This will probably get my name put on a government watchlist somewhere, but I really love sniping. I don’t mean the camping at the back of the base, guarding my precious kill/death while my teammates go for the objective kind of sniping. I’m talking about stealthy, tactical, “one shot, one kill”, one man (or in my case, girl) army, invisible threat kind of sniping. So when I played through the demo of Sniper Elite V2 on PS3 for the first time, I knew right away that I had to have it. The game seemed to offer just that.
In the campaign, you take on the role of Karl Farlsburg, an OSS officer deployed to Berlin during the final days of World War Two. That’s right, like the first Sniper Elite, it is yet another game set during what is possibly the most overused historical period in the history of the genre. Don’t let that deter you too much though; the story itself is a little different from what you might expect, thanks to an added Cold War twist. Your mission isn’t just to kill the bad guys; you’re crippling what remains of German forces while also trying to keep the Russians from getting their hands on German scientists who have intimate details of the V2 rocket program — intel that America wants for themselves.
They don’t want it badly enough to send you in with some assistance however. You are truly a one man army, and it’s up to you to be your own sniper, spotter, and backup team. While it is thoroughly invigorating to take out a tank with your sniper rifle by hitting the cap of the fuel tank, or to finish off an entire group of enemies from a distance without being spotted, it does get a little lonely at times when the action is low. I imagine this is why they threw the ability to play through the campaign with a friend online as a spotter-sniper team, along with a few other co-op modes. It would be nice to have a friendly voice around sometimes, and I will certainly be persuading one of my friends to join me. There is a war going on after all, and it seems a little odd (especially since we know who won) that there seems to be no one else around fighting on your side.
You will be surprised at just how much firepower the enemy will use in an attempt to stop just one pesky US sniper though. Hundreds of infantry, dozens of snipers, and a handful of tanks will fall prey to your trigger finger. The game usually manages to strike a nice balance between close quarters stealth and longer ranged sniping. You’ll often clear out the enemies guarding a location from a distance, and then venture inside where they’re lurking around every corner. You’ll face the same types of objectives as you play through the story: infiltrate the location, place explosives to detonate remotely, kill the target, and so on. This isn’t necessarily to the detriment of the gameplay though. The story takes place over a few days in one city, but the time of day and locations range from the city square in the afternoon to a decrepit church at night, and the experience is quite varied overall. With that said, the plot is not too memorable, and acts mainly as a means for you to pretend you’re playing for something more than the headshots.
You vs. Everyone: Fighting the Germans (and the Russians)
The gameplay provides a decent challenge. The enemies are pretty smart, sometimes frustratingly so. This isn’t the typical shooter AI you might be used to, where you can hang out behind cover somewhere and pick them off as peek out from their designated spots. For the most part, they react like real people would to a sniper in the area; they scatter, head for cover, and scan windows and rooftops for the intruder. The enemies in Sniper Elite V2 are also surprisingly aggressive. If you fire a shot, they will notice, they will look for you, and in all likelihood, they will eventually find you. If you’re spotted by one enemy, he won’t hesitate to let his buddies know where you are and send a hail of bullets your way.
If you give them enough time, you will find that the enemies are annoyingly adept at flanking and making their way towards your position. While it might be tempting to spend all your time scoped in and getting headshots from a distance, you may end up getting gunned down from behind. Luckily, you’re armed with more than just a sniper rifle to help you out of those sticky situations where you let them get too close. You have tripwires and land mines, which can be strategically placed to guard your flanks while you’re busy looking the other way. Inevitably, you’ll get to use your SMG and silenced pistol as well. The first will help you take out large groups who are too close to be tackled one by one, and the latter lets you kill enemies without drawing attention with the sound of gunfire, an especially useful tool when infiltrating indoor locations. The game makes sure you don’t forget that you are a sniper first and foremost though; while you run little risk of exhausting your sniper rifle ammo, which can be refilled easily with supplies placed throughout each level, you’ll be mostly relying on searching the corpses of your victims for other types of firepower. It forces you to choose wisely which weapon fits the current situation– switching between them is rather time consuming, and can mean the difference between life and death. This is particularly bothersome when navigating through crowded enemy fortresses, where your sniper rifle is nearly useless and save points are far too rare.
Cover to Cover: Staying Alive
Because this is a stealth game, you will often rely heavily on using your environment for cover. Since it’s such an important part of a game like this, I wish more time would have been put into the mechanics of it. It’s easy enough to approach a wall or other large object and use it as cover. What gets a little awkward is trying to emerge from behind it to take a quick shot afterward. For some reason, you’re only allowed to peek out from cover at certain points. Ducking beneath a window? You’ll spend some time shuffling back and forth to find the spot where the game will let you take a shot without having to manually exit and re-enter cover again. Hiding behind a wall? You’ll be allowed to stand and shoot over it, but often not allowed to take a shot from beside it while crouched at either end. Other large objects, like the ruined cars scattered throughout the streets, can’t be used as cover at all.
