I love me some good old fashioned Stealth Action. Games like Tenchu and Metal Gear Solid, where the stealth was done right and not tacked onto a run and gun game. I also love a good sniper duel. Medal of Honor: Allied Assault holds a special place in my heart thanks to two things: Normandy, and the sniper missions. So Sniper Elite V2 has a lot to live up to when it get placed in the disc tray of my Xbox 360. Can a game live up to such high hopes?
The year is 1945. Nazi Germany is on the verge of total collapse, with the end of the war just days away. The Soviet Union and the Western Allies are now locked in a deadly race to see who can acquire the scientists who ran Germany’s advanced weapons programs. Weapons programs like the V2, the worlds first Ballistic Missile. You play Karl Fairburne, an officer in the OSS who has been dropped into Berlin with a single mission: Stop the German scientists from “defecting”Â to the USSR, no matter what it takes. You are a sniper, and your bullets will chart history’s course for the next 50 years.
Reading that paragraph, the story seems to have all the right tools to be pretty awesome. Unfortunately all is not right in Berlin. Perhaps its a personal hangup of mine, but the game takes it’s time justifying why termination of Soviet soldiers is allowed. Soviets who are presumably your allies, who have been fighting the same German threat you have for 4 years. Towards the end of the game you finally get some justification but by then the die has been cast.
Other than that little quibble, I can’t say the story is especially deep, but it serves the purpose of moving the action along from one setting to the next. You play as Karl Fairburne but you could be Mickey Mouse for all it matters to the story. Sorry, I’m just going to sit here and let that imagery sink in for a few minutes.
Right, lets move on.
In a game where you always need to know whats going on around you, Sniper Elite V2 does a pretty solid job of building the soundscape. You can hear soldiers speaking in muffled voices if they are in the building a floor below you, for example. Explosions can be heard almost all the time in Berlin, and the game makes use of it to mask your shots if you want to take advantage of all that distracting noise. The soldiers, both Russian and German, sound fairly appropriate, though I cannot say that there were too many voice actors employed. It’s not distracting but you do eventually notice the same lines being spoken as you move through the game.
The music is terrific, and is integrated into the user interface quite well. The music is low or non existent when you are sneaking around trying to listen for any movements, and quite intense during the heat of battle. Naturally when the last enemy is lying dead at your feet, the music drops away again.
I did like some of the little touches. From time to time one of your fallen opponents won’t actually be dead, but merely wounded. They will call out to their friends for help, and you may or may not choose to finish them off. I also loved/hated the way your gun would sound terribly loud when it was finished reloading. You get so used to sneaking around that you start to dread reloading your gun because it might alert your enemies. I don’t think it ever actually did but the immersion into the game world was heightened considerably.
I’m just going to say this up front. I don’t think there is a better looking game on the Xbox 360. I could be wrong, maybe I’m forgetting a game, but right now sitting here writing this review I cannot think of a better looking game for this console. Everything just fits. The lighting is fantastic. The levels are detailed and look as though someone cared enough to make it accurate. The character models are not unique by any stretch but are certainly polished. The more I played the game the more I came to believe that Rebellion was showing off, and nothing changed that after I completed the game. The only issue I had with the graphics in game came from the lower difficulties, which has ghosts in positions where the game thinks you should be standing or hiding from fire, etc. These are not a problem in the Sniper Elite difficulty because they aren’t there, and even in the difficulty settings where it does exist the problem isn’t huge. You just wish sometimes the immersion wasn’t being broken.
The gameplay here is a little funny. If you play like the designers wanted you to play, you’ll be fine. But if you deviate just a little, you’ll find yourself dead very fast. I’ll describe what I mean. You stumble onto a German patrol, and cannot advance without eliminating them. Fortunately you are near a church tower. You climb the tower, placing booby traps at various points along the way to ensure nobody can sneak up on you. You get to the top and fire five shots, all while bombs are exploding in order to mask your gunshots. Bam, five dead soldiers. Then you climb back down the stairs and on your way out of the building you stumble onto a sixth German soldier whom you missed during your initial count, who is outraged that you’ve massacred his friends. You quickly pull out your Thompson sub-machine gun and unload 20 shots into him, not because you’re being vindictive but because the bullets are useless and he won’t die. Then he manages to aim his MP-40 at you and three shots later you’re dead. That kind of incident is common in the game. Specifically, sniper bullets kill, machine gun bullets tickle.
The controls are adequate, though lacking at times. This comes out specifically during multiplayer. One mode, called Overwatch, has one player marking targets for the second player with a pair of binoculars. You must press the right analogue stick in to bring up the binocs, then pull the right trigger to target your foes. This is fine if you are in a safe location where nobody can see you, but the missions in Overwatch require you to be anywhere but a safe location, making for an awkward switch between the binoculars and your gun as the guys you just targeted spot you and start firing their incredibly accurate sub-machine guns at you. Another thing the game could use is the ability to dive out of the way. If I’m taking fire I shouldn’t have to turn my character around and then sprint out of the way. I should be able to just dive in a direction that suits me.
The enemies are awesome at spotting you if you make a mistake by the way. Even if you don’t, they can sometimes see you and ruin your day in a hurry. Shoot your rifle from the top floor of a house in a subdivision and every soldier in the game will instantly know where you are if it’s not masked. This can be annoying but it’s not fatal. You can go prone, and you can often wiggle around to get your gun sights on an enemy who is firing on you without getting hit. It’s just not easy.
