Sniper Elite V2’s one of those stealthy games – in more ways than one – that seems to have achieved a fair amount of commercial success without first getting the usual critical sell via giant marketing campaigns and gushing reviews. In a lot of ways, that’s likely down to the fact that there’s’ a certain subset of the gaming population that really digs on the whole idea of sniping. As evidence, I give you the runaway sales engine that was Sniper: Ghost Warrior (terrible game, that surprised even the publisher with how well it sold), and the true-fact that in any given team-game where a sniper-like class is available, most of the players will camp on a hill and ignore every request to, I don’t know, capture anything that will help your side win.
I’m looking at you, Battlefield 3!
To be honest, I’m not immune to the oddly alluring image of the lone sniper taking on hordes of enemies and emerging victorious – or at least with a glorious kill-count before getting gunned down. I play Recon as much as the next man, so, and have been known to camp a time or two.
So, long story short, after hearing some positive murmurings about V2, I had to give it a go.
Yes, it basically is a Nazi Murder Simulator.
Killing Nazis = Victimless Crime
After a bit of tweaking with the game’s graphic settings – which are pretty detailed for a game on all platforms – there’s no denying that this is a pretty good looking title on the PC. The Asura engine handles some great lighting effects in particular; given the importance of shadow and mood in what is basically a stealth FPS, it would want to.
More importantly, the engine handles the game’s detailed ballistics and hit mechanics to an almost obscene level of detail. You see, the big ‘draw’ of the game is an X-ray kill-cam, the kind of thing that, had the game been denied rating in Australia, you’d look at and say “Well, no wonder”.
Nearly every shot you fire with your rifle gets dissected in ultra-slow motion, and when you do particularly well at bulls-eyeing those evil German’s (and merciless Russians, in some levels), you get to see your bullet penetrating flesh, bursting organs, and shattering bones. It’s so detailed as to be, well... I like a bit of gore, and there’s no denying that the system’s kind of clever, in a gruesome way, but does this really add anything other than sick satisfaction to an otherwise solid stealth shooter?
I don’t know. But I do keep playing.
The story’s simple enough – sniper meets targets, targets die, sniper looks for more targets – but it’s the challenge of each new map and mission that pulls you through the campaign. You’ve a range of tools at your disposal, from trip-wire mines up to Panzerfaust tank rockets, but you’ve always got a limited amount of gear and weapons you can carry, so it’s best to keep things simple and reliable. The game relies a lot on stealth mechanics, like timing your shots with sources of loud noise, or staying out of sight of wandering guards, but thankfully the only punishment you get for being spotted is a louder and tougher firefight. It feels like there’s actual consequences to being spotted, rather than it being a mission-ending condition.
However, one thing a good stealth game relies on is sharp and challenging AI, and well your enemies move well-enough and use cover, it’s immersion-breaking to fight off a mess of angry guards with a Thompson SMG and some grenades, only to turn a corner or ascend a flight of stairs to find another soldier or guard blithely patrolling only meters away from the action. It’s at these moments you realise how scripted much of the game is.
But it’s still fun, and on the highest difficulty you’ll be challenged by enemy numbers as much as bullet drop or windage.
The campaign’s solid enough, but you get even more fun in co-op modes, and the almost impossible to find a game on MP side of things. Challenge maps also add a bit of variety, testing you against ever tougher waves of enemies; these are actually some of the more rewarding parts of the game.
However, I keep coming back to the gleeful rendering of the kill-shots. The thing is, I can’t imagine a real sniper even thinks about what the round is doing, other than dropping his or her target before moving on to the next shot. This is a gamification of gross physical damage that really does go a step too far; even more annoying is that I sometimes find myself getting caught up in it. Not to mention that the constant loss of control really does take any sense of flow right out of the game.
I might be over thinking things, but it occurs to me that Sniper Elite V2 is one of those guilty pleasure games that you just don’t play in front of polite company. But I’ll still fire it up to see if I can make it through one more wave of suicidal Nazis.