“It’s just me, my rifle, and my target.” This statement exemplifies the prototypical notion of a sniper. The word itself, sniper, conjures up visions of a lone soldier, perched atop a bell tower, waiting for just the right moment to strike. Peering through his scope, he draws a bead on his mark, empties his lungs, and squeezes the trigger. Within seconds of the bullet finding its target, the marksman slips silently from his nest and disappears into the shadows.
At its best, Sniper Elite V2 recreates these moments to near perfection. Implementing realistic factors such as bullet drop, wind speed, and controlled breathing, this game provides one of the best and most challenging sniping simulations available. When played on the higher difficulties, your progression through the game will help to develop your skills to a point where you can intuitively compensate for the aforementioned variables. Pulling off the perfect shot will trigger the controversial “X-Ray Kill Cam”, allowing you to see the gruesome results of your bullet as it tears through flesh, organs, and bone. While these moments spent atop your designated vantage point are a key piece of the gameplay, they exist in the context of a much larger gaming experience.
Like its 2005 predecessor, Sniper Elite V2 takes place at the end of World War II as the American and Russian armies converge on Berlin. The race to see which nation can pillage the technologies of the crumbling Third Reich is the focus of the campaign storyline. The Nazi’s V2 rocket program is not only coveted technology, but also still poses a significant threat to the Allied forces. In response, you – an elite OSS sniper – are dropped behind enemy lines to save the day from the Nazis, communism, and anything else that may jeopardize the good ol’ U.S. of A. While the storyline is somewhat clichéd, there are enough twists and turns along the way to hold your attention.
Rebellion, the game’s developer, has made efforts to build a believable setting for your heroic efforts. The German cities and towns you’ll infiltrate have been ravaged by Allied bombing. The burned out husks of buildings and streets littered with rubble will be your hunting grounds. There is an impressive attention to detail in the visual presentation. Rays of sunlight pierce through shattered rooftops. Cobblestone streets are marred by tank treads. Even the uniforms are accurately modeled with grenades, canteens, spades, and a variety of other battlefield essentials all being present and accounted for. Unfortunately, the visual presentation loses a bit of its luster upon closer inspection. Textures are very low-resolution and become quite pixelated when the camera gets too close. This happens somewhat frequently, as you spend the majority of the game skulking along walls and peering around corners.
The sound design adds another level of realism to the World War II setting. Explosions and gunfire provide an almost constant din to accompany you through most of your missions. The buzzing of an incoming aircraft or the throaty rumble of a tank’s engine sound very authentic. Hidden under all these layers of sound effects, the game’s music consists of a short track of violins that loops incessantly throughout the campaign, only varying to indicate an upcoming climatic moment. Fortunately, the soundtrack is low enough in the mix to be easily ignored. In much the same way, the laughable voice acting is somewhat forgivable, as it only become painfully apparent during occasional cut-scenes.
It’s obvious that these environments and their accompanying audio have been designed to provide a viable stealth approach towards your objective – the all-important vantage point. On higher difficulties, a covert insertion will be necessary, as your enemies are crack shots who will identify and converge on your position very quickly. Walking through the rubble produces the gritty crunch of footfalls on broken masonry and the rattle of your bouncing canteen. To account for this, you will spend much of your time crouched down, lurking through buildings and alleyways in search of the best possible route. Sprinting is all but forbidden, as each step echoes out like tap shoes on a marble floor.
Encountering an enemy does not require you to abandon your stealth approach. You can use a thrown rock to distract enemies while you sneak past. A silenced Welrod pistol will dispatch threats silently if lethal force is required. Explosions or an announcement on a loudspeaker can be used to disguise shots from your rifle. Leaving corpses lying about will alert enemies to your presence, so you also have the ability to pick up your victims and leave them in a more discreet location. These elements can give the game a very Splinter Cell feel as you make your way towards the vantage point.
