All posts by Mitch Cullen

Retired Army Special Forces and Elite Sniper School instructor with a passion for team-based military and tactical shooters.

Sniper Elite 5 Review – PlayStation 5

I’ve been playing the Sniper Elite games since the first one debuted back in 2005, but I didn’t truly fall for the series until I reviewed the second installment in 2012.  As a veteran Army sniper and former instructor at the U.S. Army Sniper School I have a particular fondness for this and another certain sniper franchise, Sniper Ghost Warrior, and both games have seen some true advancements to match the growing technology of PC and consoles.  I typically stick with the PC format for games like this, but for this review I went with the PS5 for the primary focus, but thanks to Sniper Elite 5 being on GamePass I was able to play and compare the PC and Xbox versions as well.

It’s been five years since the last Sniper Elite game, so I was expecting some significant changes, but instead got something that could best be described as an expansion or major DLC.  Relying on the aging Asura Engine, Rebellion seems to have reached the limits of that engine’s abilities when it comes to next-gen hardware with the consoles nearly reaching parity with PC performance.  Like the previous installment, Sniper Elite 5 returns to the open-world mission and map design where you are inserted into a specific area of engagement with one or two objectives and the ultimate freedom to complete them as you see fit along with the other optional tasks that will appear when discovered either through exploration or eavesdropping on any of the hundreds of guards and soldiers patrolling the area.

I was immediate impressed with the mission designs for all of the ten missions that clock in anywhere from 2-4 hours each depending on your thoroughness and playstyle.  Sneaking around will take a lot longer than rushing in guns blazing, which, in a sniper game, you really don’t want to do., especially since the AI is so much more aggressive in this fifth installment.  There is a line-of-sight alertness for the guards as well as sound detection.  Alerted guards will investigate in a three-step process of white, yellow, and red detection meters then proceed to work in coordinated fashion to distract, flank, and sneak up on you when you are looking through your scope.  Working without a spotter, I was quickly falling back to my actual sniper training to establish a perimeter of traps to protect my six.

Speaking of spotters, Sniper Elite 5 can be played entirely in co-op, which greatly changes the campaign dynamic.  You’ll still be going up against oppressive numbers of Nazis but there is some comfort in working with a partner.  You can watch each other’s backs, strategize on a coordinated assault, or even setup some crazy crossfire situations.  It definitely adds to the replayability of the campaign and the matchmaking system makes it easy to host of find a game to jump into.  And if you love “jumping into games” then you’ll definitely want to check out the Axis Invasion mode where you can insert yourself into somebody else’s campaign and try to take them out Dark Souls style.  If you prefer to play without these random invasions, you can toggle off the feature to keep your game private.  This invasion feature is pretty clever as long as you know that it defaults to “enabled” and aren’t totally shocked when real humans invade your campaign.  There are even some cool game mechanics specific to this like call boxes scattered about that will help you find the enemy invaders but using them will also alert the enemy to your location as well.

The core game loop is mostly unchanged from the previous game.  This time we are in France and Karl must use his special set of skills when he joins a covert Ranger team to infiltrate and join with the French Resistance.  Upon learning of a new Nazi project named Operation Kraken, Karl must go deeper into enemy territory to learn more and foil their evil plans.  This all plays out through a series of primary and optional missions as well as plenty of discoverable locations and collectibles along the way.  Along with all the weapons and ammo there are numerous pieces of collectible intel stashed around the levels; more than you’ll likely find in a single playthrough.  And don’t forget about those Stone Eagle and Gargoyle statues waiting to get destroyed.  You’ll sneak your way across some incredibly realistic terrain, recon your engagement area with binoculars to tag targets then plan your best strategy for covert infiltration…until something goes terribly wrong, and you must blast your way to freedom like John Rambo.  Your style of play is graphed in real-time, so you can see your balance of combat vs stealth in the results screen.  A true covert playstyle is almost too demanding, forcing you to clean-up after yourself.  In one mission where I let the bodies lie where they fell, I had 143 kills and 108 bodies were discovered.  The enemy AI does an incredible job of watching its own back, adding tremendously to the overall challenge of trying to remain covert.

As far as presentation, this is definitely the best the franchise has ever looked with new photogrammetry techniques being used to bring these real-world locations to stunning life.  The variety of environments combined with massive sprawling level design, expert enemy placement, and realistic AI provides the ultimate sniping experience, and is totally scalable with selectable difficulty settings.  The lighting and shadows are excellent, offering a great mix of day and night gameplay and everything in-between.  Of course, the signature element of Sniper Elite is the slow-motion bullet cam that tracks your kill shots from tip of the barrel to the point of impact, and often beyond.

As gratuitous and fun as these shots are the first dozen or so times, they do get tiresome and even invasive to the flow of the game after about thirty minutes.  You can totally adjust the frequency of these gory cutscenes or turn them off entirely.  I found they were only interesting during special shots that involved multiple soldiers, explosive items, or maybe a cool ricochet shot.  The actual X-ray cams have been seriously dialed back from previous games.  You used to see skulls explode and organs burst, but now everything seems to be more superficial and less gory with much of the carnage hidden behind large globs of blood spray and splatter.  As far as violence, Sniper Elite has lost its edginess with this latest installment and really needs a patch to restore the gore. (#restorethegore)

The rest of the package is fine with great audio, music, and voice over work.  There is a lot of foreign language, requiring you to read subtitles unless you happen to be fluent in German, but focusing on the text can often distract you from more important things going on, which makes it problematic when trying to eavesdrop and keep watch on your surroundings.  Audio is also put to great use as a distraction and concealment tactic by sabotaging various items to lure unsuspecting soldiers to your kill spot or perhaps just mask the sound of gunfire with the occasional backfire from a generator.  It was odd that when using the phonograph as a distraction there was no music playing…never…not once in the dozens of times I tried using it in multiple levels.  Missing sound file perhaps?

So how about that system breakdown.  The PS5 is a solid experience with visuals that are definitely improved over the last game but still starting to show their age when compared to similar titles.  Give the scale of these levels I’d guess they’ll be switching to Unreal Engine 5 for their next release.  Controls are problematic in several areas.  First, the right analog stick is way too sensitive, and you’ll need to back it down to around 40 to make the game remotely playable.  While the keyboard allows you to spread out the commands, playing on console means multiple actions for the same button, so prepare to be pissed off when you start boobytrapping a body instead of using your med kit, or you might rush up and hit the triangle button to stealth-kill a soldier but instead start searching a dead body who was six inches closer than the enemy when you hit the button.  I can recall more than a dozen unintentional actions, several resulting in mission failure and death.  The Xbox has similar controller issues while the PC version is saved by the classic mouse and keyboard combo.  Nothing beats the precision of the mouse for aiming, but you’ll find it much easier to do most things with the mouse.  Most dead soldiers have multiple hotspots for looting a body or moving/hiding it and trying to line up on those tiny circles with the fidgety right stick to make those button prompts appear can get annoying.  I’m also not a fan of the radial inventory wheel, which never seems to stick my selection before I exit.

