Highly Recommended, But Know What You're Getting Into
(Please note that this review only covers the single-player portion of the game, on PC. The game also includes co-op missions and a competitive mode)
The original Sniper Elite was not a game for everyone. Even on the lower difficulty settings it was quite willing to punish small mistakes, and the pace that you had to play it at was just above glacial. On the other hand, it wasn’t what you would call realistic in the way that something like Arma 2 is. It rode the line between arcade and simulator , skewing towards sim whenever practical. Sniper Elite V2 tries to ride the same line, but this time it makes a few concessions in pacing and complexity. The resulting game is one that will be enjoyable to a wider range of players, and will satisfy most fans of the first game, but isn’t necessarily an upgrade on all features.
Sniper Elite V2 is about being a WWII sniper. The elements of the game directly related to sniping, including spotting enemies, setting traps, sneaking around and finding a good position, all clearly had a lot of time and thought put into them. Every other element, however, is “good enough.” The graphics look fine, and they provide for the gameplay by making you and enemies difficult to see when appropriate. The sound get’s the job done, and you can use it to find enemies who are shooting at you. The story can be boiled down to “There are V2 rockets and an American needs to shoot a bunch of guys,” but that’s ok because it actually feels plausible. Sort of.
The sniping mechanics then. There are various levels of tactical assistance and ballistics modeling that you can turn on at the beginning of the campaign, and they change the dynamics of the game quite dramatically. On the most difficult settings you’ll have to account for gravity and wind based only on the notches on your rifle-sight, and spot enemies with nothing but your eyes and ears. On the other side of the difficulty spectrum, all of the complicated ballistics get turned off and you are welcomed by a plethora of aim and sneaking assists. What options you choose will largely come down to confidence, but even on the higher difficulty settings the game eases you in nicely and you’ll be comfortable with whatever you chose by the time things get really challenging.
The actual experience of sniping is the most important thing here, and Rebellion has made it very satisfying. This is partially because of the camera that frequently zooms in on your bullet and gives you an x-ray view of what you are doing to a Russian or German’s internal organs, which never really gets old. However, it’s mostly because Rebellion have mixed up the circumstances under which you are shooting nicely. They’ve included a good combination of open battles, stealth missions, and various tension levels in-between. This stops what could be a very repetitive activity from ever becoming monotonous.
With all of that said, there are a few points where fans of the first game (which include me) are going to be disappointed. Firstly, it has regenerative health. There are a million different reasons to include regenerative health in a game, but this was a bad call. It may sound like a minor quibble, but it makes finding enemies much easier than it should be. Basically you can run into an area, get shot a few times and then take cover. This wouldn’t be a problem in most games, but in this case it’s a valid tactic for flushing out enemies. As a result, enemy snipers are basically meaningless because they need to hit you a few times in rapid succession to kill you, and their first shot gives away their position: Something that Joseph Fiennes had to die for in Enemy At the Gates.
The other disappointing thing is that most of the levels are a lot more linear than the first game. As a result, choosing a position isn’t really as complicated (or fun) as it was before. The overall quality of the level design is high, but only one mission later on really captures the feel of sneaking from position to position and selecting a vantage point based on subtle details. Some the sneaking areas really do feel like Splinter Cell: Kill Everybody Edition, especially early on before the game starts to give you a few more options about how to approach a situation.
The last disappointment is the AI. It’s actually not bad most of the time and won’t fall for all of the old stealth game tricks (once or twice I noticed some really good touches that were clearly hand-coded), but it can occasionally be phenomenally dumb. Snipers don’t move around very much, and often one guard will be alerted while the others just stand around. On the flipside, there were a few points where I was spotted from absurd distances, while lying prone and on a bumpy surface. Overall then, the AI serves the game well enough, but could have been a bit more polished.
It’s easy to see how Sniper Elite V2 could have been a much less interesting game, and Rebellion are to be applauded for sticking to the core of what made the first game fun. You’re going to feel the places where they made sacrifices, but they don’t ruin the game; they just make it a bit more accessible. If the idea of a game just about sniping has any appeal to you, Sniper Elite V2 is definitely worth checking out on the value of the single player campaign alone.