I can make this shot. I’m sure I can. Across from me in a heavily fortified tower is a high ranking Nazi official, he is far enough away that he becomes slightly indistinguishable from the troops at his command. I can’t miss this shot. I follow the target as he disappears behind pillars but doesn’t re-emerge;where the hell did he go? I scan the floor and suddenly a figure appears and I can tell he is giving orders; this is my target. I empty my lungs, compensate for the bullet drop and check the wind; it’s now or never. I pull the trigger and the chamber rings with killer intent. The game world slows down and I watch as the camera follows my bullet hurtling towards its target and as it reaches the Nazi officer his body is shown in an anatomical cutaway. I watch as the bullet hits the right eye, tunnels through the brain and causes the back of the skull to explode, cascading over both the wall behind and the nearby troops. Mission successful; welcome to Sniper Elite V2.
Rebellion are back with the Sniper Elite franchise after a seven year hiatus, previously the original game made a low-key but highly praised appearance on the PC, Xbox, PS2 and a Wii version appeared in 2010. Once again you step into the shoes of OSS officer Karl Fairburne who is once again behind enemy lines playing long-range Duck Hunt with Nazis (copyright not protected so feel free to use). The plot is concerned with the very real Operation Paperclip which was an initiative that saw the United States concerning themselves with recruiting German scientists. Sniper Elite V2 sees Fairburne trying to capture or kill scientists involved with the V2 rocket programme, which in reality this programme would see thousands of civilians killed. The plot, scripting and voicing is as cliched as you can imagine but there is a feeling of an older style of game here, it almost feels as if there is a purposeful attempt to rekindle memories of games such as Project I.G.I but whether that’s intentional or not is another thing.
What you get from Sniper Elite V2 will depend very much on what you want from it, the varying difficulty levels will dictate what type of game you will play. At its most basic setting you will experience laser precision bullets that will go unaffected by such natural annoyances as wind or gravity. With this approach Sniper Elite V2 becomes a very stale third-person cover shooter but if that’s what you want and are happy with then it’s there for you to do as you will. However, if you take it up a notch it becomes a very different game. With gravity and wind to account for you will feel less reluctant to frivolously pull the trigger as on the easiest setting you won't have to use a machine-gun or pistol as your rifle is so accurate. With ballistic reality enforced you play differently, you find yourself sneaking around, observing patrol patterns and waiting for that perfect moment to dispatch that one soldier that was left alone at the back. Even then you will be reluctant to pull the trigger.
Should you miss your shot it will just mean one more soldier alerted to your presence and Sniper Elite V2 doesn’t take kindly to you being found out as you can’t take too many successive hits, although health does regenerate which does remove you from the reality somewhat. There are ways around being used as target practice for German and Russian troops. In various levels there will be environmental aids such as loudspeakers in a German camp or air raid bombs dropping that will provide you with some aural camouflage - timing your shots with these events will see enemies oblivious to their comrades dropping around them. It’s a lovely touch and adds a nice element of stealth and tactics to proceedings, the feeling of lying prone and following a target just waiting for a covering noise is one that fills you with a nervous excitement. You also have a silenced pistol in your arsenal, the Welrod, which is a brilliantly blunt instrument that will have you feeling like a spy in no time - a personal highlight for me was sneaking into a building and dispatching three Russian troops in the same room in absolute silence and in about two seconds.
You can make your mission slightly easier by taking your time and observing the battlefield rather than wading in like a World War 2 Rambo with less muscle but better pronunciation. In your handy kit you have some binoculars that will allow you to mark enemies you observe which will then show enemies with red arrows above their heads. Again it’s one of those things that in a game makes sense as a mechanic but pulls you out of the realism as your screen glows with little red arrows, but you don't have to mark enemies and I actually just found myself using my eyes and memory to sneak about the levels. The levels themselves are extremely linear so don’t be expecting sprawling landscapes from which to perch yourself, the story always seems to direct you through crumbling cities so there is a feeling the game’s technology doesn’t match the premise to some degree. As we have come to realise from everything from the Uncharted series to Call of Duty linearity does not a bad game make.
For the most part this is true of Sniper Elite V2 as with the difficulty at its highest you will be glad that you are presented with basically small arenas to contend with as it is already difficult staying alive when you can see most of the enemies in your way. There is a great moment which sees you hunting a MacGuffin and before the mission starts the voiceover brief basically tells you, “I’m going to Place A to get the information I need, if it’s not there then it will definitely be in Place B”. Unsurprisingly what you want isn’t in the first place so off you trot to your backup option. It feels like the team struggled with actually diversifying locations and setups to the point it feels they became aware of it and tried to dress it up. It is a shame there is not more variety in locations other than city street, city street at night, crumbling city, city by the water and imaginatively a crumbling city by the water- with the standout level being a reasonably uninspired German military base.