Sniper Elite 5 uses variable resolution scaling while striving to maintain that 2160p on both consoles, although the PS5 will dip as low as 1440p, and the Xbox Series X falls to 1656p under stress.  The Xbox Series S, while not personally tested, will top out at 1440p.  Naturally, your PC experience will vary based on the power of your rig, but my 3080ti had no issues maintaining a locked 60fps at native 4K with max settings.  Regardless of the system or the resolution, you will have to contend with some aliasing issues that can create some distracting shimmering effects in certain situations…even on PC.  Framerate is locked at 60fps for both consoles, at least during gameplay, but the cutscenes between missions and even some of the ultra-detailed X-ray kill cams can drop into the 50’s and even high 40’s at times.

If I had to rank the three versions for preference, I’d stick to the PC version followed by Xbox Series X then PlayStation 5.  Keep in mind there are only very minor technical and gameplay issues that factor into this ranking.  GamePass subscribers get the game for “free” on both PC and Xbox while PS5 gamers pay the full $60 and those wanting the game on Steam will only have to pay $50 for their copy unless they go with the $80 Deluxe version that includes bonus content and the Season One pass with access to four new missions.

Sniper Elite 5 advances the franchise beyond the games that have come before it.  While I appreciated the straightforward linear mission design of the earlier games, once the series adopted the open-world concept is when things literally opened up.  The ability to play co-op fundamentally changes the way you approach the missions and adds tremendous replay potential, and the addition of cross-platform multiplayer for co-op and PvP is truly appreciated.  My only major issues are with the toned-down kill cams and the troublesome controls when playing with a gamepad, and even despite those flaws the game is a blast to play with so much detail in such massive environments.  The castle level in chapter 3 feels like the same size as an entire city in Assassin’s Creed, and the sprawling indoor and outdoor levels are so dense and full of detail you can explore for hours without getting bored.  And with a season of new missions waiting in the wings, I expect I’ll still be playing this when Sniper Elite 6 shows up.  Let’s just hope they are using a new engine by then.

If you’d like to see the game in action, then check out our live gameplay video that covers the first mission in the game along with commentary (not mine).

Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem Review – PC

Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem is the follow-up standalone expansion to Serious Sam 4 that I reviewed a few weeks ago on the PS5.  Note the use of the words “standalone” and “expansion”, which basically means this is DLC that doesn’t require the core game to play and is considered so “large” that they can charge $20 instead of the usual $5-10…at least until there is a half-off sale.  Personally, I was excited to play this on the PC after having already played the original game on PS5.  I had always assumed a powerful PC could muscle its way through some of the issues the game had, even on a next-gen console, but I had no idea the disappointment that was waiting.

Full disclosure…I did not complete this game, nor did I even get that far into it.  I played about two hours and don’t think I even completed the first chapter before I rage-quit and uninstalled the game.  So, if there is a reasonably fun game beyond the first level I’ll never know, and I blame the designers 100% for creating one of the worst opening levels of any FPS game I’ve played…maybe ever.  The sheer imbalance of weapons, monsters, and pick-ups is ridiculous, combined with level design that totally breaks away from the openness of past games that encouraged lots of backpedaling and continuous fire to defeat wave after wave of enemies.  This might look like a Serious Sam game, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

It seems Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem is trying to change up the core gameplay by creating more complex levels and stationary enemies that don’t come after you but would rather stand still and shoot or lob fire balls from a distance.  Admittedly, some enemies will still come at you including this new dog-frog hybrid that is nearly impossible to hit.  Backpedaling is much harder now since the levels are more complex and it’s easier to get hung up on the architecture; especially when you are running blind. Weird scripting issues prohibit monsters from entering the water, so you can simply escape into the surf and kill from relative safety as long as you don’t drown.  The first level was a mix of a lengthy beach section followed by a short hike up to a plateau where a major battle triggered, as I made my way to a communication tower.

Once I entered the factory complex the game started going downhill fast.  The sheer number of enemies coming at me was so disproportional to the weapons and ammo I was being given I was often backpedaling completely out of the factory with only a pistol to defend myself.  Thankfully, enemies are finite, so I was eventually able to progress further into the facility, but the maze-like alleys between buildings, narrow corridors, bridges, and confining room-sized arenas had me giving up about the time I was put into a small area with about 50 Kleer and a shotgun.  After 30 minutes of trying to clear this room, I was scrambling for the uninstall button.  I simply didn’t care anymore.  I had pretty much gotten my fill of Sam in his previous game and couldn’t imagine this expansion offering me anything worth suffering through this frustration.

As far as positive elements, the graphics and sound are still right up there with the previous game.  The new Siberian landscapes and environments offer a chilling change from the levels of the original game.  This is what Metro would be like if it were an arcade game.  The game runs flawlessly at 4K with max details on my RTX3090 card, and the audio mix is pure insanity mixed up with Sam’s amusing banter.   Having played the previous game on PS5, I did enjoy being able to play with a mouse and keyboard.  I did try a gamepad just to be thorough, and I will say Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem is impossible to play with a gamepad.  There is a total lack of precision and cursor speed required to play the game effectively – I can’t even imagine this on the PS5 unless they retool the controls or add crazy aim-assist.  But ultimately, even the speed and accuracy of the mouse wasn’t enough to overcome the poor level design combined with a total imbalance of difficulty – I was playing on Normal difficulty by the way.  The fact the most enemies are now keeping their distance, even using your pistol feels like a sniper shot without a scope.

Again, please take my opinion with a grain of salt.  I’ve never been a big fan of Serious Sam or any of the countless other arcade shooters.  I prefer a slower and more tactical military experience, but I did have fun with Serious Sam 4, so I thought I’d give this expansion a try.  It’s almost like this game was designed to be played the moment you finish Serious Sam 4, while you are at the heat of reflexes and intensity, but then why make it a standalone game?  Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem is like diving into the deep end of the pool without having ever seen water.  I’m sure there are thousands of gamers that will enjoy Sam’s latest excursion, but this Russian adventure just isn’t for me.

MORE SCREENS

Serious Sam 4 Review – PlayStation 5

There are numerous signs of the apocalypse; dogs and cats living together, an alien invasion that threatens the entire planet, and me reviewing a Serious Sam game.  In all seriousness, you know it’s a bad year for AAA combat when I’m deleting lemons like Vanguard and Battlefield 2042 to make room for Serious Sam 4.  As someone who favors the slower more tactical gameplay of games like Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon, Serious Sam is quite possibly the last game you’d expect me to play, let alone enjoy, but there is something refreshingly tactical about managing a huge assortment of weapons while combining ammo conservation, gadget use, and lots of backpedaling amidst some of the most epic carnage you can experience outside a Michael Bay movie.

It’s been twenty years since I dabbled around with the original Serious Sam game.  At the time it was more of a visual tech demo than anything else.  I remember exploring Egyptian architecture while blasting endless swarms of crazy monsters into bloody giblets.  Now, two decades later, I’m pretty much doing the same thing only with much better graphics and in a new location.  Makes me wonder if I missed anything in parts two and three?  So apparently these incompetent aliens are still trying to take over the planet after all this time, but one man in a skintight T-shirt with the ability to carry a dozen weapons and hundreds of pounds of ammo around in his jeans’ pockets keeps foiling their plans.  As alien overlord, Mental prepares to unleash his final assault Sam must lead his resistance fighters into battle to save the planet.

