Just over a year after its release on PC and all the other consoles of the time, Sniper Elite V2 makes its way to the Wii U. When I first heard that one of my favorite stealth-tactical shooters of 2012 was coming to Nintendo’s new system I had some pretty cool images pop into my head about how it would play…being able to hold the tablet controller up and use an augmented reality scope that would zoom into the scenery being depicted on my big screen…but alas; that vision and pretty much all hope for this game was shattered mere moments after launching this lackluster port.
For those who already played the original and were tempted to try this…DON’T, and for those who haven’t played Sniper Elite V2 and were considering…please play it on any system other than this. The Wii U version of Sniper Elite V2 has had pretty much everything cut except the price. Gone are the DLC missions including your ability to assassinate Hitler and gone is the online multiplayer. What you have left is a 5-8 hour linear campaign mode and a three-map survival mode called Kill Tally. Such limited content would be acceptable for a budget-priced game, but this is being marketed as a full-price AAA title.
For those willing to wait for the inevitable price drop and who don’t have access to any other system to play this game the Wii U version isn’t all bad. In lieu of a virtual scope, your second screen is home to a top-down map view of the area that shows your location, your destination, and any enemies in-between. You also have touch/tap access to your inventory, which is a bit nicer than cycling through items with the D-pad. I would have preferred to play using the Wii U Pro controller but the game insists you use the tablet; at least Sniper Elite V2 offers remote play so you can continue the mission when you get bounced off the big TV.
I love stealth and I love sniping, whether it’s in a dedicated game like this or even taking on a sniper role in a class-based online shooter. Billed as an “advanced sniper simulation”, Rebellion attempts to make good on that promise with “realistic bullet physics” that take into account bullet drop over distance, wind shear, and cover penetration. The higher the difficulty setting, the more these elements factor into your gameplay, and when combined with the removal of several key visual indicators, Sniper Elite V2 does a good job of making you feel like a real sniper with each squeeze of the trigger.
On normal (or Marksman) difficulty you will be given a red diamond indicator that will automatically factor in the effects of gravity and wind, but when playing on Sniper Elite, this diamond is removed, forcing you to factor in your own on-the-fly adjustments using the tick marks on the scope. Obviously, if you play a few missions on Marksman you will slowly learn how to instinctively compensate for drop and wind, but trying to jump right into Sniper Elite mode could prove frustratingly difficult.
Breathing and heart rate also factors into each shot. When you sight down the scope your pulse will start thumping and you can exhale with the right shoulder button to reduce that rate even further, steady the scope, and get a bit more zoom on the target. Crouching or going prone will also steady your scope. Usually a BPM in the low 60’s is good for a reliable shot, but if you have just sprinted down a street or have gotten shot your pulse will be racing, and it takes a while to calm down enough to make your next shot.
Unlike most WWII games where you run around killing hundreds of men with machine guns and grenades, Sniper Elite V2 is a more methodical game that requires careful observation of each new area in the level. You will want to scan ahead with binoculars that oddly have much more magnification than your sniper scope. You can “tag” enemies, making it easier to keep tabs on them when you put the binoculars away, but being able to see them, even through walls, was a bit too “Ghost Recon” for me. Still, with such an aggressive AI engine, I’ll take all the help I can get.
Enemy AI is my biggest beef with Sniper Elite V2. The enemy has almost god-like powers of observation and awareness, able to spot you from several city blocks away, and able to triangulate your exact sniper perch after a single shot. If you are playing on Sniper Elite difficulty the enemies will aggressively storm your location, entering buildings, and try to flank your position. They do this on Marksman as well, but are not nearly as aggressive and you also have the added ability of being able to see a ghost image of your last detected position, so you know where the enemy “thinks” you are, allowing for some nice ambush opportunities.
Speaking of ambushes, some of the most fun you’ll have in Sniper Elite V2 is prepping all sorts of fun and elaborate traps. Once you find a good sniper perch you’ll want to protect your “six” with tripwire and landmines. There are even some levels where you must hold out against several waves of enemies, so prepping your “bunker” is especially important. You can also distract (or rather attract) enemies by tossing a rock from your endless supply. This tactic can be used to either get guards to move away from a door or lure them closer to an explosive fuel tank. One of my best earliest kills in the game was in the tutorial level where I tossed a rock at a truck and four guys went to check out the noise, and I shot the gas tank. BOOM! Four kills with one bullet.