Completely avoiding your enemies not only helps you to reach your objective unscathed, but will also allow you to ignore the inconsistent AI. While some enemies can spot you from seemingly a mile away, others appear to have no peripheral vision at all and are not alerted when passing only a few feet from you. Some respond to the smallest of sounds while others won’t react to a grenade exploding in the next room. This is a significant issue on the lower difficulties, as the enemy AI is dumbed down to a point that forces me to question the enemy’s recruitment strategies.
The process of exploring each level and making your way to the objective, while not perfect, is tense and enjoyable. Fortunately, that infiltration is simply the means to a much greater end. Upon reaching the predetermined vantage point, the gameplay becomes very different. You are no longer an ordinary soldier bound to the constraints of ground-level. You are a sniper.
Before moving on to the final objective, you’ll need to make some preparations. Explore your roost and identify all points of entry. Spending some time setting up landmines and tripwires to defend your flanks will be invaluable. Nothing ruins a well-executed snipe mission like taking a bullet to the back. This sort of “tower defense” portion provides a short, but enjoyable bit of variety to the gameplay. With precautionary measures in place, it’s time to attend to the titular task at-hand.
Looking out over the rooftops and streets below instills an almost god-like sense of power. The aiming feels very precise and it’s easy to scan the area before you in search of your target. Once he has been identified and the crosshairs are aligned, the skills you’ve developed over the course of the game come into play. You’ll adjust your shot to account for bullet drop and wind speed while simultaneously holding your breath to steady the shot. When you squeeze the trigger, the camera angle will shift to follow the bullet as it thunders from the barrel and spirals down in dramatic slow-motion. Once it finds the target, the game triggers a cut-away view of the target’s anatomy – the “X-Ray Kill Cam”. Depending on the location of the hit, the catastrophic aftermath could include broken bones, shattered teeth, punctured organs, or exploded eyeballs. The once tightly spiraling round is then sent tumbling wildly from the exit wound. All of this is displayed in an even more protracted slow-motion sequence. There is a sort of grisly elegance to be found in the complex physics at play during these cinematics. While the “X-Ray Kill Cam” is extremely graphic, it never seems gratuitous. Instead, it comes across as more of a reward for attaining a certain level of proficiency with your rifle. It acknowledges that you not only killed the target, but that you delivered the bullet exactly where you had intended. In a game that requires so much effort to take a single shot, such recognition is a crucial source of motivation.
Once the target has been eliminated, the final objective of each mission is to exfiltrate from the area. While I would have liked to quietly slip away in the same fashion that I entered, that was never an option. Enemies were always quick to identify my location and attack. This was no longer a game of one shot, one kill. The Thompson sub-machine gun was now my weapon of choice as I made my way towards the exfiltration point, guns blazing. While these moments do provide a bit of variety to the gameplay, I found them to be somewhat displeasing after spending so much time on my stealthy insertion. In like Sam Fisher. Out like Rambo.
Over the course of the 10 to 12 hour campaign, Sniper Elite V2 proved to be more of a multi-faceted game than I had anticipated. The stealth gameplay, as well as the run-and-gun exfiltrations were enjoyable, but lacked the polish of other titles who maintain those specialties. If you want stealth, you’d be better off playing Splinter Cell. If you want run-and-gun action, stick to Halo. However, if you are looking for an accurate sniping simulation, then Sniper Elite V2 is as good as it gets. It’s a smart shooter that rewards persistence. Replaying the game for better performance is encouraged by a scoring system, which allots points to kills based on distance, accuracy, and a number of other factors. After a bit of practice, I was able to accurately guide my bullet to the target with confidence almost every time. On those occasions when I did miss, my frustration was magnified by my failed expectations. I have never encountered a game in which a single bullet carried so much significance. Appropriately enough, the back of the game’s case reads, “One bullet can change history.” In Sniper Elite V2, that statement holds true, so aim carefully.
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 7.5/10
Gameplay/Design – 8.0/10
Visuals – 7.5/10
Sound – 7.0/10
Lasting Appeal – 7.5/10
Overall – 7.5/10