Sniper Elite V2|
As a veteran Army sniper and former instructor at the U.S. Army Sniper School I was especially interested in checking out Sniper Elite V2 and its claim to be an “advanced sniper simulation”. Admittedly, a few things have changed in the way snipers conduct their covert affairs today versus WWII, both in technology and tactics, but the core fundamentals never change. A sniper has special abilities, training, and equipment. His job is to deliver discriminatory, highly accurate rifle fire against enemy targets that cannot be engaged successfully by the regular rifleman because of range, size, location, fleeting nature, or visibility.
The guys at Rebellion did a fairly decent job of recreating this creed while managing to create a fun and challenging piece of entertainment. Thanks to movies and even other video games, there are a lot of romanticized misconceptions about snipers. Being an Army sniper takes a patient person, a disciplined person, a person who is willing to work alone for extended periods of time, often in hostile situations. In addition to marksmanship skills, you also have to be an expert on detecting and stalking a target, concealment and camouflage, and estimating the range of a target while factoring in values for wind and bullet drop. You have to have a keen observational awareness of your surroundings, not only in picking the ideal sniping spot, but also in anticipating enemy response and planning one or more escape routes.
Without hesitation, I started Sniper Elite V2 and picked the Sniper Elite difficulty that promised realistic bullet physic and deadly enemies. The game opens with some historical footage from WWII that deals with the Germans’ deadly use of V2 rocket technology to devastate their enemies from afar, a technology the Russians are now trying to obtain. It was going to be my job to go in and secure the technology and possibly get a few rocket scientists to defect, but most importantly, Russia could not get the V2 rockets.
The opening training mission does a good job of getting you comfortable with the controls. I used both mouse and keyboard and an Xbox 360 controller just for the sake of comparison. While the 360 gamepad worked as well as expected, the mouse and keyboard is an unbeatable combo when it comes to deadly pinpoint accuracy, and that’s what sniping is all about. You quickly learn some valuable skills such as setting tripwire traps, tossing rocks to bait enemies away from your destination, and even booby-trapping a dead soldier; all of which gets paid off later in the mission.
Eventually you will get to fire that first shot from your sniper rifle, and the game does an impressive job of putting the player in the proper mindset by mixing in believable visuals with an ominous thumping heartbeat; an audible representation of your pulse which factors into the accuracy of your shot. With your pulse and breathing under control you exhale to enter “focus time”. The world slows down around you in your heightened sense of awareness, and you get some additional zoom before you squeeze the trigger. What follows is probably the most gratuitous special effect and my newest guilty pleasure in my video game career.
Assuming you have properly accounted for wind shear and bullet drop, you will get to watch your bullet make a slow-motion trip from the business end of your rifle to your target. Once it arrives you are treated to a bone-shattering, flesh-tearing, organ-exploding CSI special effects sequence that is surprisingly not as exaggerated as you might think. Sadly, what is exaggerated are the “realistic bullet physics”. When you zoom in on a target you will get data on their distance, which you can then use to determine how much to offset your aim using the tick marks in the scope view. Some of my earlier shots were not hitting where they should given the indicated distance and my knowledge of parabolic shaped trajectories.
Just to satisfy my own curiosity I tried playing that same level on Marksman difficulty where a secondary reticle corrects for gravity and wind. Only then did I realize that the designers were apparently over-exaggerating the physics simply to make a point. A typical sniper rifle from the WWII era would likely be zeroed at approximately 100 meters, which means that you would always center your scope on a target at 100 meters. This happens to be the distance for many of the shots in Sniper Elite V2. It’s not until you start shooting at ranges of 200-300 meters that your bullets will actually start to noticeably drop anywhere from 3-11cm. I can’t really fault the game for trying to keep things fun and accessible. Short of months of training and years of experience or knowing how to read a bullet drop table, nobody would likely find a “pure sniper simulation” any fun.
While I was able to eventually work out my issues with bullet drop the one area of the game that defied all realism and logic was the omniscient enemy AI that could magically spot me if I lingered in an open doorway a half-mile down the road for a second too long. Even worse is making a huge trek to the top of a tower or roof of a crumbled building to find your perfect vantage point only to fire that first shot and have the entire Third Reich open up on your exact position. Snipers are trained to reposition after firing to keep their location a mystery and confuse the enemy, but the enemies in Sniper Elite V2 can pick you out of the rubble with GPS-like precision, and on Sniper Elite difficulty they will aggressively storm and flank your location. Knowing this, it is imperative that you properly defend your position with land and tripwire mines before making yourself known.
Sniper Elite V2 does a few inventive things like having you plant explosives then detonating them with sniper fire – basically WWII’s version of a remote C4 charge – and you can also shoot explosive canisters or even blast the gas caps on tanks and trucks to blow them up – not entirely realistic but incredibly fun. You even have dynamite you can drop or throw then detonate it later with sniper fire. Much of the game revolves around your sniper rifle, which will get upgraded throughout the game as you find newer and deadlier models. Before each mission you can go into your loadout screen and select which weapons and explosive ordnance you wish to take as well as check the map for ideal vantage points.
When the enemies get close you’ll need to switch to something like the Thompson or MP40 SMG. You also have a “silenced pistol” that can kill with a single headshot, although the gunshot seems just as loud as any other to me. And if you get really close you can physically snap a guy’s neck. Guards are somewhat observant of their comrades, so you may need to pick-up and hide a body before a patrol stumbles upon it – that or trap it with a landmine, but that trick can summon more trouble than it’s worth.
I was very impressed with the visuals for Sniper Elite V2. Running in Ultra mode at 1080p, this game is only a few steps away from games like Call of Duty and Battlefield. Some of the levels are truly spectacular with these huge Hollywood reveals, as you step through a door and look out through a missing section of wall to see a bombed out city with hundreds of planes and zeppelins filling the sky, or make a daring fiery dash out of an exploding V2 rocket factory. The textures and lighting are excellent with real-time shadows. Characters have great models and details both inside and out, but we all know you’re here for the slow-motion kill cams and X-ray bullet impacts that make each kill just as much fun and original as the last.
The weapons all sound realistic enough with the exception of the loud silence pistol, and there is an interesting slow-motion effect on sound when you exhale just before your shot followed by a nice Doppler effect during the focus time bullet cam. There is an inspirational WWII soundtrack for the menus and some combat music in the game that signals when you are in trouble and fades away when everyone else is dead. Other than that you have some nice environmental and wartime sound effects, the occasional German banter, and a nice self-narrated mission briefing before each new level.
It took me around 12 hours to get through all ten missions on the Sniper Elite difficulty. There are collectible items like gold bars and wine bottles you can find in each level if you want to explore every nook and crevice in the game. I found about half of them in my travels and I wasn’t even looking. The PC version also supports co-op multiplayer that lets you play the story missions with a friend or you can check out modes like Kill Tally, a survival mode where you defend against endless waves of enemies to see how long you can survive, or Bombing Run, where you need scramble around the level finding parts to repair your vehicle so you can escape before an impending bombing run. Overwatch is easily my favorite mode and has one person playing the sniper armed only with a sniper rifle and the other acting as an Operative, who must protect the sniper with his SMG and call out targets for his partner using binoculars.
Sniper Elite V2 is a fun and challenging third-person shooter that gives gamers a small taste of what it must have been like to be a sniper in WWII. Certain liberties were taken with bullet physics and enemy AI, but the game doesn’t suffer from it. In fact, the only real issue I have with the game is, “why can’t I rest my weapon on a sandbag or window ledge when kneeling or prone?”, and if that is the biggest complaint I can take away from this game then Sniper Elite V2 is definitely a sniper game worth playing.