Remember the years when we ranted hours on end complaining of the stale shooter market cluttered by re-imaginings of World War II? Call of Duty 4 shook those foundations, and every attentive developer riding its wave of success began their modern military shift. Rebellion stays true to its franchise, however, reviving the Sniper Elite name hibernating since 2005. With added killcams and multiplayer support, should players take a shot and revisit the final, victorious days of the greatest generation?
Not to be confused with the other recon themed game, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2, launching later this year, Sniper Elite V2 depicts the fall of the Nazi regime at the hands of Karl Fairburne, an expert sharpshooter tasked with destroying Germany's V2 rocket technology before the Russians take Berlin. Assassinating key personnel also figures into the mission, but the plot is by no means innovative or revolutionary if you played a WWII title since their conception.
Now, if I recall one detail from last year's Mortal Kombat, it's the brutal X-ray combos. The first Sniper Elite traced a bullet's trajectory until it found home in a warm target, but the bone-splintering, organ-piercing technology had yet to be implemented. In Sniper Elite V2, the developers at Rebellion fuse both elements for gruesome showcases of skilled marksmanship. Disintegrating someone's testicles from 200 meters deserves an audible groan, as does collapsing a Russian's lung while he scrambles for cover, but watching the same skull-shattering killcam for six hours will have players lowering the animation frequency all too soon.
Kiss his chances of having children goodbye.
Additionally, environments are a forgettable melting pot of ruined cityscapes, covert testing grounds, and ironclad bunkers. Towering municipal buildings sporting the Nazi flag? Check. Menacing rocket manufacturing facilities with depressing gray tunnels? Check. Inoperable train yards and wooden trenches? Check.
Many locales offer numerous points of ambush or avenues of escape, at least. Worming your way through dozens of apartments, up several flights of stairs rewards you with the perfect line of sight on your target. But just as Karl finds safety within a ransacked two bedroom, two bathroom suite, so too do his enemies. Verticality remains a primal factor when carrying out an objective. On a handful of occasions my flawless stealth run was ruined thanks to hidden snipers. The blame rests with me for failing to catch the glint of their rifles, but not entirely. The Reds and Jerries possess unrivaled eyesight, able to spot Karl in prone hundreds of meters away.
Other gameplay quirks mar the execution. Karl can only shoot right handed, and taking cover on the right side of a wall obscures the over-the-shoulder perspective when he leans out, presenting a neatly trimmed view of his waxed haircut. Crouching completely silences his movements, but just tapping the forward key while standing launches Karl into a thunderous, full-on sprint, alerting all soldiers within the immediate area.
Ivan forgoes the option of anesthesia during his lobotomy.
Sniper Elite V2 still provides an abundance of underutilized stealth tactics perfect for the calculated marksman. Booby trapping a dead man's corpse with trip mines provides an excellent distraction for killing multiple birds with an explosive stone, laying down dynamite renders a volatile surprise for unaware patrols, and incapacitating a soldier proves an effective strategy for luring his medical companions out of hiding.
While the variety is much appreciated, there remains little use for any firearm besides the default sniper rifle. Booming lightning strikes, grating intercom chatter, and deafening artillery salvos all mask the sound of weapon fire. Dispatching the opposition during these brief windows unnoticed gathers every still-breathing victim within a ten-mile radius to stare at their fallen comrades instead of rallying behind the nearest barricade.
Although most levels do allow players to carve their own routes through the architecture, several circumstances shoehorn Karl down a path of linearity, negating any possible concealment. The same can be said for cutscenes. Karl sporadically blows his cover – the first case being his lack of focus while intercepting a radio transmission. The next few minutes force players into unavoidable firefights no matter how silently they executed their mission previously.
Karl practices the art of hiding in plain sight.
As Sniper Elite V2 wrangles with its realistic feel, the action provides entertaining arcade shootouts. Each difficulty factors in the presence – or lack thereof – of bullet drop and wind speed. Maximizing the difficulty without accounting for the change in air current will throw a shot off by several feet at longer distances. Thankfully, reinforcements are not much of a threat. The AI is only semi-intelligent. Enemy soldiers frequently sprint in and out of cover, never staying in the same position long. Nailing a moving target requires not only a quick trigger finger, but a precise one as well.
Yet Karl is just one man against battalions of fully armed adversaries. To even out the scales, Karl can enter bullet time, or empty his lungs as it were. This method of exhaling heightens his senses for mere seconds, pinpointing the exact destination of his next shot, though the meter relies on Karl's heart rate. Constant sprinting keeps his beats per minute in the upper 90s until he rests. Likewise, absorbing too much enemy fire will slowly drain the meter, encouraging deliberate patience over senseless engagement.
Sergei regretted the day he forgot to wear his bifocals.
The entirety of the campaign can be played cooperatively. Nothing says friendly competition more than a game of “Pop Go The Testicles.” Kill Tally emulates the basic Horde mode structure of wave-based survival for those that can't get enough headshotting action solo, but not even Bombing Run or Overwatch feel varied enough to justify the play time. Bombing Run requires players to assemble their escape vehicle – a tank in this case. Coordinating efforts resulted in fewer deaths yet no less irritation. Hostiles spawn with each part collected, breathing down your neck. Your character may have regenerating health, although he is no bullet sponge. Getting caught with your pants down follows with the joy of restarting the mission. Overwatch differs slightly. One player runs ground interference, disabling gun batteries or stealing intel and such while the other (hopefully) provides firing support from a sniper's nest.
Multiplayer contains all the excitement of baiting others into a trap with the frustration of lag. Lying paralyzed in prone, waiting for my prey to crawl into the crossfire, and timing the lead just to witness the bullet pass through his intangible hide produced foul utterances from my lips. But Sniper Elite V2 offers competition for the more hardcore player. That means no minimap or distinguishable HUD. Just you, your allies, and your assailants set loose in a concrete jungle.
Difficulty rarely scales with the inclusion of an extra protagonist.
While Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch are present for shooter stalwarts, my attention turned to the Distance King and Team Distance King modes. Rather than focus solely on the kill-or-be-killed aspect, DK and TDK ask contestants to accumulate the designated bullet kill distance with each successful shot. There is a degree of strategy involved. Do you squeeze the trigger for a guaranteed hit on sight? Preferably, do you steady your hand and wait for your target to retreat, ensuring your team gains an extra fifty meters on the scoreboard?
At its core, Sniper Elite V2 feels like a 3D shooting gallery – a bloody, gore-glorifying shooting gallery. Loading a man's body cavities with bullets provided minutes of initial enjoyment until I learned the lethality of headshots (enemies only drop after two rounds to the chest). Furthermore, the game is far too conservative with X-ray animations other than headshots, though I still cheered with every new trick shot discovered. The open levels and stealth options also demonstrate fresh ways to approach objectives, solo or co-op, and multiplayer offers brief respites with much trial and error, but the otherwise ordinary gameplay makes for a disappointingly shallow experience.
Publisher: 505 Games
Release Date: May 1, 2012
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign), 2 (Cooperative), 2-12 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PlayStation 3