Serious Sam 4 is structured around thematic chapters set in unique locations with multi-part objectives and usually two or three optional side missions, but come on…are they really optional?  Are you really going to skip major portions of content highlighted with glowing arrows and blue signage just to stay on mission; especially when those side missions are usually home to some of the better weapons and upgrades in the game?  For those with a competitive streak, these chapters are also scored based on performance and completion time, but unless you are intentionally speed-running the game I wouldn’t stress over the clock.  Playing on the normal difficulty I never once beat the par time for any level…came close a couple times but never beat it.  For me, surviving the chapter and unlocking the next was reward enough.

Serious Sam 4 has a fun little story that opens with Sam driving through Rome in his military convoy of Humvees with chopper escort when aliens launch their next attack and shit gets real.  Sam and the only survivor of the convoy, Kenny, emerge from the wreckage and must fight their way back to the resistance while navigating the monster-filled streets of Rome.  Kenny is the first hint of the new cooperative element of the campaign that allows for up to four players to save the world.  There are areas in the solo game where AI teammates will fight alongside you.  Unfortunately, none of my usual online gaming buds were even remotely interested in playing this with me…something about some small-time indie shooter called Halo Infinite, so I was left to save Earth alone…not the first time.

You quickly learn that Serious Sam 4 is all about reflexes and weapons management.  You start off with a lowly pistol but a few hours into the game you will have a double-ring of weapon slots with everything from single and double barrel shotguns to assault rifles, grenade and rocket launchers, C4 sticky bombs, and a powerful sniper rifle.  You also get some nifty gear like life injectors, a serum that speeds you up while reducing your damage and inflicting quad-damage to your enemies, and even a gadget that summons a black hole to suck up an entire battlefield of enemies…use cautiously.   The game is structured with all of these battle “arenas”; some quite obvious like the actual Colosseum, while other combat ensues in the city streets or amongst ancient ruins.  Enemies just portal in from all sides, even behind you, so there is no time for planning unless you die and reload and know what’s coming.

Knowing what weapons works best on what monsters is critical.  Charging bulls require multiple double-barrel shotgun shots while one or two rockets will drop them instantly.  Those skeleton Kleer go down with a single double-barrel blast while the screaming Kamikaze guys go down with simple AR fire.  Some encounters will put you up against wave after wave of hundreds of enemies of changing types forcing you to constantly switch weapons for optimal effectiveness.  Mid-size and large bosses will stampede into battle that often require the big guns while simultaneous fighting off the supporting grunts as you circle-strafe or backpedal your way to safety while timing your reloads and performing the occasional side-dodge.

Originally released last year on the PC, I played Serious Sam 4 on the PS5 for this review and found the experience enjoyable enough for what it is, a purely reflexive and instinctual arcade shooter where the only tactical decision required is, “do you bandage your trigger finger before or after you play”…correct answer is both.  The DualSense works pretty well in the broad sense of combat, but there is a certain level of imprecision built into the analog sticks that makes sniping at distance a major pain in the ass.  It doesn’t help that enemies have instant awareness to your location once you shoot that first target or cross that invisible trigger line.  Trying to peek out, scope, and fire before taking a hit yourself in problematic, especially if multiple snipers are lurking about the rooftops.

Technically, Serious Sam 4 looks fine and sounds amazing.  Every monster has their signature sound from the bone rattling Kleer to the screaming Kamikaze – just wait until one of those gets stuck in the environment and is screaming for an entire ten minute battle until you can hunt him down.  The voice acting is campy and fun with Sam’s gravelly voice stealing the show – that man must smoke six packs a day.  While not entirely next-gen I can see why it takes the power of the PS5 to get the game running as good as it does.  There are LOD issues with architecture and shadow pop-in as well as texture loading issues mostly visible after a camera cut or cinematic.  I can imagine a super-powerful PC could muscle through most of these, but for a console shooter of this magnitude it’s still mighty impressive.

If you are looking for an epic arcade shooter loaded with insane amounts of crazy weapons and monsters then look no further than Serious Sam 4.  In the absence of Duke Nukem Sam is the only wisecracking hero left for this generation, and while he is a man of few words he certainly delivers on explosive action.  With a great solo mode, co-op campaign, and a scoring system to encourage future replays, you can expect countless hours of carnage as you save the world…again.

If you want to see Sam in action you can check out the first three hours of gameplay in our First Look video.

Sniper Elite VR Review – Oculus Rift S

Sniper Elite has always been a fun franchise for me with each installment getting bigger and better than the previous. Sniper Elite 4 was practically an open-world game with a rich sandbox design.  Sniper Elite VR understandably reins things back a bit when it comes to size and scope, using the immersion of VR to tell a more personal and focused story with an emphasis on more realistic interactions with dozens of WWII-era weapons.  It’s a calculated risk, one that I found satisfying and more realistic than any other FPS you would play with a gamepad, but also opens itself up to the pitfalls of VR when trying to merge with mainstream gaming.

Instead of delivering a traditional campaign, Sniper Elite VR goes with the Saving Private Ryan style of storytelling; an elderly veteran looking back at his days serving in WWII as an elite sniper.  Journal in hand, you get to literally turn the pages of history as you relive your days fighting for the Italian Resistance back in 1943.  It’s an interesting way to progress the narrative as well as a fun mechanic for turning back the pages to replay earlier missions to pick-up any missed awards.

I was immediately impressed with the level of immersion, both in your quiet countryside estate hub world and when thrust into the tactical stealth and frantic combat missions.  Splash screens and mission briefs are put on a 2D screen like being at a movie theater before you are placed into a living breathing 3D world that is surprisingly detailed, loaded with wartime clutter and debris, interesting architecture, lush outdoor environment, and claustrophobic interiors.  Obviously, it lacks the pristine shine we’ve come to expect from non-VR shooters like the recently released Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2, but it gets the job done and is one of the better looking VR games I’ve played in over a year.

Sniper Elite VR offers plenty of options for quality and comfort so you can find something that works for you and your system.  My RTX3090 card was able to crank this out at max settings with all the comfort assists turned off, so I could walk and turn smoothly without snap turns or teleporting.  System requirements are fairly modest so lesser systems should be able to do the same.  The game is up on both Oculus and Steam stores, the latter also allowing you to play on other platforms like Vive and Index, but for my review I was focused solely on the Oculus Rift S.

At its core the actual gameplay is not unlike a traditional FPS as far as moving around the levels to reach your next waypoint.  Item interaction is made easy with a Jedi-like magnetic grip system; just get close enough for the hand icon to appear over an object then flick your wrist to acquire the object.  You’re wearing a combat vest that is slotted for your primary sniper rifle, a secondary weapon like a machine gun or shotgun, as well as loops for grenades, and a sidearm holster.  Accessing these items merely requires you to physically pretend to take that item from the location on your body.  Reaching over your right shoulder takes the sniper rifle, left shoulder takes the secondary gun, etc.

Sniper Elite VR can be played seated or standing and there are issues with both.  Playing seated can create some unreliable interactions with your gear like trying to take your pistol off your hip which might be “below” your physical seat.  Conversely, playing standing up creates a disconnect since you still must press the stick to crouch rather than simply crouching yourself, which only changes your viewpoint and not your ability to move silently.  There is also no way to support your weapon to steady your aim either by using an object like a crate or railing or even going prone.

