Sniper Elite V2 Review
- Rebellion Developments
- 505 Games
Made2Game Sniper Elite V2 Review Score: 7/10
Formats: PS3, Xbox 360
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Rebellion Developments
Reviewer: Mick Fraser
Nowadays it's taking more and more courage for developers to walk the roads less-travelled. It's too easy and too safe to cross the muddied mire of game development using the depressions made by those who came before as a guide to the distant, solid shoreline of commercial success.
So when a relatively small company like Rebellion (a name more infamous than celebrated given recent also-rans like Alien vs Predator, Shellshock 2: Blood Trails and NeverDead – which we actually loved, if we’re honest) rolls up its trouser legs, bids farewell to the wellies and takes the plunge across a treacherous, unknown stretch of swamp, all alone, it really is a thing to applaud.
The only good Nazi is a dead Nazi
A remake of Rebellion Development's own Sniper Elite, V2 is not like other shooters, and what could have been merely an exercise in running, gunning and ducking actually becomes a much more satisfying, tense affair. Though it's worth saying early on that if you don't mess with the difficulty and ramp up the ballistic realism, it's not worth playing. If you're not on the raggedy edge, accounting for every variable factor in each shot, you're not an elite sniper and you're missing the point. Although marketed as a "tactical shooter", Sniper Elite V2 is a game concerned with shooting things in the head and very little else, and if you're not maximising that factor, there's little to hang around for. The single player campaign has a storyline that could be written on the back of a crisp packet, following Karl Fairburne, our macho-voiced, cow-licked generi-hero at the arse-end of WW2 as he attempts to stop the Nazis developing a bunch of V2 missiles and launching them at the good guys.
Characterisation is close to non-existent – the protagonist is simply an American hero sniper, whose almost complete lack of interaction with anyone beyond high-velocity skull-ventilation means he remains something of a sniping-machine cipher upon which you can project your own imaginary personality. If you can be arsed, that is. The only other characters are Nazis and Nazi scientists, who you're either required to perforate or rescue at various junctures.
As we said, Sniper Elite V2 is about one thing: blowing holes in people, and this central conceit is its biggest strength. It doesn't follow the well-trodden paths of Hollywood set-pieces, overblown plots, sci-fi villains or celebrity voice-overs – it gives you a rifle, an objective and a playground and let's you go on a precision rampage.
Silent but violent
Most missions involve advancing on a specific point with a mind to set preliminary explosive charges or find important documents (if you want to know why, you'll have to pay attention between stages as the only exposition is divulged by way of Captain Sniper's Ameri-drawl during the static mission briefing-style loading screens) before heading to a vantage point, nestling down and waiting for it all to kick off.
Certain missions will require you to clear an area, and your binoculars allow you to recon the target zone, marking patrolling guards and hidden snipers, and noting the locations of exploding barrels and vehicle fuel tanks. Some levels take place during air-raids or in railway tunnels, and regular loud noises will mask your gunfire – another factor to consider when taking a shot. Sniper-man is also a dab hand at neck-snapping – though it's the only stealth kill animation throughout – and you can lift and carry corpses to stash out of sight to facilitate your heroic murder spree.
Unfortunately, there's not very often a reason to do so. Since a great deal of enemies are killed at distance, and there's not often a call to stealthily retrace your steps or even hang around in an area, moving bodies is a nice touch but mostly superfluous. Likewise, the trip wires and landmines you can take into a mission are a great option to have, but even playing on a high difficulty we rarely had to use them.
Keep their heads ringin’
Sniper Elite V2 is at its very best when you're on your belly, a thousand metres from an unsuspecting Nazi goon desperately in need of some facial rearrangement. Lining up a shot requires attention to factors such as distance, elevation, and the Snipinator's heart-rate and breathing. Although wind-speed makes a difference, you're not often up against it anyway. Holding RB will steady your shot, and if certain aids are activated in the difficulty menu, a reticule will appear telling you where the shot will land in relation to the position of your crosshairs. An incredibly detailed slow-motion kill-cam adds a touch of style and excess to proceedings, following the bullet's journey through eye sockets, chest cavities, open mouths, and occasionally vital organs and splintering bone thanks to some brutally satisfying X-Ray vision. It's a gimmick, yes, but one that elevates Sniper Elite V2 above a po-faced sniping sim and into much more enjoyable arcade territory. It's now our cast-iron belief that every game would benefit from the addition of a Slo-Mo X-Ray Exploding-Nazi-Head Kill Cam – it just needs a catchier name for the patent registry.
