Merge the X-ray fatalities of Mortal Kombat with the cover-based beats of any modern shooter, plus a little of Splinter Cell: Conviction’s stealth mechanic whereby your last known position is superimposed on the game space, and you have a good idea of how Sniper Elite V2 plays. The game is much more open than the latter comparison, however, with the central premise of being a WWII sniper requiring elongated, barrel-like design of each set-piece.
The “V2” part of title is slightly misleading. This isn’t the second in a series but rather a remake of the 2005 title Sniper Elite. The appellation itself relates to your main mission in the game, which is to stop the development and deployment of German V2 rockets during the Battle of Berlin. Each scientist involved in the V2 program is thus tracked down and taken care of at the end of a scoped sight. There are a couple of twists and turns, but generally your mission will be to kill as many Germans as possible in each area and then burst the brain-pan of said scientists before they can escape.
The game is designed in a way that allows two main approaches. You are equipped with an automatic weapon and silenced pistol, which are particularly handy if you are spotted and need to take Nazis out at close range. The other 70% of the time you’ll be sniping from a strongly defensible position, utilising a kind of bullet-time mechanic, engaged with the press of a key/button, whereby your heart rate drops and concentration is focused – resulting in an on-screen indication of exactly where your bullet will hit.
If your shot is a fatal one, the game automatically switches to bullet cam, tracking it in slow motion as it speeds towards the target and then switching to an X-ray view of its trajectory, highlighting bodily damage as it passes through flesh. Bones shatter and organs burst in a rather glorious manner, imparting a satisfaction that should be guilt-laden but instead comes across as quite hilarious. Certain Achievements highlight this as a tongue-in-cheek aspect of the game, such as “Earplugs”, through one ear and out the other, and “Cooking Off”, hitting the grenade on a soldier’s belt to explosive effect. You can also snipe and explode a soldier’s testicles… both of them, with one bullet. I managed this twice in one level and winced for several minutes afterwards.
The rest of the game surrounding all these bullet chases and testicular explosions is average, but still fairly engaging. Enemy AI is limited, falling heavily on the snap-immediately-to-your-exact-position side, but every now and then they will surprise you by circling around. Several levels employ a noise indicator, which lets you know that the soldiers will not react to a loud shot because there is something else in the level that is overpowering any sound you make. This enhances your stealth options, which also extend to several defensive abilities, such as being able to set up mines and tripwires to guard your position. Generally, though, there’s no real reward for complete stealth apart from your own satisfaction. It’s often easier to find a decent wall to hide behind, declare yourself and start picking off soldiers one by one. This in itself is still great fun, primarily because of the entertaining bullet cam and graphic kills.
Level design is at times impressive, with battle-ravaged streets full of bricks, abandoned vehicles, debris and run-down houses able to be entered and explored for vantage points. Graphically, things are less impactful, feeling like a game from several years ago. However, the locations and situations are believable enough that they overcome the limits of the graphics engine. One mission sees you make your way to a massive stone bridge to set explosives and then move to a position in which to shoot the planted bomb as a line of tanks passes across. It’s simple in design but highly satisfying and credit must be given to Rebellion for maintaining a narrow scope and delivering on it.
Sniper Elite V2 features several multiplayer options. The main one is co-op, which offers four modes. The first allows you and a friend to go through each campaign level together, bursting balls as only friends can. Then there is Kill Tally, a shameless rip off of Horde Mode. Bombing run sees you searching for components to repair a broken escape vehicle (yawn) and Overwatch tasks one player with ground-based objectives while the second provides sniper cover.
The PC release offers exclusive deathmatch modes (all-in or team), as well as Distance King, where it’s the cumulative distance of successful shots that add to a win tally. Fans of tactical sniping will get more out of these modes than those who prefer action, as there’s very little room for running and gunning. Still, there’s an intense aspect to having only the glint of opponents’ scopes to indicate where you should aim your own precious shots. This mode is quite addictive if you are a crafty player and there seems to be a decent amount of people online at time of writing.
The cheap price point and a tightly focused delivery work in Sniper Elite V2’s favour. This isn’t the kind of game that you’ll return to once completed, but as something a little different to the usual shooter formula it offers surprising satisfaction. The X-ray damage mechanic never gets old and some of the levels are actually quite exciting to snipe through. Perfectionists will enjoy the challenge of completing missions with zero guard awareness, while the rest of us will giggle with inappropriate pleasure as our bullets repeatedly perforate hearts, lungs, eye sockets and balls.