Sniper Elite V2 [Preview] – Stealth-sniping with balls
The Sniper Elite V2 hands-on press event was a bizarre concoction of mystery, trepidation and unyielding masculinity. Mystery; we weren’t told exactly where the place was. Trepidation; we were going to shoot firearms – actual WWII sniper rifles to be exact. Unyielding masculinity; shooting actual WWII firearms is awesome. Really awesome.
Publishers often go out of their way to make an event memorable, but the chance to shoot sniper rifles at a top-secret military training facility in the middle of nowhere alongside chaperones that have probably loaded more bullets into barrels than they have applied paper to arse? Hats off to 505 Games. That’s style.
Of course, the problem with putting on such a show is that there’s a chance the thing we’re really here to see, Sniper Elite V2, will be forgotten as the glasses wearing, inferior footwear sporting and soon-to-be arthritically-thumbed gaming press are lost to the pull of bullets and bangs.
However, Sniper Elite V2 left enough of an impression to be remembered in its own right; rather than as a ‘that other thing’ that happened on the day I got to play commando.
The idea of Sniper Elite V2 is simple; modernise the gameplay, the visuals and the general design without losing what gave the original its heart and soul. Namely, developer Rebellion are keen to make this as close to a simulation sniper experience as you can get. That means missions must be completed with stealth rather than brute force, ammo must be spent only when necessary and every shot must be made with gravity’s pull on your bullet’s trajectory in mind.
Not only that, but here you’re alone; your successes and failures are entirely on you. There are no AI or human buddies to help you, a design choice Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley believes makes the game unique:
“I like playing as a lone wolf, a me against the world kind of thing. I think it provides a great sense of immersion,” Kingsley says.
“I’ve never been particularly keen on AI buddies because, unless they’re done amazingly well, they usually end up becoming very annoying. We very much wanted to push the fact that you’re alone, up against it, and having to complete your mission; you don’t need to kill every enemy, but you do need to achieve your mission.
“Then of course, after you’ve completed your mission, you need to escape. There aren’t many games that ask that of you. So, yeah, combine that with the lone wolf aspect and I think we’re unique.”
And those are not the only things that make Sniper Elite V2 feel unique. I can’t remember the last time I played a game that revels so freely and unashamedly in the damage a single, well-placed bullet can inflict on the human body. If you’ve played the original Sniper Elite then you’ll be familiar with the idea of a ‘kill cam’ that traces your bullet’s path all the way from the barrel of your gun to the flesh of your target.
The kill cam is back, but this time it’s got x-ray vision.
Perform a good shot and you’re treated to a no-holds barred view of flesh rupturing, organs exploding and bones splintering as your mini-missile of molten lead drills a messy, life-ending hole through the poor German sod on the other end. It’s a distinctly ‘adult’ inclusion that, rather than feel gratuitous for the sake of gratuity, makes you genuinely think about the real level of damage these things do to a human body. Whether or not that was the idea is another matter…
Oh, wait, hold on a minute. Did I say “no-holds barred view of flesh rupturing”? I meant to say “no-balls barred view of balls rupturing”. Yes, one of the x-rayed targets you can destroy are German testicles.
Bollocks or not, is the question.
“Basically, I can remember having the conversation ‘bollocks or not,’” Kingsley tells us. “In the end it was, ’fuck it, put them in.’ We’re shooting people in the head, so why shouldn’t we shoot them in the bollocks as well. It might make you wince, but shooting them in the head is spoiling their day too. ”
While the sniping takes places down a scope in first-person, the rest of the game is firmly planted in third-person territory. It’s here that the stealth elements come to the fore. I wasn’t joking earlier when I said brute force is not going to get the job done, it will get you killed in moments. Believe me, I tried numerous times to run ‘n’ gun with a Thomson sub-machine. It doesn’t work.
Third-person allows you to pan the camera around corners in a bid to get a better view of the battlefield and plan your next move accordingly. Within the levels we’ve played so far this generally involved deciding which piece of cover to stick to next, highlighting where the enemies were and working out which location is ultimately going to provide us with the best sniper’s view.
In truth, the cover system could do with a bit of work. It will automatically stick you to a car/wall/bench if you press towards it, but the sensitivity of its detection is unpredictable. Sometimes you stick to cover much too easily and end up dead as soldiers surround you while you’re trying to unpeel yourself. Other times you’re frantically trying to get your head down to avoid the sniper at the top of a church tower only for your virtual self to stubbornly refuse your commands. To make things worse, your footsteps will alert the enemy – so you can imagine how shuffling around to enter cover is not a good idea.
For a game that takes its stealth and forward-planning elements so seriously, it’s seriously annoying.
Those that take the time to really plan their attacks can make use of trip-wires and landmines, luring the enemy into a confined space and blowing their bloody doors off. To be completely honest, we never got to the required level of competence to pull off these kinds of tactics effectively. The idea is there for those that apply themselves, though.
With all of these tactics on offer, we asked Rebellion whether or not they set out to make a ‘sandbox’ game:
“I call it a ‘semi-sandbox’ game,” said Kingsley. “We haven’t created Berlin and allowed you to explore it however you want, we have tried to guide the player through each mission. There are many, many ways of achieving your objective.
“It’s very interesting to watch people playing through the missions and see how they take different routes and use different tactics than we might expect.”
Producer Steve Hart followed up Kingsley’s comments by explaining that, to allow the players to make decisions, you need to focus on the quality of your AI.
“You adapt to the AI, the AI adapts to you. It’s kind of like a sandbox in that respect,” said Hart. “Early on in development one of the key mission statements for the game was ’if it looks like you can get there, you should be able to get there.’ If a player wants to go to the top of a building then let them, if that’s how they want to play. We really try to open up as much of the world as we can and the same applies to the AI; take them on as you see fit.”
And that’ll be the key to Sniper Elite V2 making its mark: just how well will it ultimately let you take things on as you see fit. If it fails to provide enough choice it’ll be written off as an x-ray gore-fest with wonky stealth mechanics and delusions of grandeur. If it succeeds it’ll be celebrated as an intelligent stealth experience that highlights serious issues surrounding the nature of violence and how we consume it through media.