A major change from the original game is that as the camouflage meter is gone, no longer will you know if you are perfectly hidden or not which is positive insofar as you no longer have ridiculous situations with enemies basically standing on you but still oblivious. However, now what you will get is an arrowed indicator pointing in a particular direction with varying colours indicating that soldier’s level of awareness of you with bright red indicating run away very quickly. The difficulty with this is that there seems to be little margin of error and you will see red more than any other colour and once that happens life gets very difficult. If you are spotted there will be a ghostly image of your character left in the place the enemy last saw you, this is visually a bit jarring at first but can be very helpful at knowing where you need to remove yourself from but also provides you with another point of focus for an attack as the inquisitive troops make their way to investigate.
The arsenal at your disposal is practical if not overly interesting. You will find yourself getting your hands on some newer rifles throughout the course of the game, these will typically have better magnification and stability. You are also kitted out with trip-mines which can be a real lifesaver; if you are holed up in a heavily fortified area preparing for an assault you’d best find your spot and then set up some trip-mines in the doorways. Hearing an explosion ring out in the building you are in and enemy troops screaming is a clear indication that it is time to move, and when you have this fluidity in battle it is when Sniper Elite V2 is at its best. You also have grenades at your disposal and some landmines to shake up gameplay, dropping a landmine in an enemy patrol’s path is particularly satisfying. There’s not a massive variety of weapons to change actual gunplay but what is there is just enough to make it interesting and to another degree more realistic.
All that I have written so far is probably secondary to the answer most people want to know, ”What about the sniping?” Well thankfully the sniping is great fun, although I feel that putting sniping and fun into the same sentence should see me put onto a register somewhere. As previously mentioned at the most basic of difficulty levels you will find little to no challenge in sniping but upping the ante you will have to be considered and skilled. You will feel that you earn every shot that lands and that is very rare indeed in modern shooters and when you are put under pressure by an enemy sniper and injured there is a fantastic satisfaction on landing a clinical and fatal strike. But the actual skill of sniping is only half of the fun with the rest being delivered by the simply fantastic ‘X-Ray Kill Cam’.
Should you deliver a particularly devastating shot the world will slow down and after watching your bullet leave the barrel you will follow the bullet cutting across the battlefield towards its intended target. As it hits you will get an anatomical cutaway of your enemy and you watch as bone is shattered, organs exploded and exit wounds are punched out. It is extremely visceral and you will find yourself simultaneously cringing and saying ‘wow!’. It’s a fantastic effect and even after many hours of play it was still entertaining to watch - try and get the testicle shot, it’s brilliantly uncomfortable to see. Depending on your kill you will be awarded points, it’s a great way to drive the player to achieve further distances, more precise shots and even being creative as you try and get a ‘three-for-one’ shot. Rebellion have said that they wanted to make players feel the actual effect of a bullet rather than glorifying sniping but there is no way that players will go away worrying about the potential dangers of gunplay, they will merely be swapping ‘Kill Cam’ stories. You will be very entertained and will find yourself returning to achieve more interesting kills and trying to unlock the achievements and awards and it’s this that saves Sniper Elite V2 from being nothing more than a mediocre shooter, which is a pit you feel it is dangerously close to falling into.
Sniper Elite V2 will entertain you without wowing you, it will excite you while defying its (some might say) anachronistic level design and it will draw you back in with its ‘Kill Cam’ mechanic. It is a very rare thing but it is a greater game than the sum of its parts, graphically functional for the most part and very linear but never less than very enjoyable. With co-op, multiplayer, leaderboards and a wave based challenge mode there is a fair amount of content to keep bringing you back for more outside of the main single-player and it’s just enough to bulk out a reasonably streamlined campaign. I cannot envisage gamers not getting enjoyment out of Sniper Elite V2, even if it is purely for the ‘Kill Cam’, but recommending it almost seems at odds with the outdated design and gameplay predictability. However, recommend it I would. There are real moments of pure joy when playing and you will have real water cooler moments with other gamers over what kills you have achieved. This feels like a precursor to a bigger game, with bigger vision and more expansive environments and hopefully that will happen because with what they have achieved in Sniper Elite V2 Rebellion have earned that chance to move the series forward.