Enemy AI also takes into account sound, so you need to be creeping for most of the game. Normal movement and especially sprinting anywhere near enemies is a dead giveaway. Some levels feature ambient noises like bombs exploding or one level with annoying PA announcements coming over a speaker. You can use these sounds to mask your movement as well as perfectly-timed sniper shots. Guards have patrol routes and you will either need to pick-up and stash dead bodies so they aren’t detected, or you can booby trap them, since they will always investigate a fallen comrade. And for those who want the bullet physics of Sniper Elite mode without the insane AI, there is a Custom difficulty mode that lets you tweak these variables separately.
While the game favors sniping most of the time you will often be forced into situations where you must use your secondary weapons like your standard issue Thompson machine gun or an MP40 you can lift off a dead soldier. You also start with a silenced pistol, great for stealth kills if you can get close enough for a headshot, and if you can get really close you can do physical takedowns like a neck-snap or a throat punch. Aiming is a bit unreliable, and at times I felt like I was playing one of the older GTA games. But with proper use of traps, grenades, and frequently relocating your sniper perch within the levels, you can avoid a lot, if not most of the secondary weapon encounters.
Last year the graphics ranged in quality depending on the system with the PC looking the best, followed by Xbox 360 and then PS3. The Wii U comes somewhere between the 360 and PS3, but what the game lacks in next-gen shine is more than made up for in overall style and vision with great level design that looks authentically devastated by war. Soldiers are nicely detailed and animated and the vehicles, especially the tanks, are very impressive. There is a bit of fogging to mask the limited draw distance and textures are often flat and get muddled when looking through a scope or binoculars. There is also some annoying pop-up.
Of course the real showstopper is the X-Ray Kill Cam that turns every squeeze of the trigger into an endorphin rush. Depending on the angle of your shot and the point of impact, nearly every scoped shot is rewarded with a slow-motion bullet-camera that starts with the bullet leaving your gun, travelling hundreds of yards to its target, then shattering bones and exploding organs as it travels through the body and exits as a crumpled piece of lead. Hearts, lungs, livers, and testicles are all fair game along with copious amounts of blood and bone fragments. Eight hours with Sniper Elite V2 and you’ll be ready to graduate med school…or at least apply to med school.
The audio is also pretty good with some nice military themes for the menus, but once you get into the game it’s all business. The ambient sounds of war have never been more realistic and you can eavesdrop on the Germans, who speak real German, plus you have to monitor the sounds of your own footsteps while listening for those of the patrolling enemy. Even better, when you empty your lungs and the game goes into slow-motion, all the sounds realistically slow and slur and when you fire your sniper rifle you get this powerful sound followed by a great Doppler-whooshing-Matrix-sound that travels with the bullet until the sickening crunch of bones and moist squishy noises of organs being liquefied. Tense music does kick in during combat that is supposed to increase the drama, but I found it a bit distracting and sort of a spoiler since it always fades away when the last enemy dies.
There are ten missions spread across some fairly realistic locations that all start to look alike after a while. They try to mix things up best they can but once you’ve climbed through the rubble of a dozen bomb-shattered buildings they all start to blur together. There is a nice mix of night and day missions along with outdoor and interior locations like a cavernous V2 rocket factory or a flak cannon outpost built into a massive castle. The levels are quite literally “littered” with detail giving you plenty of places and objects to take cover behind. While there is an illusion of exploration, the levels are in fact, quite linear, and any side-trips into empty buildings or down a random side alley is usually for the purpose of finding one of the 100 gold bars or 37 wine bottles scattered about the game; although, sometimes if you look hard enough you can often find a stealthier approach to your target or perhaps a sweet sniper perch.
Each level can take anywhere from 30-60 minutes to finish unless you are out to find all the collectibles; then you can spend up to 90 minutes per level. Personally, I found that looking for the gold and wine bottles detracted from the immersion and mindset of the game, so I didn’t go out of my way on my first pass to find them. You can come back later and select any mission for replay to find missing items or try a different skill level.
Sniper Elite V2 might not be quite the “simulation” it is hyped to be, but for a third-person, action-cover-shooter with heavy emphasis on sniping, it just doesn’t get any better than this. The tension of sneaking around, the delight of setting traps and the instant gratification every time you squeeze that trigger on a scoped shot is unlike anything I’ve experience since Agent 47 in the Hitman series. There is a definite learning curve to Sniper Elite’s more methodical approach to combat, but after so much running and gunning in every other shooter out there I found this to be a refreshing change of pace and totally rewarding experience that no shooter or sniping fan should miss. But if you are looking for the best and most complete Sniper Elite V2 experience I would recommend playing the game on any system other than the Wii U. Sadly, too much was sacrificed to get this game ported over to Nintendo’s console.