These insanely accurate and aware soldiers don’t kill the game because it is filled with an abundance of quick saves. Rarely do you go more than ten minutes without the game saving for you, meaning if you should die, you won’t have to trek halfway across Berlin again to get back to where you were.
Lastly, there are what you might call stealth kills in the game. These basically amount to sneaking up behind a guy and breaking his neck, or sneaking up on a sleeping guy and punching him in the throat. I would have enjoyed some more options for killing people like this, especially from cover. The game is partly a stealth action game after all. Being able to jump out and stab an unsuspecting enemy should just be par for the course. A ninja sword would be awesome too, but I’m not really expecting that. What??? Don’t look at me that way. You want one too.
In addition to the single player campaigns three difficulty levels, you can also play online in a number of co-operative multiplayer missions. These include Campaign Co-op, Overwatch, Kill Count and Bombing Run. Campaign Co-op puts you and a friend into missions from the single player mode. Overwatch has one player sniping and a second player spotting targets and achieving mission goals. Kill Count plays like a version of Horde mode where you compete to see who gets the most kills in a seemingly never ending avalanche of Nazis. And finally Bomber Run has you and your friend attempting to rebuild a vehicle from spare parts you must scavenge all over the battlefield, all while enemy troops hunt you down and before a bombing raid.
The way you connect to games is terrible if nobody else on your friends list has it. At first I thought there was nobody playing online, until I saw the scoreboards showing 50,000 people. Then for three days I thought there might a problem with my router. Finally it became clear to me that you are expected to keep pressing connect to game and then canceling until you succeed at finding a game. Shooting Nazis online should not be this hard people.
And of course once you do connect you have to deal with someone who thinks he’s playing Call of Duty, charging into battle or not bothering to play in a stealthy manner, thus getting me and him killed. Pubbies are nothing new of course, but if you don’t have a friend who is playing this then you might as well not bother playing online.
The game has three levels of difficulty, with a customizable fourth option thrown in as well. In the Cadet setting, if you have a target in your cross hairs and fire, he’s dead. Simple as that. The Marksman setting ups the difficulty by introducing bullet drop to the equation. So the farther you are from an enemy the higher above his head you’ll have to aim in order to get a hit. Sniper Elite further increases the difficulty by adding weather to the equation. If there is a breeze you’ll have to compensate for that as well as the gravity in order to score a hit. This can make things extremely hairy in later missions where how fast you can kill some opponents is just as important as killing them at all.
I didn’t notice a huge difference in the difficulty between Marksman and Elite. If you have the right weapons and don’t care about getting headshot kills you can get by many of the levels just as smoothly as you might have on Marksman. But then, you’re not a real sniper if you’re settling for anything less than headshot kills.
So the big bit of originality to be found here is the new X-Ray Kill Cams. Essentially, the developers know that people want to see just how awesome their shot was. And some people seem to enjoy shows like CSI, which had graphics showing how a bullet entered a corpse and yadda yadda. So to spice up the already cool kill cam, Rebellion decided to show you what happens to your enemies head/chest/testes in real time, by showing an X-Ray version of the body part taking damage. Not every kill gets this, and eventually you’ll notice that skulls all seem to explode in much the same way, but even so the effect never gets old. The best, strangely, was when I killed a guy by shattering his leg bone. It was just so rare and unique at that point I had never seen an X-Ray shot of anything other than Head/Chest/Testes.
This game rates very high on my level of addictive qualities. Having to sneak to the target location, eliminating foes along the way, setting up traps and then finally making your presence known by wiping out a battlefield of opponents is quite satisfying. Doing so in Sniper Elite difficulty is even more satisfying. The developers needs to fix the disparity between sniper kills and sub-machine gun kills. Having to take out more than one enemy up close happens sometimes, so don’t make it more difficult than it already is.
All you guys in Battlefield 3 who like to set up on hills and start lobbing bullets at targets miles away doing nothing to win the game? Sniper Elite V2 is for you. Please, by all means pick this up and stop playing Battlefield. You’ll be doing everybody a favor.
Aside from them, if you yourself like to occasionally feel like the hand of death picking off opponents one by one, this game will certainly scratch that itch. Lastly if you are a med student and want to see what happens when a bullet impacts a pair of testicles, you should consider playing this game.
I’m told there was a pre-order DLC bonus mission that allowed you to shoot Hitler. I, not having pre-ordered the game, would very much like to play this mission. So Rebellion, 505 Games, whomever, lets get with the program and release that DLC. And while you’re at it, how about some missions to let me wipe out the rest of the Nazi command structure. I’m not adverse to doing a little Inglorious Basterds here.
Finally, by the end of WW2 Berlin was nothing but rubble, having been bombed back to the stone age. If you watch some of the footage shot from planes flying over head it looks like a massive pile of bricks with occasional wall still left standing. Playing through this game I felt very much like I was watching those old films, only from ground level. I haven’t had a game feel this real since the first Medal of Honor. There is of course the silly stuff, the kill cams etc, but nothing beats climbing over a pile of bricks into a new room only to find a child’s doll on the ground.
Story: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Good
Appeal Factor: Incredible
FINAL SCORE: GREAT Game!
Short Attention Span Summary:
If you get into the spirit of the game the single player campaign is quite enjoyable. And if you can get past the difficulties connecting the multiplayer isn’t bad either. Especially if you’ve got a buddy who thinks like you do. Bring on the DLC!
What Video Game Release for January 2014 are you most excited for?
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