Similarly to the bullet-time camera, the points-for-kills system increases the murderous fun, awarding you for headshots, hitting moving targets and taking enemies out from extreme distances. Up close, however, the combat fares less well. The pistol and machine gun that El Snipo carries pack all the punch and precision of a broken Nerf-launcher, and there's no dedicated melee attack to split open chins in a more personal manner. It says a lot that the sniper rifle is the best choice of murder tool even when face to face.
Another issue is that enemy AI is inconsistent at best. Sometimes you can reduce a guard's head to red mist within three feet of a completely oblivious moron, and at other times their perception borders on psychic, identifying your exact position from one stray shot with some kind of magical Nazi-sense. Weirdly, on several occasions we spotted a stationary guard hidden in a level, whose sole purpose appeared to be shouting all the generic enemy dialogue. We walked up to him on both occasions and he didn't move a muscle but his mouth until we shot him in the eye with a high-calibre long distance rifle from two feet away; his behaviour reminded us of those ghostly assault rifles you could find only by exploiting a glitch in Halo and reaching the game's highest altitude – only these blind human-shaped claxons weren't discovered through a glitch, they were simply standing there waiting to spoil our immersion.
Can you hit me from there, or should I stand up?
Bad AI is more apparent in Sniper Elite V2's bolted-on multiplayer, a co-op wave match (of course) wherein enemies won't attempt to flank you or pin you down in a crossfire, but will stupidly hurl themselves into the path of your high impact hollow-tipped little friends, or do a Leroy Jenkins directly at you like khaki-wearing lemmings. It makes the multiplayer both irritating and unnecessary – there's none of the careful planning seen in the campaign, something which would have worked incredibly well if you were able to properly and concisely coordinate your assault with a teammate. As it is, the co-op mode is almost entirely redundant.
Visually, Sniper Elite V2 isn't great. The graphics are often so drab and brown that your eyes will water as you strain to pick out individual details, and the enemies more or less all look exactly the same give or take a change of uniform and the severity of their trademark Nazi sneer. Environments are mostly gutted, hollowed-out buildings, blitzed quasi-European-looking cities (the kind that were apparently designed by someone who watched Enemy At the Gates as their sole source of inspiration) or nocturnal factories, and they're only ever half-alive. You can take cover behind certain objects but not all, for some reason, and nothing you shoot besides men and big red exploding barrels will react to your bullets beyond a drift of powderised mortar or a flash of sparks – even flags don’t so much as flutter, let alone tear, when you shoot them. Textures are mostly low-rent, character animations are limited and draped across it all is a kind of generic lifelessness that further reinforces Sniper Elite V2's position as a stylised shooting gallery – even the non-sniping sections of missions are kept short and largely devoid of worthy distraction. Yet so often, in the heat of the moment as you gleefully ariate the collective brains of the Third Reich, none of these negatives seem to matter.
No ordinary shooter, then, but not an extraordinary game, either, Rebellion's sniper sim is something of a conundrum. Ignoring the rough aesthetics and occasionally flat atmosphere, and playing around with the customisable difficulty and flexible loadout will ensure a decent enough experience for at least a weekend, and returning to missions to maximise your score and find all the hidden collectibles will keep the retentives busy. It would certainly be easy to tear Sniper Elite V2 to pieces – and many reviewers likely will – but by digging a little deeper and making the most of the options Rebellion give you, you can find a very enjoyable and, more importantly, very different kind of action game. It’s definitely worth a shot. Hurr.
Words by Mick Fraser (Twitter: @Jedi_Beats_Tank)
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