Sniping is the reason to play this game and it’s handled brilliantly with a working sniper scope that you must hold up to your eye and look through.  Squeezing the left trigger holds your breath and zooms in a bit closer, also revealing key red targets like explosives and even grenades on your enemy’s belt.  Fuel cans, ammo crates, and event TNT you can toss into the battle are all ready to go BOOM with just one precision shot.  You can toss grenades after pulling the pin, use bottles as distractions or sabotage a generator to make loud noises to mask your shots and even toss landmines into the patrol path of an enemy soldier.  You’ve even got a grenade launcher you can use to take out groups of soldiers and technical targets.

The real joy of the gameplay is in the somewhat realistic handling of these weapons; certainly more realistic than pushing a button on a gamepad to reload.  In Sniper Elite VR you must perform all the moves like taking out the empty mag, grabbing a fresh one from your ammo belt and inserting it before working the bolt to chamber a fresh round.  This process varies among weapons.  To add even more authenticity every bullet counts, so you can’t simply reload in mid-combat and preserve the ammo you had left in the previous clip.  If your MP40 had 5 rounds left you just tossed them.  This even carries over to looting enemy soldiers, as their guns will only have the bullets in them that they didn’t already shoot at you.  Even firing your weapons is going to require some realism that traditional games seldom demand.  You’ll need to grip most weapons with two hands; sure you can fire that machine gun with only one hand or even wield two at once, but your bullet spray will be wild and worthless.

There are a variety of mission types that have you moving around complex levels engaging in a lot of stealth, while other times you might be surrounded and need to unload a few mags into nearby approaching soldiers.  The AI is shockingly good with soldiers locking in on your position, repositioning, flanking, taking cover while reloading, and even seeking elevated sniping positions of their own.  I truly missed having a spotter, as I would often have some sneaky bastard shoot me from behind while lining up my next shot, although if you have a landmine you can protect your six that way…at least once.  One of my favorite missions was having to clear out a cliff-side sniper nest then using that location to defend against waves of incoming enemies trying to loot a crashed plane.  That mission singlehandedly used just about every game element Sniper Elite VR has to offer.  I even got to hit one guy on the head with a hammer while he was taking a piss on a wall.

In addition to all the fighting and killing there are some collectibles in each level to remind you that you’re playing a game.  You can shoot glowing eagle statues, find Lost Letters, and collect a bunch of scarves.  Each mission also offers up a few challenges that will reward you with gold stars like getting so many headshots or killing soldiers with explosions, etc.  All of this is documented in your journal, so you know what needs to be done if you are trying for perfect completion.

For those of you who are aspiring med students or just fans of anatomy you’ll be sure to enjoy the infamous kill-cams this franchise is known for, now 10x as visceral thanks to their updated 3D graphics in VR.  You now get to see bones shatter, lungs deflate, kidneys rupture, eyeballs implode, and gallons of blood spray from your precision shots, all complemented with horrific sound effects.  You can dial down the frequency of these kill-cams and even toggle a camera that follows the bullet.  Despite these momentary interruptions to the game flow I still find these kill-cams highly rewarding.

Expect a solid 10-15 hours knocking out the 18 missions that make up the campaign, and add a few more if you are going for all the gold stars.  There is plenty of death and retrying; sometimes due to player incompetence and other times to weird stuff that just happens in VR.  Most missions have at least one radio that serves as a checkpoint, so you seldom have to replay too much of a level.  It’s worth noting that collectibles aren’t saved as you get them, so they must be collected again if restarting from a checkpoint.

I had a real good time with Sniper Elite VR.  As a fan of the series and a career military sniper I found this to be an interesting attempt to add some much-needed realism to the genre, and VR is the perfect way to do that with the physicality of the Touch controls and the added immersion of actually being placed into this virtual recreation of WWII.  There is still room for improvement, but this is a great step in the right direction and totally worth your time and money.

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 Review – PC

Last January I reviewed the original Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts, and I came away from the experience more than pleased with this unique hybrid that seamlessly blended stealth and tactics with open-world design that allowed a certain level of autonomy to the campaign seldom seen in the genre.  As a former Army sniper I go into all these military shooters with a certain level of apprehension and skepticism, often to my own detriment, but I have learned to “lighten up” over the past few years because if games, especially sniper games, were anything like the real thing nobody would be playing them.

Jumping into Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 I was initially worried CI Games had merely reskinned the original, as the opening tutorial is identical to the first game, but once you get past those training lessons everything is fresh and actually quite impressive.  Everything about this sequel is bigger and better than before, as we gear up for a tour of duty in the Middle East; a place where I have spent a significant portion of my military career.  A satellite map shows the five areas of engagement that will unlock one by one as you complete previous missions, or should I say “contracts”

As a military sniper I don’t have the luxury or freedom that mercenaries enjoy like picking out my targets and getting a fat check for each confirmed kill.  I also don’t get to make a game out of how elaborate my approach to each scenario will be.  I’ve recently been playing the Hitman games and there are a lot of similarities to the overall game design, a design that encourages multiple replays of each mission to check off these optional goals or challenges to earn extra cash.  Imagine if Seal Team Six had been told to kill Osama bin Laden but ONLY while he was sitting on the crapper.

Each engagement area has multiple contracts and multiple methods/rules/restrictions to complete those contracts.  For the most part the contracts are laid out in a somewhat linear path across the regional map, but you are always free to do them in any order you choose.  Fast travel points will unlock as they are discovered, allowing you to bounce around the map as long are you aren’t in combat or attempting to exfil.  You are free to “bank” your progress after each contract at an exfil point then return to the map to complete any other contracts.

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 has plenty of cool weapons and high-concept gadgets, most of which are not real but still fun to imagine.  I would have loved an augmented reality mask that overlaid waypoints and distances to targets on my helmet, and that magic dot on my sniper scope that calculates bullet drop and wind shear would turn any average Joe off the street into an elite sniper.  Thankfully, you can tailor the game’s difficulty and challenge at the beginning of each mission; a nice change from most games that globally sets the difficulty in the options.  You can   choose from Marksman (easy), Sharpshooter (normal), Veteran Sniper (hard), and Deadeye (realistic).   I played the first two contracts on Sharpshooter and found the entire thing way too easy.  Veteran removes that red dot from your scope forcing you to actually use real-world sniper practices for calculating bullet trajectory while Deadeye removes that dot and most of the other incidental items on your HUD, truly immersing you in the combat as you face off against even more alert and aggressive enemies.

Before each contract you’ll get to suit up with a variety of weapons and gadgets; some of which are available from the start, but most of the good stuff will need to be purchased and upgraded between missions with your earnings.  You get one sniper rifle and a secondary weapon for close combat and a sidearm.  With the exception of the heavy sniper rifle and a few secondary weapons, most guns can be equipped with a silencer, which is nice if you prefer a stealthy style of play.  Most guns have multiple points of upgrades such as barrel, magazine, sight, etc. and you can also choose from frag, smoke, and flashbang grenades.  You are free to pick-up and use weapons from your kills, but I mostly kept my initial starting gear and looted bodies for fresh ammo.  There are also ammo stashes scattered about, so running out of ammo isn’t a serious issue, and you can always upgrade so you can carry more if needed.

