in the game seems to fluctuate between high alert and telepathic super sentinel. The slightest noise will immediately send a dozen guards in your direction. Even when 100m away, sticking your head over a brick wall will most likely attract a hail of bullets. To make matters worse, these Nazi soldiers also seem to be able to write their name in your forehead with a machinegun from any distance.
The game is difficult, but the biggest hurdle for a lot of players will be the incredibly slow gameplay pace. Normally in videogames, we get given a gun and a Nazi army and it's on like Donkey Kong. But here you are literally forced to sneak around like a lame tortoise suffering from multiple heart attacks. Of course, this is what the art of being a sniper is all about. Invisibility is far more important than the bullets in your gun. But it seems that in an effect to create this pulse-stopping reality, the developers have tuned the AI so tightly that the frustration levels start to drown out the experience.
Visually, Sniper Elite V2 suits the game's melancholy wartime theme perfectly. Sure, the colour palette is made out of four hundred shades of brown and grey, but the repetitive scenery only helps to build the atmosphere here. As previously mentioned, the slow-motion gory bullet-cam is probably one of the highlights and is guaranteed to spark a sadistic grin across your face as you take down a target from 300m away, tucked behind a small shrub. However the game is certainly not for the weak hearted. Players can even witness their victims release their bowels upon their death. Ew.
While Sniper Elite V2 is a worthy reboot, it still suffers from the same glitches that made the lesser-known original frustrating. Unbalanced and superhuman AI, awkward camera angles, and a control scheme that doesn't quite hit the mark. For instance, apart from sniping where you aim in first-person mode, most of the game takes place in third-person. When crouched (which you'll do so for most of the game to stay out of sight), the camera is stuck to the player and restricts your viewing angle significantly. Even when walking around, the character is always to the left of the screen, making it tricky to see enemies to your right. Finally, taking cover and snapping to objects isn't the smoothest we've seen either. All of this, when compounded with eagle-eye guards, can make your stealthy infiltration as effective as an origami crash-helmet.
For those with fond memories of the original, this game is certainly worth checking out. Rebellion have harnessed the insanely difficult, but addictive vibe that die-hard fans grew to love and even added a few extra aces up their sleeve. The split-screen (and online) two-player co-op, where you can team up to dual snipe your way through Berlin is definitely a worthy feature.
There is also the promise of up-coming DLC which could shift V2 into a whole new experience with some basic tweaking of enemy behaviour and possibly more vertically inspired maps for 'height advantage' sniping action.
Keep a close eye on Sniper Elite V2. We believe it breathes new life into the relatively stale WW2 shooter market and has plenty of potential, but it's just not quite there yet.