Sniper Elite v2 is all about taking in the locale, tagging the enemy with your binoculars, then bringing them down as efficiently and quickly as possible once the shooting starts. At first it’s tough going, but with more practice you learn to lead moving targets, compensate for gravity at distance, and optimise your breathing. With a quick press of the R2 button you exhale, easing any jitter through the long-range scope, slowing movement and giving you a better chance of making the shot count. A gauge prevents you from overusing this, and the need to take each shot with care just adds to the game’s exquisite tension.
Portraits of Pain
This brings us to point number two. Sniper Elite v2 has implemented something called the X-Ray Kill-Cam. When the game thinks you’ve pulled off something nice, the view switches quickly to a cinematic shot of the bullet in flight as it bursts through skull, brain, leg, crotch or organs, with the anatomical highlights picked out in a pseudo X-ray view.
On the one hand, there’s no getting around the fact that this is a schlocky excuse to give your more adolescent gamer a cheap dose of gore. On the other hand, we’d have to admit that it’s a pretty cool cheap dose of gore, giving you a chance to relish the results of your expertise and celebrate the really quite unpleasant way you took that last target down. Sniper Elite v2 has us muttering at the screen. “Blimey, that must have hurt”. “How do you like them apples?” “I hope that taught you a valuable lesson.” Be warned: significant others might not be so amused.
But what really makes Sniper Elite v2 work is that it actually makes you think a little. The AI isn’t genius-level stuff and you’ll still find the odd guard who stands looking half-interested at his post despite the fact that his comrade’s head has just exploded like a ripe melon (in glorious X-Ray Kill-Cam-vision, of course). Most of the time, however, you have to plan ahead and think on your feet.
Work Smart, Work Fast
For instance, in many missions you’ll need to build yourself an escape route or prevent enemies from sneaking up behind you. What could be better than trip-mines, land mines and packs of dynamite you can blast from a safe distance? The more stealthy sections require a level of caution. There is some scope to escape if you’re found, but raising an alarm can still result in imminent death. The result is a game that has you thinking about how you play it, and how you tackle each battle as you come to it.
And this is the big surprise about Sniper Elite v2: after so many big, explosion-heavy blockbusters that drag you from set-piece to set-piece by the nose, this less impressive, less accomplished game is frequently more tense and more involving. We’ve mocked Sniper Elite v2. We’ve raged in frustration at Sniper Elite v2. Yet we’ve found it consistently difficult to pull away from the damn thing. It has its problems, but it also has some very powerful hooks.
Our experience of the multiplayer has been held back by a lack of people to play with on the PS3 version, but there’s a solid variation on the Horde/Firefight/Spec-Ops/Zombies mode, as you fight off wave after wave of aggressors, and this is also available as a single-player challenge mode. We also get a few additional co-op modes which see two snipers taking slightly different roles. This game is never going to be the next Call of Duty, but we’d be surprised if it didn’t build a small cult following online.
Sniper Elite v2 sometimes looks and feels like a game from a decade ago, but if the gameplay is of an older time then it’s oddly refreshing today. While needlessly gruesome, the X-Ray Kill-Cam adds a little extra thrill to every incredible shot, and it’s great to have a shooter where not everything feels staged well in advance. A niche hit, maybe, but still a worthy buy.