There is a level of personal development that lets you spend a secondary currency based on your experience to unlock various perks and bonuses on multiple tech and skill trees; stuff like vision enhancements, stealth boosts, bonuses for drones and turrets, and general perks for gear and gadgets.  I’ve always been a big fan of drones when utilized properly like in the old Ghost Recon games, but I went through almost this entire game without using a drone; often simply due to a lack of incentive to do so, but even more often because the enemy has anti-drone turrets placed around just about every location you might want to use one.  I’m sure there are some drone challenges buried in the optional contract modes that will have me flying around using poison darts and EMP bursts, but they just aren’t encouraged in the initial playthrough.

Throughout the game you will always have your handler giving you updates and guiding you along to your next objective.  I actually enjoyed the banter and it helped to ground me in a world that would otherwise be mostly silent and depressing.  You do get to eavesdrop on enemy conversations, many of which are quite amusing, and some even useful when you can sneak up on a soldier and interrogate him at knifepoint.  Some soldiers will give up their comrades locations and others may point you to a weapons stash, and others will tell you to “go to hell”, but they all end up dead whether they help or not.

So with five areas and 21 contracts there is a lot to do in this game; even more when you realize that each contract has numerous challenges associated with them that will hopefully entice you to replay using a different approach.  One interesting element that carried over from the first game are Bounties, special targets that will randomly activate offering you a bit of a side excursion for some bonus cash if you can kill them and retrieve their intel.  Expect a solid 15 hours to simply finish the campaign and probably that many more if you want to get 100% on all challenges.

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 plays equally well with keyboard and mouse or a gamepad.  The precision of the mouse is undeniable, especially when playing on the more difficult skill settings that limit aim assist.  Weapons are easily swapped with a button press and you can bring up a standard weapon wheel to equip a primary item like a med kit, grenade, or tech item like a drone or turret.  I particularly enjoyed the way you can swap ammo types with a simple button press while looking through your scope, yet it still requires a magazine swap.  Special bullets include armor piercing for the heavy brutes, agile bullets that are immune from bullet drop and wind, and distraction bullets you can use to lure and separate soldiers.

For 95% of the game the experience was perfection with outstanding visual fidelity, realistic lighting, shadows, textures, and a rocksteady 60fps running at 4K on my RTX3090 card.  The only time performance faltered was near the end of the game during a palace infiltration.  Arguably, this level had some of the most complex architecture and textures in the entire game, but framerate would often drop, textures were late to load in, and during the final contract execution the game would crash back to Steam repeatedly; over a dozen crashes until I lowered my resolution to 1440p.  I was then able to reach the exfil point and finish the mission.  I immediately reset my resolution back to 4K and played the final region with no problems, so there is definitely something about that one level/mission.

The audio is fantastic with immersive environmental effects, lively com chatter, and great effects for all the weapons and gadgets.  Of course the most impressive moments of the game are when those dramatic bullet-cam sequences trigger, allowing you to see the bullet exit the barrel in a cloud of smoke and fly toward your target in slow motion with bullet spin and sometimes crazy camera pans or vertigo spins until the bullet hits your target often resulting with thick blood splatter, brain matter, helmets popping off…you get the idea.  It’s not as gross as the Sniper Elite franchise that goes full X-ray with organs and bones, but this finds the right balance for bloodthirsty snipers.  There is even some extreme dismemberment for victims of explosions that is shockingly real, especially when you get up close to loot their torso.

I was surprised to see that Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 was only $40, a nice price for a great game, and then I saw the $85 worth of DLC being offered; mostly cosmetics and a few weapons and even the soundtrack, which I didn’t find particularly memorable outside the game.  Considering this game is not multiplayer and nobody else is seeing you or your guns I can only roll my eyes at anyone who would pay to paint their guns.  I only found a half-dozen camo upgrades during the course of my 18 hours playing the game, but they offer no tactical or stealth bonuses for equipping certain skins on certain levels; now that would be cool and useful.

Shameless DLC aside, Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 is a fantastic, fun sniper game that is bigger and better than the previous with a significant boost in game design and technology that makes the most of CRYENGINE and scales nicely with a variety of PC hardware.  Even the game’s difficulty offers a nice scalable solution that will appeal to newcomers as well as salty veterans such as myself.  It might not be the most realistic sniper game ever made, but it is certainly one of the most enjoyable and will keep you coming back for more.

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts Review – PC

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts is the latest installment in a series of sniper games from CI Games, which in itself is just one franchise in a growing genre of what can only be labeled, “sniper simulations”. I’ve played them all and reviewed most. As a former Army sniper now turned instructor I find a certain level of enjoyment in seeing how game developers have to walk the line of creating something fun and entertaining from a profession that is anything but. Video games and movies have certainly romanticized the art of sniping, as evident by the fresh crop of annual recruits I see each year who think they are the next Chris Kyle. Most of them wash out within weeks.

To its credit, Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts does a better job than most of the sniper games out there, including its own prequels, with its fresh approach to storytelling and mission delivery, its open-world design, and a somewhat realistic approach to actually setting up and executing the perfect shot. There were multiple moments during the game where I was reminded of the latest Hitman games that share a lot of DNA with the way Contracts is designed and the way you consume it. The nonlinear access to the content really allows the player to create their own experience, both through choice and collateral encounters.

The game begins with a cutscene revealing the setup and backstory before introducing you, Seeker, a high-tech sniper with a fancy mask and a desire to turn bad guys into dollar signs, and your disembodied boss, the Handler. There is a brief tutorial will teach you the art of sniping, or at least this game’s interpretation of it, as well as non-sniper combat. Sniper games have become increasingly more realistic with their physics and simulation aspects yet still have to cater to the casual gamer for widest appeal.   Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts does this with its difficulty levels; Marksman, Sniper, and Deadeye that not only change up the enemy AI aggression and awareness, but also determine just how realistic you want your sniping to be. The tutorial will also introduce you to certain ammo types that can be switched out as needed to get past certain “puzzles” as well as other gadgets like a remote turret.

Set in Siberia, the overarching story of the game deals with Russian mobsters, oil, and other criminal activities that have become serious enough to send in a merc sniper such as yourself to stop a civil war. You’ll get the traditional pre-mission setup where you can equip your primary and secondary weapons as well as a sidearm and some inventory items like med-kits and grenades. As your list of available weapons grows larger you’ll start having to pay attention to actual stats like damage, fire rate, stability, recoil, mag size, etc., and as usual, the guns you take into a mission are seldom the ones you’ll be using near the end. Looting enemies for better gear is essential to survival.

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts has only five levels or regions, but these deployment areas are massive, both in scale and complexity. There is so much content embedded in these maps, ranging from the random patrols to small, medium, and large military installations where you will need to spend considerable time planning your assault and even more executing it. You can call up your Region Map to track progress on your contracts as well as challenges, collectibles and bounties. You can even place custom waypoints that will appear on your HUD.

Each of the five regions is loaded with content including the “big boss” as well as dozens of incidental encounters leading up to him. While it might be tempting to go straight for the big payday the missions are designed in such a way that you really need to do the smaller stuff before taking on the primary contract. You can see a list of all your contracts and their value in both dollars and upgrade tokens but money never becomes a driving force in the game; at least not for me. I was here to clear the board and max out those tallies. The skill challenges are a great addition that add bonus rewards while actually changing the way you play and replay missions – again, very much like the recent Hitman games.

