“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
RAGE 2 Review – Glorious Guns but a Shoddy Structure
A Conflicted Beginning
The opening moments of RAGE 2 are reminiscent of little so much as Killzone. A gravelly voice gives a stirring speech about superiority and the need to quash the rampant spread of lesser humans. The speaker is General Cross, a bald, deformed head—Scolar Visari transplanted across the years and franchises—atop a robotic body. Furthermore, like Killzone, such charisma and character are reserved for the enemy faction, here known as The Authority.
Players quickly get the choice of either a male or female Walker before being tossed into a high-octane battlefield overrun by cyborgs and mutants alike. Armed with only a few basic weapons, Walker is an effective killing machine in this first conflict, and the gameplay experience is as satisfying as they come. The guns are responsive and feel powerful, while the level design invites the kind of non-stop strafing and perpetual motion popularised by classics such as Quake and DOOM.
As veteran gamers might expect from past experiences, the battle goes badly. The heroes are killed, and Walker’s hometown is razed. In using this premise RAGE 2 attempts tired pity-me story beats to invest the player (at this point, unsuccessfully). The hometown hero (and Walker’s mother figure) is slain in the battle, which begins a quest that combines personal vengeance with the global desire to do what is best for the world: stop the monsters.
Before that, players must first expand their skill set, and so the sublime first-person shooter gameplay is joined with RPG mechanics that promise immense depth to the gunplay out in the Wasteland, though the first of these so-termed superpowers is underwhelming, providing the ability to dash out of harm’s way.
With the story set up, the game shifts gears, putting players into an armoured vehicle, and the grippy handling feels as good as the gunplay. The vehicle physics are decidedly arcade-infused, caring little for such nuances as terrain. Instead, all that matters is putting the pedal to the metal and tearing off towards the first objective (and trying to not get too sidetracked in the process).
Despite all of this—the satisfying gunplay, the competent (if so far unspectacular) story, the pleasurable vehicle controls—something feels missing in RAGE 2, a certain spark that will make everything just click.
Gunplay To Die For
Shaking the dust of the ruined Vineland from Walker’s boots for the first time is a bit like bungee jumping. Although the player’s time in the village has been short, they have become acclimatised to a certain po-faced tone and blazingly fast gameplay. Suddenly, though, the security of familiarity drops away as Walker freefalls into the wasteland.
Three story-focused questlines are provided as immediate options, but every path is peppered with distractions and side missions that beg to be roughhoused. After only an hour’s random exploration, the overworld map is littered with icons denoting all sorts of miscellaneous activities.
The Arks, in particular, call for attention. In the fiction, they are similar to Fallout’s Vaults in their stated purpose of repopulating the world post-apocalypse, but they serve primarily as a means of increasing Walker’s abilities. As enticing and—importantly—useful as the Arks are, they highlight a problem about the open world that manifests quite quickly: almost every Ark is blocked by a cohort of enemies, with another set arriving once Walker has acquired her newest skill.
Indeed, most of the activities scattered about the world amount to combat challenges against ever more dangerous foes. Occasionally, random NPCs will offer races, but these are not frequent enough to offset the sheer number of bullets that players will fire both on foot and in their vehicles. Thankfully, many of the enemy outposts, bandit dens, and bounty hideouts feature bespoke, open designs, meaning that players are never at liberty to settle into a single pattern of clearing these challenges.
Further adding diversity (though not nearly enough) are the different combat proclivities of each faction. The Goons and The Shrouded will be the most familiar to gamers, each showcasing a combination of pop-n-shoot gunplay, explosives, and close-range attackers. The mutants are more animalistic, preferring melee. Meanwhile, The Authority uses brute force and high firepower to wipe out any opposition. Although players need to be aware of the unique tactics and skills of each faction, none force the player to change their strategy; the best approach is always to move fast and keep pulling the trigger and, eventually, every enemy breaks down into scattered giblets.
The ever-expanding suite of options, compelling gunplay, varied level design, and satisfying difficulty all ensure that these encounters are never boring, but these traits are not enough to prevent a growing sense of tedium. In many ways, venturing unstructured through the wasteland feels as though the developers had a hammer of a gameplay loop, so every problem had to be a nail.
The bungee jumping analogy, then, comes full circle. After the thrill of freefall, the cord snaps back and the jumper, before too long, arrives back on terra firma. RAGE 2 follows this pattern, as the freedom of tearing across a vast environment always reins itself in to fighting.
