Monday, May 21, 2012

Review: Sniper Elite V2

The shot is 200 meters. Wind is south-southwest and gusting. Your enemy’s eagle-stamped helmet bobs as he smokes and laughs with his friend. You move the crosshairs up to the left, estimating the bullet drop and wind resistance. You breathe in. The world slows around you. You squeeze the trigger. The rifle bucks, sending the bullet spinning towards the Nazi soldier. He falls, his brains spraying his friends in a squirt of pinkish red. You run.

This is Sniper Elite V2 at its best – and although the game features many such stand-out moments like this, a number of bugs hold it back from reaching true greatness.

Putting you in the boots of OSS sniper Karl Fairburne - a gnarled, weary soldier with years of experience - V2 drops you smack-bang in the middle of the end of World War Two. Set in Berlin and its surrounding environments, the game sees Karl hunting down the Nazi scientists behind the deadly – and world-altering – V2 rocket, Germany’s last-resort terror weapon.

However, as the Russian army – ostensibly your allies – are also looking for these boffins, Karl quickly finds himself fending of both Nazis and Reds as he works alone to take down or recruit his targets in the final days of the conflict.

V2’s plot isn’t great, in all honesty, acting simply as a way to string the game’s decent-length campaign together. This is a shame, however, as it would of been nice to play both Ruskis and Nazis off against each other in the name of the US of A. It does have a couple of twists, but nothing deep.

Thankfully, the game’s considerable singleplayer campaign has more than enough mileage in it, putting Karl through a variety of war-torn environments and challenges as he races to stop an evil plot.

The majority of the game plays like a cross between Splinter Cell and snipe-em-up movie Enemy at the Gates – a mix which it pulls off easily. While the game offers a selection of tools to make your job easier – lower difficulty levels offering target marking, ballistics helpers and no wind – the real challenge is found on Sniper Elite difficulty.

Pop the game in on this difficulty and you suddenly finding yourself playing a game apart from the run-’n-gun shooters than infest the market – V2 is a thinking man’s shooter. On this difficulty, there’s a minimal heads-up display, wind and bullet drop can throw your shots off, the enemies are eagle-eyed and a couple of bullets can put an end to your sneaky approach.

While the difficulty certainly leads to some angry, very tough moments, it’s never overwhelming – although sometimes the enemy will spot you without any chance of them actually being able to. Such as the time an enemy rifleman killed me after seeing me (somehow) while I was prone on the fourth floor of a tenement block – in complete darkness.

The enemy AI, while mostly adequate, does have its moments. After you’ve been spotted, the enemy will attempt to suppress and flank you one moment – then get run over by one of their own tanks the next.They also seem to have a serious problem with doors...

The tanks are – as you’d expect – utterly deadly, and can ruin your carefully chosen vantage point instantly – it’s good then that they come with flashing red petrol caps for you to shoot at, blowing them up easily. This is a bit odd, and ruins what was a pretty immersive experience.

That said, the game’s 3D kill cam never gets old. If you pull off a particularly fantastic shot, the game follows the bullet’s trajectory to – and through – your target, giving you a gory, slow-motion view of the kill. It’s creepy, but compelling.

While you can play the game by running around with a sub-machine gun, you’re going to miss out on all the fun of being a dangerously isolated sniper if you do.

The game also features a selection of co-op and competitive multiplayer modes, including a co-op campaign, ‘overwatch’ - where one sniper covers an on-foot trooper – and a score attack mode. While the matchmaking is fast, the lack of people actually playing the multiplayer is telling, however.

Graphically the game isn’t the best-looking. The low-res textures on Berlin’s ruined streets (of which there are loads) are a little jarring to the eye – which is a shame, as some of the game’s locations are spectacular to explore. These include infiltrating a German ‘Flaksturm’, taking a shot from the top of a church tower at the heart of a flattened city park and sneaking through the wreckage of a V2 factory, silenced pistoling the patrolling guards.

In a side note – V2 is one of the only games to ever make me feel ‘bad’ for my actions. If you snipe a trooper in the thigh, sometimes he’s left in a pool of blood, calling for a medic, sending his friends mad with worry as he bleeds out, trying to take cover from you. Do you put him out of his misery? Or could you have sneaked past and left them alone?

Then there was the time a pair of soldiers were discussing “Will you be going home after the war? Are your kids safe?” – all while sitting in the centre of my crosshairs. It was a humbling moment of rare thought in a world filled with games that don’t question the killing.

Overall, Sniper Elite V2 is a very different type of shooter. While the bugs sully the experience somewhat, the game’s emphasis on stealth, caution and patience is refreshing, and well worth a look if you fancy using your brain over your brawn.

Reviewed on Xbox 360


Think this game looks awesome!