The great thing about all of this content is that it’s all there from the beginning, so you are free to tackle anything on the list in any order. This sandbox design can be a bit unforgiving if you aren’t careful. You’ll need to log/save your progress at extraction points that are scattered about the map and not always at convenient locations. It’s quite possible to die and have to repeat significant portions of the game if you haven’t saved, and even worse, your ability to fast-travel around the map is disabled until you have “extracted”, adding a bit of severity to what would otherwise be post-mission success satisfaction.

Despite the nonlinear approach to mission engagement there is still a rather satisfying gameplay loop of personal enhancement through gear and weapon upgrades. All of the cash and tokens you collect can be invested in upgrading your mask and nanofiber suit which provide active and passive abilities to improve your quality of life with high-tech functions like tagging enemies, night vision, thermal vision, enemy detection, line of sight indicators, and valuable sniping assists for calculation bullet drop and wind adjustments. You can also spend money on better weapons for all categories including a variety of grenades, mines, and special ammo types including experimental bullets that are immune to wind and gravity.

The missions themselves are quite satisfying, requiring a bit of thought unless you are going on a Rambo murder spree. Much like real-world sniping you need to observe your targets, their patterns, and most importantly, their visibility to others. This is where Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts starts to reveal its underlying gameplay roots in that the enemies are positioned in such a way you need to find the puzzle-like solution of what order to take them out so no other enemy is alerted when another drops. This includes body discovery since you seldom have time to hide a body when you are killing from hundreds of yards away. But even when a soldier is alerted you still have fun sandbox ways to distract or divert them. There are endless ways to play this game and none of them are wrong as long as you stay alive and get paid.

Technically speaking, Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts looks really nice. This is one of the first games I’ve played on my new PC gaming rig with an RTX2080ti card, and while it doesn’t use half of what this card can deliver it still pushed out consistent 60fps at 4K resolutions. The open-world level designs is fantastic, the weapon models look good, there is excellent lighting and shadows and the interface and HUD is thoughtfully laid out and non-invasive. Going between night missions and that blinding white map/menu screen can be hell on your retinas.   Special shout out to the bullet-cam that rewards your perfect shot with a satisfying slow-mo journey from barrel to target that never gets old. It’s been done in other games but just seems extra-cool in this one. The audio is also good despite the game’s tendency to repeat certain bits of com chatter. Environmental sounds, weapons’ effects, and the underlying soundtrack all complement the experience and add real-world immersion to the game.

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts is certainly one of the better sniping games out there. The future-tech gadgets and the mask that can auto-correct for wind and elevation are fun gimmicks that keep the game entertaining while eliminating all the real-world considerations that are far from fun. I appreciated the open-world design that lets you consume the content at your own pace, in your own order, often even stumbling onto a new mission creating this dynamic experience that is unique for each player. Expect no less than 20 hours to fully complete this game, and you’ll enjoy every minute of it.

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint Review – PC

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint seems to be one of the most divisive game titles of 2019. A select few have found some real enjoyment with Ubisoft’s latest looter-shooter while just as many can’t express enough their utter contempt with the game, leaving the majority to straddle the proverbial fence. Personally, my teammates and I experienced some of our best co-op gaming moments of the year (so far) in Breakpoint, and when the game is working and stable I’ve found myself having just as much fun as any of the other cookie-cutter games in this genre; Division 2, Destiny 2, etc.

Best described as “Division 2 in the wilderness”, Ghost Recon Breakpoint creates a world of epic proportions filled with months of content that can be approached in both solo and team co-op, and much like real life you are going to want to bring some additional operators into the game. The game does balance most encounters for the number of people playing, but there are some major set piece missions in the main story progression that will quickly turn fun into frustration if you try taking on a small army by yourself.

Breakpoint wastes no time in getting started. After a brief opening movie that plays out more like a corporate investment video for an island utopia you find yourself being whisked away by chopper to that very island to investigate a disturbance. At this point you get to create your character using the by-the-number character creator, choosing gender, face, hair style, scars and tats, and finally a skill specification. Choosing from Field Medic, Assault, Panther, or Sharpshooter grants you some class-specific perks, but all classes feed into the same massive skill tree that you will slowly unlock over the next 80+ hours of gameplay. Each class comes with its own set of ongoing rank challenges that, when completed, will level you up within the class then give you fresh challenges specific to your class.

Once you reach the island a short in-game tutorial will get you as far as a hidden rebel base that serves as the hub/lobby for all players on your particular server. This is where you can shop, gather intel, and unlock new missions as well as setup your first of many bivouacs. These are campsites and there are dozens of them scattered about the world map waiting to be discovered. These offer you a fast-travel destination as well as a mobile base where you can shop, craft, access vehicles from the garage, and even activate Preparations; these 60-minute buffs that will grant you performance enhancements in a variety of areas.

Ghost Recon Breakpoint is as open-world as it gets with a massive Objective and Mission page that divides all the primary and secondary missions along with objective-based missions for finding weapons, attachments, collectibles, blueprints, and these multi-faceted investigations that will have you gathering multiple clues from all over the island before finally resolving the mystery. Everything is color-coded on the map and you can actively track up to three objectives at any time.

As with all looter-shooters, Breakpoint is all about the loot and there are enough weapons (and enemy soldiers) on this island to take over the rest of the world. You can carry a primary and secondary weapon along with a handgun and up to six inventory items of your choosing that can be selected with a radial menu for quick-use. You also have five clothing slots for helmet, gloves, vest, pants, and boots. All of these items have a gear score associated with them that will all average out to create your gear level, which indicates your readiness for much of the gated primary content. Gear is also color-coded green/blue/purple with single/double/triple bars to indicate additional perks and ability boosts. There is so much loot in Breakpoint that you’ll need to resist the urge to pause and upgrade your loadout after every encounter, especially when you factor in the Gunsmith mods.

Gunsmith has been present in past Tom Clancy games and Breakpoint takes it to a new level by offering three tiers of upgrades for each weapon with up to eight upgrades per tier. Tiers 2 and 3 must be unlocked via the skill tree but even early in the game you can start modifying your arsenal to boost range, damage, reload speed, handling, etc. Upgrading is a bit like crafting in that you need components gained by deconstructing unwanted items in your inventory, which leads to those moments of indecision where you must choose to sell something for cash or tear it down for parts. You can also modify stocks, magazines, scopes and sights to fit your playstyle or combat situation.

If I had any criticism of Breakpoint it would be the sheer overwhelming amount of content and the lack of direction in how to approach it. Obviously, the level-gated missions will encourage you to explore the extracurricular activities around the island, which ultimately pays off not only in increased player level but in better gear, improved skills, and more toys like drones, vehicles, and aircraft. With a map this huge I will admit to using fast-travel to jump around, but when it comes time to move about in smaller areas the vehicle selection is second to none whether you are summoning something from your garage or stealing a car, truck, or chopper from an infiltrated enemy base. Most vehicles seat up to four so your entire team can go along for the ride and there is usually at least one gunner position, creating some fun mobile combat moments. And once you unlock the parachute you can even execute some aerial infiltration missions.