However, novelty is not that not-quite-identifiable thing that lurks just beyond reach. Even moving from vehicle to foot changes things up, and the ridiculous amount of options in combat keeps things perpetually fresh.
A Story Lost Amidst the Bombast
The claims about story being a focal point of RAGE 2’s development ring hollow. A forgiving estimate of total narrative-led play time would clock about six hours—a realistic estimate, four. The disappointment spans more than just the brevity, however.
Walker is exactly the kind of faceless, figureless protagonist that has plagued the shooter genre for years. Her bland, no-nonsense demeanour is a dampening lens through which to view this madcap apocalypse, and it undercuts the otherwise energetic tone. Whether interacting with the dour John Marshall or the despicable Doctor Kvasir, Walker remains unflappable, the consummate professional, and that is to the detriment of the whole game. Indeed, her personality—or, rather, the lack thereof—is a clear demonstration of that missing something that has proven so elusive. More on that later, though.
With the story being so short, the lack of impact should come as little surprise. The invasion of Vineland in the opening moments is, by far, the most interesting plot point of the entire game. Such narrative necessities as momentum, surprise, and emotion are jettisoned in favour of a straightforward quest for revenge. Unfortunately, the story is so comprehensively forgettable that nothing else is worth saying about it.
To return now to that something; Walker may want for a personality, but the game does not, and this juxtaposition highlights a central shortcoming: a lack of cohesion. RAGE 2 feels like a Frankenstein’s monster of conflicting visions. The remarkably tight combat and hand-crafted locations are designed for the most frenetic of shooters. However, the wider world makes the gunplay feel like just one part of a design that incorporates meaningless RPG progression and purchase mechanics and a considerable amount of driving from one location to another, with regular pit stops to clear enemy hubs (until that process becomes more tiresome than it has any right to be).
Even the world feels disparate, the map stitched together out of box-ticking biomes. To be fair, the deserts, jungles, waterfalls, and canyons all bear the same breathtaking beauty, but they all blend together into a meaningless mish-mash, with the gameplay locations instead being primarily industrial warehouses. The natural environment is wasted, which makes the open world seem like nothing more than padding—another area where mismatched design principles lead to a game that wants to be everything and suffers because of that ambition.
A Slipshod Structure
Bethesda has already laid out a roadmap of post-launch support for RAGE 2, and that has raised fears among the community that the game adheres to a service model. Such concerns can safely be laid to rest. Although the storyline leaves much to be desired, RAGE 2 is plump with content, as evidenced by the dozens—maybe even hundreds—of markers sprinkled across the map.
Unfortunately, the game suffers too much from its freeform design. Players are immediately free to hunt down the Arks that unlock new abilities. As such, every skill and weapon can be unlocked within a handful of hours, which is disastrous for pacing. Even more troublesome, the RPG mechanics serve no real purpose. Players need never purchase a single upgrade to succeed, and the sheer number of different currencies make doing so a chore anyway.
Because of this lack of structure, a game that could still be interesting 30 hours in can also feel worn our within a dozen, and that suggests the post-launch support will likely only appeal to a dedicated fanbase. The challenges, vehicles, and events scheduled to arrive in the coming months will likely not change up the core gameplay structure all that much. Instead, judging by the little information already available, they may simply give dedicated fans more of what they desire.
On a completely different note, but equally as concerning as the game structure is the enemy design. Beginning with General Cross and extending across the Goons, mutants, and other factions, RAGE 2 seems to take a perverse pleasure in vilifying the Other, the outsider, the disabled, the religious. Even Doctor Kvasir, as a former Authority scientist with questionable morals, is a deformed being. By contrast, the undisputed heroes are all healthy and whole. While problematic in some respects, this subtle and most likely unintentional subtext is easily overlooked and unlikely to affect the enjoyment of most gamers.
Simply put, RAGE 2 is a strange beast. Perhaps that was inevitable as the follow-up to a middling first effort developed across two very different studios. Perhaps that shared production is also the reason for the lack of unity. Whatever the reason, RAGE 2 is clearly best suited to a particular kind of player. The game offers an often-beautiful environment combined with easy, enjoyable traversal mechanics. Comprising the bulk of the experience is some of the finest and most diverse gunplay combat to be found gaming today. However, these charms are let down somewhat by the lacking story and structure and a general feeling of a tonal mismatch between the bland protagonist and the madcap world.
Reviewed on Xbox One X.
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