Sniper Elite V2 is a pretty single-minded game, when all’s said and done. The Rebellion-developed remake has grand plans of being a stealth action title with tactical frills, but in reality it’s much more content with being a profoundly simplistic shooter. With a limited arsenal and even fewer gameplay distractions, the success of the package relies on its ability to satisfy from behind the scope.
There are moments when this focused approach pays off. Pulling the trigger is made to feel like a significant moment. As in the original PS2 title – on which this remake is built – the camera pulls back to follow the trajectory of your bullet. As the camera swirls and orchestra crescendos, the game closes in on your target to show a gruesome cross-section of their bones shattering, arteries rupturing or, ahem, testicles exploding. It’s glorious, magnificent and cringe-inducing but, most importantly, it elevates every single shot into something momentous. The cinematography makes each kill feel personal, and, in a game where your body count will ultimately near four-figures, it provides the title with the zing it needs to enhance its otherwise vanilla presentation.
Indeed, don’t expect much in the way of narrative exposition, character development or variety in Sniper Elite V2. The game takes place in Berlin towards the end of World War II, and you play as an American action man named Karl Fairburne tasked with the seemingly simplistic operation of ending the German's last-gasp plans to launch deadly V2 rockets against their enemies. Despite the magnitude of the task, the American army apparently decided Fairburne could handle the mission alone, as you’ll only ever encounter one other character during the entire course of the campaign.
Clearly, it’s not a game that takes historical accuracy too seriously. Sure, the limited range of weapons at your disposable is period appropriate – the Springfield, for example, is now iconic – but the game is pretty loose with the majority of its facts. Then again, attention to historical detail probably shouldn’t be expected from a game that shows an X-ray shot of your target as a bullet courses through his internal organs.
Gameplay, too, is not especially realistic. Bullet physics ensure you take into consideration the gravitational impact of each shot you take, and harder difficulties introduce wind direction into the challenge. But while this means you’ll spend a lot longer lining up your shots than in other games – making those cinematic impact cut-scenes all the more satisfying – it’s still not an especially accurate simulation of firing a real rifle. It is a fun one, though.
Artificial intelligence is similarly brain-dead. Enemies will come rushing to your position the moment they hear rifle fire, running out into the open and waiting to get picked off. Meanwhile, an on-screen ghost will highlight your last known position, allowing you to flank targets fairly easily. Cranking up the difficulty level makes enemies more ruthless, but not necessarily more intelligent, making foes mere rifle fodder rather than capable adversaries.
That said, the AI’s idiocy does lead to some enjoyable opportunities. Booby-trapping bodies or planting trip mines at the bottom of stair cases allows you to defend your perimeter effectively and deviously coax foes into explosive hazards. Furthermore, a curious but beneficial addition allows you to toss rocks in order to attract enemy attention and draw it towards a particular location. It’s undeniably mechanical, but satisfying nonetheless.
And that’s perhaps the biggest problem with Sniper Elite V2: while it ultimately comes together in a reasonable manner, it also feels like it’s falling apart at the seams. An evidently low budget has led to some shoddy production values that diminish the presentation's impact: animation is woeful, with the protagonist seemingly able to pivot at the waist. Meanwhile, enemies comically rotate on the spot when prone, while explosions send bodies flying through the air with a complete disregard for the laws of gravity. The sound, too, is a chief offender, with repetitive orchestral loops and a lack of dynamic processing; each footstep sounds like it was recorded in a shower, and it’s mixed so high that it completely breaks the atmosphere.
At least the visuals are a little less inconsistent. While never on par with PS3’s best, Rebellion’s managed to capture the look of wartime Berlin fairly well, and the game has a great colour palette that not only enhances the setting, but also stands out from the throngs of other dingy shooters on the platform. In fact, the game has some pretty impressive vistas, and the excellent draw distance helps to accentuate the sniper mechanics that underline the gameplay. Some really high quality lighting technology helps to realise the look, it’s just a shame that the presentation is let down by its poor animation and all-round lack of polish.
Missions are fairly one-dimensional. Like other old-school shooters, stages are fairly open-ended, allowing you to take different routes to the same objective. This sandbox format encourages a patient play style, as you slink through the war-torn streets of Berlin marking targets and gently picking them off from a distance. A heartbeat mechanic allows you to focus your shots when relaxed, so the advantages of staying quiet and moving slowly are clearly emphasised.
Unfortunately, it all starts to get a bit repetitive after a few hours. Some missions feel unfairly laid out, and when you feel trapped against never-ending waves of enemies, you’ll take a chance at running to the next checkpoint: sometimes it feels like the only real viable option. The shooting is not the problem – that remains satisfying throughout – moreover it’s the game’s rigid pacing and lack of ideas that frustrate. A single escort mission is the only notable break of pace in a campaign that runs for approximately eight hours. Some stages allow you to mask your gunshots with environmental sounds, at least adding a different dynamic to the familiarity of the sniping.
As you play, you’ll be scored on each of your shots. These are totalled up at the end of each mission and posted onto a leaderboard, allowing you to compare your skill against friends and strangers. The arcade nature of the gunplay does help to add replayability to the campaign, and with the differing levels of simulation offered by the various difficulty levels, there’s a fair amount of incentive to play the campaign multiple times.
There’s also a limited, but well realised co-op mode to hold your attention. The entirety of the single-player campaign can be played with another player, and while this doesn’t really add a whole lot to the experience, it’s a fun alternative if you enjoy playing with friends. Other modes include Kill Tally, a predictable reimagining of the now ubiquitous Horde mode, and also Bombing Run, which sees you working with a partner to collect vehicle parts.
The most interesting of the multiplayer modes, however, is Overwatch. Here you’ll work with a partner assuming different roles: one person plays as a lone foot soldier armed with a machine gun, while the other takes a position high in the map with a sniper rifle. The foot soldier’s objective is to mark targets from the ground position which can then be taken out by the sniper from the vantage point. As in the main campaign, each of the co-operative missions are tracked by the game's leaderboards, encouraging you to return to the missions multiple times.
Sniper Elite V2 pins almost all of its hopes on its sniping mechanic, and it enjoys some success as a result. The game’s disappointing presentation and lack of variety prevent it from providing much more than disposable entertainment, but with engaging gunplay and some decent replayability options, it’s an enjoyable distraction when experienced in small chunks.