There are a lot of combat opportunities in Breakpoint. Almost everyone on the island is out to get you, and if you are spotted by a passing vehicle or a spy plane, drone, or enemy chopper an alert will sound summoning all sorts of soldiers and combat drones. It’s possible to escape their line of sight and if enough times passes they will lose interest. This makes stealth gameplay an attractive option, creating an almost puzzle-like atmosphere when planning assaults on any of the numerous bases, camps, factories, or any other enemy installation. You’ll need to prioritize targets, taking out overwatch snipers and anyone near an alarm that could summon reinforcements. If the base has turrets you might want to sneak in and sabotage the generator. You’ll also want to coordinate simultaneous takedowns with the sync shot ability and possibly make use of special drones you can lock onto multiple targets for multi-takedowns.

The freedom to play the game however you want and experience the majority of the content with no guidance can be a bit confusing for some gamers, but I personally found it refreshing to be able to ignore the next part of a story mission and go off and discover a blueprint or locate a new weapon mod. My team would be flying around the map on our way to our next mission location and spot something that looked interesting on the horizon. Next thing you know an hour has passed and we’ve taken control over a drone manufacturing plant. Even more remarkable is that with so much content I know in my mind that there are a lot of repetitious design elements at work, but every location is unique and every encounter unfolds dynamically based on how your approach the mission or encounter. Breakpoint feels fresh and exciting even after the 40-hour mark.

In addition to the seemingly overwhelming amount of PvE content Ghost Recon Breakpoint also has a competent multiplayer competitive mode called Ghost War that pits two teams of four in head-to-head action in a variety of events across several maps and game modes. Your home screen tracks all your important game data and stats and you are able to setup private games or just jump into random matchmaking. There are plenty of options for setting up your own game including picking parts of the map, time of day, weather, and lots more specific match settings. As of this review you have Elimination and Sabotage modes and five suitable scaled maps with everything being 4v4 and best of three.

As expected, playing with friends and working as a team will allow you to roll over just about any other people playing; especially when they are all going lone wolf. If you shoot someone they stay down until they are healed by a teammate, which means a lot of baited traps. The same goes for Sabotage mode where the enemy will camp near a bomb location and wait for you to try and set or defuse the device. Drones add a bit of tactical gameplay to the mix, allowing you to locate the enemy while you maintain a safe distance. Matchmaking is fast and fair for the most part, but honestly the multiplayer offering wore out its welcome after a few rounds on each map. It’s not that Ghost War is bad but more that there are so many other games just like this that are better or at least more established and robust.

I suppose we should talk about the elephant in the room; the nuclear crisis known as “micro-transactions” that has basically torpedoed critical and fan reaction to Breakpoint. My take on this debacle is simple – if you don’t like them then don’t use them. I have over 80 hours in Breakpoint and I’ve never once been tempted to even visit the store. The game throws so much loot at you just by playing the game naturally that you certainly don’t need to buy new gear or weapons. It’s all cosmetic skins anyway. Call me a purist but my MP5 should be gunmetal or camouflage. I’d have to shoot myself if I was carrying a purple shotgun; especially if I paid real money to do so. And yes, there are “time savers” for those too lazy to actually play the game they already bought. I found nothing in Breakpoint that seemed artificially padded or drawn out; just a whole lot of content that, when completed, will have you at the appropriate level to finish the main story path. If you want to pay to jump to the end of the game perhaps you need a new hobby.

Technically, Breakpoint can and does look stunning. Using a modified version of the engine that powered Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, you’ll be completely immersed in this expansive world of mountains, rivers, forests, coastal terrain, swamps, and so much more. Roads wind their way between locations offering up a thrilling driving component while rivers offer up a similar experience for boat travel, but nothing gives you a better look at the scenery than buzzing around in any of several choppers. You’ll see smoke drifting up from bivouacs, waterfalls cascading down mountains, mist floating across swamps, and snow swirling from the highest mountain peaks. All this combined with gorgeous natural light coming off the day and night cycles offer memorable golden hour moments and thrilling stealth operations under a starry sky.

That’s not to say all is perfect. There are numerous glitches that show up during co-op play.   You might find your teammate sitting outside a vehicle or even hovering in a seated position back by the tail of a chopper. One of my teammates had an invisible gun and only the suppressor was visible, hovering out in front of him. One character had all his gear visible in a pile after setting up camp; it looked like an episode of Hoarders. But these are all superficial hiccups; certainly nothing as frustrating as having servers crash or teammates spawning miles away instead of on your location during a fast-travel.

You’ll want a beefy PC to get the most from Breakpoint. I was reviewing on an i7 with an RTX2080ti and while the game was playable in 4K I ultimately had to lower the resolution down to 1440p for smooth 60fps with max details. The HDR lighting is visually striking, adding some extra realism to the experience with blinding sunlight and even that period of eye adjustment when moving in and out of interior locations. The level of environmental detail is exceptional with grass, bushes, and trees blowing in the breeze. From an architectural standpoint, every location was totally authentic from both a military and a futuristic society element.   Character animations were great, particularly the run and stealth animations and the way the guns and gear hang off the character. Even the way you carry your weapon was mirroring military training.

Sadly, the close-up textures, expressions, and lip-synch weren’t nearly as good as the rest of the package, although they did a great job capturing Jon Bernthal’s likeness and voice acting. There is plenty of dialogue in Breakpoint and it’s mostly fine and believably delivered whether it’s coming from a character or part of a radio broadcast or recorded message. The overall 7.1 sound mix created an immersive and living world full of environmental effects and the occasional bit of rousing score to punch up the suspense and action elements.

Despite my total enjoyment of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint I do have to admit there are a few hurdles it has to overcome, and no, I’m not talking about the easily ignored micro-transactions or the visual glitches or the random server crashes. Breakpoint’s biggest adversary is competition. You have a Destiny 2 expansion, a Division 2 expansion, a new Call of Duty game, and new seasons of Apex and Fortnite. That’s a lot of live service games all competing for your time and money, and for as much as I enjoyed my time with Breakpoint when given the choice I’d rather be playing Division 2. It just has that added bit of polish. Then again, if you have grown tired of space battles and urban warfare and want to get back to nature, Ghost Recon Breakpoint delivers one of the most stunning and realistic outdoor sandboxes you can explore on your PC this year. There is so much content here for you and your friends to explore, and you will want to bring friends. Just plan on investing a lot of time uncovering everything this game has to offer.

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Vigor Review – Xbox One

I had no idea what I was getting into when I signed up to review Vigor. I was provided a code, so I didn’t even realize it was a “free to play” game on the Xbox otherwise flags would have already been raised. In the past I’ve been a big fan of Bohemia Interactive’s games such as ArmA and the Operation: Flashpoint franchises, and while Vigor certainly achieves a certain level of technical prowess, the experience falls apart after the first hour or so; about the time you realize this is purely a platform created to launch an assault on your wallet.

Vigor takes place in 1991 Norway, the last safe place after the nuclear war in central Europe. You’ll need to create a character but the pickings are slim with only nine models, only three of which are female. There is minimal customization, so it gets a bit weird in the pre-game launcher when you often see multiple versions of the same person, especially early on before people start creating custom loadouts. There is a nice selection of mission locations to choose from or you can jump into Quick Play for a random level selection that will often load up a match 2-3 times faster than trying something specific.

