Fun Yet Ultimately Flawed Sniping Experience
Sniping has always been highly romanticized thanks to the magic of movies. The lone markskman setting up his shot and getting that perfect kill across vast distances is something you always watch with awe. Many games have tried to capture that cinematic experience and a fair amount of them have succeeded - the biggest problem is what do you do with the rest of the game?
Sniper Elite V2 places you in the shoes of allied sniper, American to be exact, Karl Fairburne. Deployed in Germany, in the latter part of World War II, things are not looking so great for the Axis as Soviet forces are slowly pushing in onto Berlin. Fairburne is tasked with eliminating key targets that were involved in the development of the deadly V2 rockets before they can defect to the Russians and cause all sorts of problems down the road (quite ironic seeing how in real life after Germany had surrendered a fair amount of V2 rocket scientists were scooped up by America and helped in founding NASA).
The story is divided up into "Missions" where you're usually tasked with eliminating key personnel or equipment. At the start of each level you can customize your loadout and primary sniper rifle of choice which all have different properties and are unlocked as you progress through the campaign. Depending on what difficulty level you might have chosen this could end up being an arbitrary decision. There are three primary levels of realism you can choose from, starting with all assists on and ending with the most realistic sniping simulation the game has to offer. When playing on the easiest setting you need not worry about wind speed, wobble sway or gravity. Your bullets will always land exactly where your crosshair points much like how they do in a game like Call of Duty. On the intermediate level you will have scope sway and gravity to worry about but the game will still help you out with a small red indicator that shows up after several seconds of aiming depicting exactly where your shot will land. The highest difficulty adds wind to the equation and has zero indicators of any kind - this also excludes ghost image of your last known position, indicators of which direction you are being shot at from, and tagging your targets with the binoculars.
Each level usually follow the same format: a stealthy approach to your vantage point, taking out your target, all hell breaking loose. While the game holds up well enough during these first two steps, the third is where things start to fall apart. Sniper Elite V2 is an action sniping game. Despite the many labels of high levels of realism on the box, this is an arcade experience with realistic touches sprinkled on such as wind correction or gravity. The sniping itself feels quite good. When scoped in you have the option to hold in your breath to lower your heart rate which steadies the scope and enables a sort of bullet time effect. At longer distances you learn to adjust your aim slightly higher to compensate for gravity or wind sway. If you don't feel too confident in your ability to predict these coefficients you can turn on an aim assist in the form of a red diamond indicator that appears on your scope after a few seconds of aiming detailing exactly where your shot can land, and can be literally used as a cheat-sheet-crosshair. A big feature of the title are x-ray slow motion kill shots where you follow the path of the bullet as it enters your target depicting exactly which organ was hit and how the bullet left the body. These little kill cams are a nice touch detailing gruesome headshots where skulls shatter to pieces or spectacular double kills where your crushed bullet exits one enemy only to emerge on the other side and fly into his buddy right behind him. Surprisingly this feature doesn't get old easily and you grow to anticipate the animation before every long distance trigger pull as a sort of hit-confirm. When it does get old is when you're forced to repeat a section of a level multiple times over, and you main priority is just moving on to the next checkpoint.
If you're planning on playing the game on the highest difficulty then repeat level sections you will. The biggest shortcoming of Sniper Elite is that it forces you into combat against hugely unfavorable odds towards the latter parts of each level. The stealth seems largely superfluous as unlike games like Hitman or Metal Gear Solid, you're not able to complete missions stealthily all the way through. This is a waste as Sniper Elite employs many interesting stealth mechanics such as the ability to throw rocks to distract your enemies, last known location ghost images taken straight from Splinter Cell Conviction or environmental sound masking such as a loud speaker making announcements giving you a small window of opportunity to fire off a shot without alerting any guards to the noise. At the highest difficulty setting you take quite a bit of damage from enemy fire and rival snipers can take you down with a single shot. Time and time again just as you're starting to feel at home in the role of a sniper, sneaking your way across enemy territory you're pulled right out and forced into situations where throngs of soldiers are storming your location and peeking from behind cover you're forced into taking out the opposition one by one until the area is devoid of any life. There is no point in scouting ahead as the game will spawn enemies in upon crossing invisible lines, causing troops to suddenly flood out from side streets and snipers to appear on rooftops that you have moments ago scanned with binoculars and found clear. Sniping is meant to be done at long distances and when you're forced into backalley shootouts using bolt action sniper rifles against onrushing waves of German or Soviet troopers peppering your cover with automatic rifle fire the fun turns to frustration. In one particularly poor early level you are tasked to infiltrate a factory wherein you have to snipe in cramped close quarter combat against a multitude of reinforcements.
Helping to alleviate the pressures of the single player campaign, Sniper Elite V2 offers the ability to play the entire story with a buddy through online coop. There are also several cooperative multiplayer modes including, what these days seems almost obligatory in all games, a horde mode which is called Kill Tally. In addition there is the aptly named Bombing Run where players need to escape a scheduled bombardment of the area by finding spare parts and fuel to repair their vehicle, as well as Overwatch where one player assumes the role of the sniper and the other is the spotter tasked with carrying out various mission objectives. On the competetive side there is regular Deathmatch as well as Team Deathmatch. Seeing as the entire game trains you to stay still behind cover and wait for the perfect shot, online matches can turn into quite a drag as everyone holes up in their hiding spots waiting for the player with the least amount of patience to just run out there. The game keeps track of a magnitude of stats such as longest distance headshot and number of double kills which you can compare against that of your friends over XBOX Live, PSN or Steam.
Sniper Elite V2 is a decent game. The controls feel fine, the environments look great and making long distance shots feels very gratifying. The linear level design that forces the players into crazy shootouts really bring the gameplay down. If you have that sniper itch, especially in a WWII setting, then you could do a lot worse. Ultimately though, Sniper Elite V2 just doesn't stay true enough to it's central theme for me to be able to honestly recommend it to any true sniping fans, while there just isn't enough variety to draw in the casual player.