High on the top floor of a dilapidated building, with chin pressed to the ground, not moving a muscle, the silent but deadly hero of Sniper Elite V2 surveys the heavily-guarded area below with his binoculars before he glares down the sights of his Springfield M1903 rifle.
Executing a carefully placed shot, from a 180 metres away, he shatters the knee-cap of a Nazi soldier, but the sound of the bullet leaving his firearm alerts the other guards, who scatter for cover. His position is blown but he remains totally calm and in control, focusing on his breathing and steady aim as he watches their every move, waiting patiently for the one chance he might have to pick them off one at a time and send a bullet whizzing through their skulls.
With every precise hit, a cinematic cut-scene kicks-in showing the trail off the bullet in slow motion as it makes its way through the air and penetrates graphically right through the body of the guard. In an era of gaming where we’re inundated with fast-paced, run-and-gun shooters, Sniper Elite V2’s stealth-based gameplay is a breath of fresh air.
Rebellion’s tactical shooter is all about taking your time and making the right decisions. In the role of Karl Fairburne, an OSS officer inserted into the heart of Berlin during World War II, each mission begins with a piece of Intel informing you of your target as you make your way through the dangerous streets and enemy encampments seeing off Nazi and Soviet opposition before seeking out the primary target. This is a one man sniping machine up against incredible odds.
It’s this sense of being isolated and alone, with such numbers against you, that creates the tension and suspense that you feel as you sneak around the city streets slitting throats, laying traps and creating diversions. Lying prone on a roof-top, waiting patiently for the opportunity of a clean kill, there’s a brief moment of nervousness that kicks in as you line up the target reticule and release the trigger.
Part of the reason why Sniper Elite V2 musters up these kinds of feelings is because to be a successful sniper you need to concentrate intensely. Consequently, you become totally engrossed in the role of this elite soldier as he sneaks around picking of enemies while trying not to be detected. Gameplay, for the most part, is deliberately slow and relies on you seeking out the best cover spots and vantage points from where you can get a clear shot of the enemy. Run haphazardly into an open area, and you’re finished.
Though sniping is the star of the game, players also have other weapons and devices they can call upon, including trip-mines, dynamite and grenades. It would have been nice if there were sections where we felt we actually needed to use some of these other items in the game – largely we played through the entire game using just our sniper rifle and silenced pistol – but the opportunity is there to experiment and it is good fun switching things up by laying down a trip wire, throwing a rock to encourage guards to come your way, and then sitting back and watching them get blown to smithereens.
In your arsenal, there’s also a submachine gun, which occasionally comes in handy in close-quarters encounters, particularly when you’re sneaking around the indoor environments where a group of enemies may appear around a corner at any given moment. Indeed, Rebellion has done a good job at keeping the tension at a high throughout the missions and encouraging players to always sit back and observe before rushing in.
The one thing you can be certain of when playing Sniper Elite V2 is that you will die if you don’t use stealth. The game therefore encourages sneaking around with features such as sound masking, where you might hear a voice bellowing through a loud speaker while infiltrating an enemy camp. This gives you a few seconds of opportunity to let a shot off without being heard.
The scoring system also encourages stealth play by awarding you with more points if you play like a true sniper. With each shot, you’ll see a score flash up on screen, so by executing stealth kills, headshots and trying to kill two enemies with one bullet, you can rack up a high score, which is displayed on the end of level mission screen. The points don’t actually mean anything in the context of the game, which is a shame, but trying to beat your high score gives you something to aim for and adds some replay value once you’ve completed the missions.
For the most part, Rebellion has done a good job with the control scheme. The cover mechanic works well allowing you to snap into cover and glance over obstacles to take a shot from relative safety. You can switch weapons intuitively and the binoculars are a great tool too for surveying an area and tagging enemies so that you won’t lose sight of them once they move.
One area of the campaign that sometimes does fail to live up to expectations is the hit detection, which can be inconsistent. There were times when our target reticule was aimed squarely at the head of an enemy, but our shot missed and hit another part of the body. The A.I. also performs inconsistency, and while some enemies will cleverly take up cover positions once you’re spotted, others will rush around like headless chickens while some will even stand there like sitting ducks looking in totally the wrong direction.
Nonetheless, despite a few technical issues, Sniper Elite V2’s campaign is absorbing and challenging and its slow-motion cinematic pieces, where you see all the fine gory details of how your bullet penetrates an enemy body, never fails to entertain. Level design is impressive too, with multi-tiered environments ripe for sniping, and graphically, though it’s certainly no Call of Duty, the developer has created a believable wartime environment complete with detailed buildings that have been shattered from the impact of explosions.
Away from the campaign, there’s also a comprehensive multiplayer mode. Disappointingly, there is no head-to-head combat, instead it’s all focused on co-op play, but there are some decent scenarios. While Kill Tally pits players against waves of enemies against the clock, Bombing Run tasks players with scouring the area to repair broken vehicles before they get wiped out by a bomb. There’s also the opportunity to play through the single player missions with a friend, which makes the point scoring system far more competitive. Finally, our favourite mode, Overwatch, puts you in a scenario where one player takes the role of the spotter, completing objectives and helping out the other guy, the sniper, by tagging targets.
A few imperfections prevent Sniper Elite V2 from being the perfect tactical shooter, but we’ve thoroughly enjoyed the change of pace that stealth play brings in the wartime environment. While the inconsistent A.I. can be distracting, and the occasional problem with hit detection can be frustrating, it’s a game that rewards patience well and there’s nothing more satisfying then clearing an area of a dozen enemies with a round of carefully-placed headshots.