Vigor plays from a typical third-person view as you traipse across some stunning scenery. The Unreal Engine has never looked quite this good with a mix of sprawling landscapes and other urban environments. There is a nice level of cold despair in the atmosphere as you race around collecting loot and trying to stay alive. The game can be approached in several ways. If you are playing alone then enemy avoidance is the way to go. Just hit the key locations and ransack the levels as much as possible.   Playing with others can be fun but only if you are playing with friends you know, and since the game is free it shouldn’t be hard to convince any with an Xbox to give it a shot.   The few times I played with strangers (killing time waiting for my teammates) did not go well. They either sucked, wouldn’t chat, or would turn against their own team. You can invite friends to join your game from your Shelter, and once you enter the pre-game lobby you have a chance to assign various boosters. You can even buy insurance to protect your loot if you get shot before escaping the level via the exit.

One of the only good aspects of Vigor is the map and the unique levels it contains. The graphics are breathtaking in places with great lighting, special effects, texture detail, and a draw distance to the crystal clear horizon, and all running at a smooth 60fps. It was so good it actually defied reality as there was no haze on the horizon or variable LOD – everything was pristine and in focus from my feet to the horizon. But that was on only a few levels. Other levels were certainly more realistic and there was even some bad weather tossed in that reduced visibility. And there were more than a few graphical glitches and clipping issues; a few of them nearly game-breaking.

The driving force behind Vigor is to collect loot and upgrade your Shelter, a nice two-story cabin complete with a shooting range outside that offers up its own set of target practice challenges for each weapon. The upgrade tree for the Shelter is extensive and the entire cabin can be upgraded to 13 levels. You’ll also be crafting plenty of inventory items and tearing down old items for materials to make new stuff. You can carry two primary and two secondary weapons and your pack has limited slots but can be upgraded to carry more.

Sadly, with the focus on loot versus actual combat those looking for a more traditional shooter like Call of Duty, Apex, or even the recently released Ghost Recon: Breakpoint will find Vigor shallow and boring after only a few hours.   Vigor doesn’t seem too concerned about your time though, as crafting new upgrades and gear makes use of a real-time clock that will have you pacing around long after all the hard work in simply collecting the ingredients.

Vigor is also heavily monetized with everything in the game costing Crowns, the in-game currency that is parceled out like coins to the homeless during regular play, making it awfully tempting to purchase any number of available Crown bundles with real money. But once you realize that all store purchases are purely cosmetic it becomes easier to justify not spending any money despite the game frequently “reminding” you that you can. Periodically, while playing a match, planes will fly over and airdrop loot boxes. These are a great way to get some good stuff for free assuming you can get to the crate, loot the items and get away alive. These airdrops will usually attract everyone on the map, which is a great way to encourage localized combat or hanging back and sniping from a distance.

Vigor reminds me a lot of the Dark Zone in The Division; get in, loot as much as possible, try to stay alive, and get the hell out. Stealth is always preferred over combat, especially when the gunplay is as terrible as it is in Vigor.   The aiming is horrible, and no matter how you tweak the controls you can never aim down the sights or scope and move your aim as fast as the enemy can run away. This forces you to mostly fire from the hip which is wildly inaccurate and most encounters turn into drunken Mexican standoffs. Keep in mind that if you die (and didn’t buy insurance) the enemy can loot everything you brought into the game and everything you collected up to the point you died. Guns are also unbalanced with some overpowered weapons taking you down in one or two shots while others require multiple clips. Even the targeting seems off as you will learn if you try any of the shooting gallery challenges. Bottom line; it’s best to avoid combat and treat this as a stealth-loot game.

There are daily challenges and other activities to encourage coming back to Vigor on a daily basis, but as I mentioned there just isn’t enough fresh content or compelling game modes to make you want to play more than a few hours. Even the Shelter upgrade system loses its appeal quickly. I will admit to having a bit of fun playing outside the box and exploiting a few of the systems. There are tools built into the game for locating enemies as well as picking the location for the next airdrop, both of which are great for setting up ambushes. Of course the most fun is teaming up with friends that you know and will work together. If you have any type of organized firepower you can crush nearly anyone else playing this game.

With everything else Vigor has going against it, the game released at just the wrong time. It had a nice two-month lead on multiplayer favorites like Ghost Recon and Destiny 2, but when you stack those two games along with the upcoming Modern Warfare in a few weeks the only people left playing Vigor will be the ones who can’t afford these newer mainstream titles.   The good news is if you are playing Vigor due to limited finances you at least won’t fall prey to the monetized cosmetic content in the game.   There is some noteworthy potential here, but at the end of the day Vigor is doomed to be lost and forgotten in the sea of major titles either already out or coming soon.

Sniper Elite V2 Remastered Review – PC

Seven years ago last week (to the day) I wrote and posted my original review for Sniper Elite V2. At the time I found the game enjoyable, and despite having a few game gimmicks, offered a reasonably challenging and realistic sniping experience with an interesting self-insertion into WWII historical events. When I learned the game was being remastered for modern day tech I was very interested in seeing how this game would (or could) hold up after almost a decade of competition and even two direct sequels within its own franchise.

It’s worth noting that owners of the existing game can get this remastered upgrade for only $10 and rookie snipers can buy into the full Sniper Elite V2 experience for only $35. In additional to stunning new 4K support you also get all of the previously released DLC, a new photo mode to snap grisly pics of your favorite x-ray kill cam shots, some new playable characters along with seven multiplayer modes and co-op support for the entire campaign.

Despite some remarkable improvements in various aspects of the visual presentation, Sniper Elite V2 still shows its age, but that’s not to say the game isn’t stunning, but only when compared with its former self. Stack it up against either of the sequels that came after and parts of the game are still pretty rough. Likewise, the issues I had with the gameplay, both controls and level design remain firmly intact, and the weeks I spent playing the remastered version had me cursing in all the same spots for all the same reasons. Even the flashy new graphics couldn’t distract me from that.

As a veteran Army sniper and former instructor at the U.S. Army Sniper School as well as a WWII history buff I appreciated the effort Rebellion put into their game, blurring the lines of realistic simulator and 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 Remastered 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 easily one of the most gruesome selling points for a game since Mortal Kombat fatalities.

Assuming you have properly accounted for wind shear and bullet drop, you will get to watch your bullet make a slow-motion trip, exploding from the end of your rifle and spiraling toward your target. Once it arrives you are treated to a bone-shattering, flesh-tearing, organ-exploding X-ray 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 updated visuals for Sniper Elite V2 Remastered. Running at max settings in 4K at 60fps barely broke a sweat on my GTX 1080ti card, and the level of environmental detail and enhanced textures and lighting definitely helped usher this game into the low end of current generation presentation. 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 slow-motion kill cams continue to steal the show and the X-ray bullet impacts that make each kill just as much fun and original as the last never get old, but if they do you can change their frequency in the options menu.

The weapons all sound realistic enough with the exception of the loud “silenced” 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 10-12 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 remastered 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 modes 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. This is a great mode if you have a friend who takes the game as seriously as you do.

Sniper Elite V2 Remastered 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 issues I have with the game is, “why can’t I rest my weapon on a sandbag or window ledge when kneeling or prone?”, and “why can’t I switch shoulders for iron sights?”, 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. Whether it’s a game worth “replaying” just for fresh graphics is entirely up to you and your nostalgia for a seven year old game and your attachment to Alexander Hamilton.