When I think of snipers in contemporary video games, I picture the guys with backward baseball caps, running around Call of Duty maps screaming, “No scope!” into the microphone. I’ve always wanted to be a better sniper, finding my perch, having a spotter and someone to watch my back so I didn’t get stabbed, cold cocked or stuck with a grenade. Most of the time, though, I end up finding the perfect spot… right before one of the aforementioned grizzly deaths befalls me. Damnit. I want to be the death dealer.
Thankfully, Sniper Elite V2 from Rebellion and 505 Games might just make my wish of meting out long-distance punishment a reality. I had the opportunity to sample some of the single player and multiplayer yesterday, and I’m pleased to report that, while it isn’t perfect, Sniper Elite V2, is a breath of fresh air in the authentic military shooter market.
For those of you unfamiliar, the original Sniper Elite was released in 2005 on the PC, Xbox and PlayStation 2. It met a reasonable amount of critical success, and was clearly designed for those seeking a more methodical experience than Halo. Now, the team at Rebellion is back at it, bringing their stealthy, cerebral shooter to a new generation of consoles.
The game takes place in 1945, after the fall of Berlin. The city is in ruins and German scientists are seeking to defect, many of them to the Soviet Union. It is your job, as an American Sniper, to ensure that V2 rocket technology (bet you thought V2 stood for “version 2″) doesn’t fall into Russian hands. To that end, you’ll need to assassinate all of the scientists, ending the threat. Along the way in each level, you’ll have to make your way past German patrols to accomplish objectives, reach sniper perches and take out your targets.
One of the things that has always bothered me about sniping in games like Battlefield and Call of Duty, is that the art is overly simplified. The bullet lands where your reticule is focused. In reality, marksmen must account for wind, gravity and muzzle velocity. It is in this level of detail that Sniper Elite V2 distinguishes itself. Authenticity is paramount to the experience, and to that end, the team at Rebellion is once again working with Martin Pegler, an author and historian with an expertise in military sniping. With his guidance, three main rifles are included in the game: the American Springfield Rifle, the German Gerwehr and the Russian Mosin Nagant. Two others will be available later on as DLC.
As part of the team’s work to create a realistic atmosphere for the game’s 1945 Berlin, the artists created a number of pieces of propaganda artwork. These were convincing enough to fool Pegler, who is also in possession of a substantial amount of real posters from the period. Every detail, down to the wallpaper in German homes, was researched and reproduced for the most immersive experience possible.
Of course, all of the attention to scenery in the world wouldn’t matter if the gunplay wasn’t equally impressive. When lining up your shots, you’ll have to account for movement and distance, aiming ahead or above your target to make the kill shot. The game will often go into a killcam mode, giving you early indication that your shot will hit. These follow the bullet, possibly exposing other enemies around your victim. Occasionally, you will also get an X-Ray view. If you grew tired of Mortal Kombat’s X-Ray moves because of their canned animations, you will be pleased to know that each and every one of these “in depth” animations is dynamically rendered. No two animations will be the same, and during my time with the game, I saw over a dozen. Broken bones and punctured organs elicited an “oof” from me every time I saw one. It’s brutal and bloody and, because each is unique, it’s unlikely you will get tired of them quickly.
You can also accomplish a number of trick shots that can turn the tide of battle. Lining up two witless soldiers will let you see a deformed, bloody bullet spiral from the first victim into the second. Blowing up grenades hanging on a German’s belt will turn them into a fine paste. Vehicles and be taken out with a carefully placed shot on the gas tank’s cap. Each kill gives you points, grading you based on target movement, location of the kill, etc. Also, while the game is linear, each area has a sandbox feel with multiple ways to approach your objective.
While these might seem difficult to accomplish during a harried firefight, you can make use of a Focus mode to dilate time, further zoom in and identify where your shot will land before you pull the trigger. Used in combination of marking enemies with your binoculars, the odds don’t seem quite so daunting. In order to activate your Focus, though, you need to keep your heart rate low. Staying still, avoiding detection and, most importantly, not getting shot at will help you stay calm.
Unlike some games, the AI acts realistically when a sniper shot rings out. Enemies won’t know immediately where you are hiding, assuming you are in cover. It’s not until you pull off a few rounds that they start to get wise to your location. This varies based on difficulty, so making every shot count, timing your fire along with loud, ambient noises (like church bells or train whistles) and ensuring that you’ve booby trapped any areas that could be used to sneak up on you are all critical to success. Depending on how many you’ve taken down, the enemies may stop to assist wounded friends or simply run for cover. If they happen to take shelter behind thin materials, like wood, and you’ve tagged them, you can still take the coward down.
My one gripe was that soldiers seemed to have all or nothing animations. Either they are killed or not. If you merely wound a soldier, but not critically enough to put him on the ground, he simply keeps on running as if nothing happened. For a game with such a high level of realism, not even seeing a limp or the clutching of a stomach was a bit disappointing.
Before moving on to the multiplayer offerings, I did have a chance to see the pre-order bonus “Kill the Führer” mission. Putting a bullet into Hitler’s noggin isn’t the only “what if” part of the mission. The mustached madman is pretty dang spry, running for a train to escape your hot leaden death. In truth, his Parkinson’s would never have allowed that kind of movement. See, you learned something cool today.
The multiplayer offerings come in a few flavors, all of them cooperative. You can play every mission of the campaign with a friend or take on one of three challenges. Kill Tally is your basic Horde mode. Bombing Run requires you to collect equipment and repair an escape vehicle before time runs out (and the entire area is turned to rubble). Finally, Overwatch is where I expect a number of players will spend their time.
In this mode, one person is the spotter, accomplishing objectives on the ground. The other is the sniper, providing covering fire. The trick is that the sniper cannot mark targets himself. I played with Tim Jones, Head of Creative for Rebellion. I provided sniper support while he accomplished tasks on the ground. We communicated back and forth, calling out targets and watching the bodies fall. In multiplayer, the kill cams are significantly faster, so as not to leave you vulnerable. It’s great that they are there still there, because they just look amazing.
I walked away from my experience with Sniper Elite V2 wondering how other games could get that aspect of combat so wrong. The level of immersion and visceral detail is unlike anything I have seen. It’s not going to be for everyone, though. The run-and-gun crowd will be bored quickly, especially with no competitive multiplayer. Rather, this game is ideal for those that are looking for a stealth flavored historical shooting experience. From what I played today, that might just be me.