Once you learn to work around that hiccup, you’ll find cover to be pretty invaluable. If you’re spotted by an enemy, gunfire, grenades, and occasionally tank shells are likely to follow. Even if you re-enter cover, they’ll remember where they last saw you until it becomes obvious you’re somewhere else, or you stay hidden long enough for them to give up. You can use their persistence to your advantage though. The last place you were spotted will be visible to you as a ghost, allowing you to predict where the enemies will be headed next and set up a trap before they get there. A well-aimed rock, which will cause enemies to go looking near where it was thrown, can have a similar effect. You’ll know that the enemy has lost track of you when the ghost disappears, letting you know when it’s safe to come out. You can also turn on the subtitles to see translations of what they’re saying to each other; they yell things like “Over there!” and “He’s gone!”, which can clue you in to how well their search for you is going. However, for what the AI has in tracking skills, it sometimes lacks in common sense. They’ll come after you with plenty of fire, but it’s sometimes from a position completely out in the open, even as they yell that there’s a sniper in the area.
If you’re tired of trying to make challenging shots on moving targets while facing a barrage of enemy fire, you can always play at a different difficulty level. In addition to the traditional presets (Cadet, Marksman, and Sniper Elite), you can customize the game by adjusting the sniping ballistics, tactical assistance, and enemy levels separately. Sniping difficulty affects the realism of the bullet mechanics, like the effects of your stance, breathing, gravity, and wind. Tactical assistance changes whether you can tag enemies, view your Ghost, or see your threat indicator (a nifty HUD element that tells you the direction and severity of enemy attention). Altering the enemy difficulty affects how aggressively they come after you. The customizable difficulty is a nice feature that lets you adapt the game to your personal gameplay style. Want to focus on correcting for wind speed and bullet drop to make the perfect shot without worrying about enemies rushing your position? You can do that. Don’t care how tough the enemies are, as long as your bullets just go where you aim them without all that pesky gravity stuff? That’s fine too.
Shh, Did You Hear That?
I was personally tempted to tone down the enemy aggressiveness myself a few times, after I noticed that I was compulsively checking my six and carefully creeping around every corner. I decided against it though; based on what they did with the sound, I think the developers fully intended this to be a game that has you sitting on the edge of your seat. In a cinematic fashion, the score keeps pace with the action in the game. The music picks up as you approach an enemy location, and when they become aware that there’s a sniper lurking around, it will have you convinced that there is imminent doom approaching. As you down the final soldier, it fades away almost as suddenly as it started.
When you’re scoped in, you can hear your heart beating in time with the vibration of the controller, with the excitement sometimes sending your own pulse racing as well. Enemy voices echo through streets, tunnels and buildings (and from someone who knows a fair amount of German, they are well done), keeping you on edge whenever they’re around. Even when they aren’t, your footsteps seem to echo like thunder when moving quickly, to the point where you might prefer crouch-walking simply because it doesn’t make you feel like you can be heard for miles. The sudden noise of a jet flying overhead or a battle raging on in the background will make you jump in your seat, and I found myself being excessively cautious at times simply because the sound had me right in the middle of the action. I’m pretty sure this is the intended effect of the game though; loud sounds even make your in-game heart rate jump.
One Shot, One Kill: Becoming a Sniper Elite
I’m sure you want to hear about how the bullet mechanics are (great) and how intuitive the controls are (very), but as someone who can sometimes be heard yelling “HOLY SHIT, DID YOU SEE THAT SHOT?” while playing other shooters, I have to tell you that I am totally in love with the X-ray Killcam. Your best shots will be rewarded with awesome slow-motion Mortal Kombat style shots of the internal damage your bullets are inflicting. I’m not sure how anatomically correct they are, but they are visceral, and very much appreciated. There is nothing like watching your bullet sever an enemy’s jugular, shatter his skull, or rip through the grenade on his belt, blowing him and his comrades to smithereens. The sniping is so much fun that I actually wish there was more of it. Although the campaign is decently long (about 10 hours), I wish I could have spent less of that time trying to hit the fuel cap off a tank driving in circles or scrambling to find ammo for my machine gun, and more of it watching my bullets get up close and personal with enemy snipers’ brain matter.
Slightly cartoony X-ray shots aside, the game is decently done graphically. You can definitely tell there’s a war going on– buildings are in ruin, debris blows through the streets, smoke and fire will sometimes cloud your vision– but the graphics are surprisingly bright and appealing for a warzone. Shadows move realistically and looking over the city from a high vantage point is impressive, even if some of the awe fades due to a relative lack of detail when up close.
Overall, it’s a fun game that I would play again just because it’s exciting and offers a sniping experience that can’t be found anywhere else. There’s some collectibles (bottles to snipe and gold bars to find) thrown in to give it some extra replay value, in addition to the hope that you will want to improve your scores. Each kill is scored based on distance and accuracy, with the totals tracked on an online leaderboard. There are a few points where gameplay gets a little slow, but good audio and graphics quality create an immersive experience and the X-Ray Killcam is extremely rewarding. Though Sniper Elite V2 sometimes lacks in polish, it provides a great outlet to play out your dreams of being a one man army while enjoying the carnage that results from each shot.