It isn’t often that a game’s mere single-level demo can generate as much controversy as Sniper Elite V2’s seemed to. I can already sense the newscasters and mainstream press latching onto this game’s super-violence as their scapegoat in whatever current event happens next. I’ll talk about this in more detail, but is this criticism, which I’ve seen some gamers make without even playing the game, justified? Yes, in a way, I suppose it is; however, Sniper Elite 2 (which I will be calling the game from now on, as V2 looks silly) handles the violence and gore in a way that, rather than make it feel overdone and forced, actually adds to the overall feel of the combat.
“But what combat?”, you should be asking. Sniper Elite 2 always provides the player with the stealthy route – throwing rocks allows you to lure a guard out of a corner and into silenced-pistol-headshot-range, you can mark enemy players to follow their movement, a ghostly figure shows the last point at which you were spotted by foes, and loud audio cues such as messages over the intercom system provide more than enough noise pollution for you to take out a guard with your sniper rifle. While this is a nice mechanism at first, however, it soon becomes tedious and a bit hand-holdy, as you find yourself constantly having a target lined up in your reticule but having to wait for a number of seconds to see the “loud noise” icon appear in the top right corner of the screen. This is the hand-holdy part – I’m supposed to be OSS officer Karl Fairburne, I should be able to determine for myself whether a noise is loud enough or not to mask a gunshot. To add to this, the music changes drastically when you are noticed by an enemy and changes back once you’ve cleared the area of them, making the entire thing a little too easy. I want to have to get my binoculars out and sweep the area for any stragglers before I know that it’s safe to proceed, but I don’t. Hand-holdy, even on the “Sniper Elite” difficulty setting. And yet another negative facet of the audio – the music. Holy crap, it’s not good. Not at all. It’s out of place, it’s loud, and, to put it bluntly, simply unnecessary. As I said before – I’m a world class sniper/secret agent/all-round bad motherfucker. I already know that. I don’t need music to further emphasize that point; all it does is get in the way and detract from the environment’s surprisingly well-crafted ambience.
I felt like that paragraph was getting a bit out of hand, but I do have one last bone to pick about the audio. Sorry. It’s just, I run my games on my PC with a digital 7.1 surround sound headset, which works fantastically in most games. The only problem is that you don’t realise just how much you depend on it until it’s gone. It could be my fault, but while I can usually use voices and footsteps to near-pinpoint the location of my foes, in Sniper Elite V2 all sound coming from the enemies seemed to be pouring through all 7 channels, without a single ounce of direction. This is a huge drawback on the quality of gameplay, especially when the game relies so heavily on keeping an eye on enemy movement and location.
Motion seems a little bit chunky. Maybe it’s my fault, but I can never work out which button to press in order to alternate between stand, crouch, and prone. Whenever I’m running along happily, rather than smoothly transition into a quiet sneak, I seem to end up dropping to the ground in alarm, rifle at the ready. The number of different buttons for getting into cover, using items, picking up items, and interacting, is ridiculous – especially off the back of Mass Effect 3 and its magnificent “one button to rule them all” control scheme. Coupled with the poor audio situation, you might start thinking that Sniper Elite 2 is going to get a fairly horrid score. Stop thinking that, and read on.
Because now we get to the grunt of it all – the game’s namesake, the entire concept around which Sniper Elite 2 revolves – the sniper rifle. Yeah, it’s plagued with shit audio for the better part, but that sniper rifle releases a beast of a noise with every pull of the trigger, really giving the firearm the weight it deserves. You can feel the bullet fly out of the barrel, ears ringing as an aftermath of the shot. If you’ve had particularly good aim, the camera follows the bullet down its trajectory to your target, allowing you to watch in full detail the bullet entering and leaving their body. If you’ve had even better aim, you’ll see an x-ray style camera, showing your bullet breaking bones, obliterating organs, and shattering spinal cords as it carves its way through the target.
And, in case you haven’t guessed it yet, this is where the controversy comes in. Is it too much? To be honest, I think that opinions on this will vary wildly, person to person. Some say that the gore level in Sniper Elite 2 didn’t just cross the line, it walked right over it; and while I can see where these commentators are coming from, my own two cents is that the x-ray slow motion style camera just makes the gamer feel just how much damage the sniper rifle is capable of doing. For the first time in any FPS game, I’ve felt truly sorry for the poor bastard on the other end of the bullet as I watch their kidneys being torn apart by a well-timed piece of lead. And there’s few things equally as satisfying as lying down, silent as the wind, on the top storey of a building, looking down the sights, aiming above and to the right of the target to accommodate gravity and wind, holding your breath, squeezing the trigger, and seeing the bullet fly down the map to a poor soldier seconds away from having his brain stem twain in two in gorgeous, gory, slow-motion brilliance.
The environments are stunning, I should add. Looking around wartime Berlin, with blimps sailing in bright blue skies, bordered by beautiful, tall buildings is one of the greatest things about this game. To do what I’ve tried to avoid doing all review, Sniper Elite 2 has fantastic, colourful environments, while other FPS games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 are, quite simply, bland in comparison. Red flags, blue skies, green uniforms, yellow buildings – the vibrancy, even in the night-time levels, is truly fantastic. I just won’t mention that the character models are dated and disappointing.
Sniper Elite 2 has me on both sides of the fence. I love the gameplay, with the brutality of the sniper rifle and the clever stealth elements. I love the graphical style and the beautiful colour scheme. But the horrendous audio, unintelligent AI, easy skill-levels, and poor keyboard layout really pulls the game back a couple of notches back. It’s a big step up from the first game in the series, and I thoroughly enjoyed most of my time in it, but Rebellion still have a long way to go if they’re to take Sniper Elite to the top. I can’t stress just how much I’m looking forward to seeing them get there.
Select Start Media was not provided with a review copy of the game by Rebellion Developments.