Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sniper Elite V2 Review

Sniper Elite V2, developed by Rebellion and published by 505 Games.
The Good: The x-ray cam is gruesomely awesome, customizable realism settings provide smarter AI and more advanced ballistics, cooperative online play with multiple modes (supposedly), nice visuals
The Not So Good: Linear level design is tiresome, checkpoint-only saves, lackluster AI, painfully boring competitive multiplayer (apparently), not really ultra realistic
What say you? This action-oriented score-driven third-person sniping game has a “killer app” and fast-paced gameplay, but becomes repetitive too quickly: 5/8

Snipers are annoying: hiding in the shadows, waiting for that perfect shot that seemingly comes out of nowhere, then running like cowards away from true soldiers. Yes, the sniper has been the disdain of many online gamers who actually try to achieve objectives instead of racking up kills from some obscure corner of the map. Of course, there have been several computer games that highlight the stealthiest of warriors, most of which are pretty terrible. Enter Sniper Elite V2, the second version of Sniper Elite (so the title says), developed by those fine chaps behind Alien versus Predator (and Alien vs. Predator). This time around, the game comes equipped with a badass slow motion x-ray view that shows exactly what type of damage your bullets cause. Is this compelling feature enough to maintain momentum throughout the title?

The graphics of Sniper Elite V2 clearly exhibit the game’s high production values. The superfluous third-person view (ostensibly to showcase the main character’s design) doesn’t become too much of a hindrance during gameplay, since most of the time you’ll be looking down the scope of your rifle. The graphics are excellent across the board, starting with the convincing soldier models and animations. The infamous x-ray cam, which displays your bullet as it impacts the organs and bones of your targets, is very satisfying. Levels also include very detailed ruined buildings (though you can spot some recycled set pieces) placed in a couple of different environments. The sound design is also very solid, with dramatic effects when bullets slow down, decent voice acting, and theatrical music that, unfortunately, makes it obvious that enemies are around. Still, you certainly get your money’s worth from the presentation of Sniper Elite V2.

Sniper Elite V2 is set during World War II, because everyone likes shooting Nazis. The single player campaign takes place across ten missions (plus a tutorial prologue) with unskippable movies and cutscenes. Overall, I was disappointed in the linearity of the level design: there are few alternate paths to follow and hardly any times where stealth can be used. The game is clearly oriented towards action, and there isn’t a single level where you won’t have to engage a large number of enemies (usually near the end). The game does provide clear objective and route markers, so I was never at a loss of where to go next. Sniper Elite V2 really emphasizes scoring (higher points for difficult or painful shots) and tracks online leaderboards so you can compare your killing aptitude against others. This is meant to increase the replay value of the game, but I still found little reason to go back and replay completed missions (at least in single player) since most of the enemy soldiers spawn in the same locations, removing a lot of the suspense. Sniper Elite V2 also doesn’t give you access to quick saves, or manual saving of any kind: you’re going to save when the game does it automatically, and you will like it. This can be a problem if you get stuck halfway through a mission with a bad save (like right after you did something stupid), and I don’t like wasting ten minutes of my time on a hard section of a level and then having to replay it over again when the final enemy gets a lucky shot.

Sniper Elite V2 also comes with multiplayer, but I wasn’t able to sample any of it because my press review copy had it disabled. According to the manual and various reports across the expansiveness of the Internet, cooperative modes include the ability to play any of the campaign missions, engaging waves of enemies, searching for car parts to provide an escape, or having a spotter tag targets. All of these sound pretty engaging, so I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to test them out. Competitive multiplayer sounds much less interesting: can you imaging everyone on both teams camping for the entire match? No thanks.

While Sniper Elite V2 obviously focuses on the sniper rifles of the time (Springfield M1903, Mosin Nagant 1891/30), there are other weapons to equip yourself with, including submachine guns (like the Thompson) and silenced pistols. You can also bring grenades, land mines, dynamite, trip mines, and rocks (for distraction) into a mission. I never found too much of an opportunity to use trip mines, since usually you’ll be firing at enemies forward of your position, rather than backtracking or defending. You can also shoot explosives or tank fuel cells for bright, shiny explosions. Sniper Elite V2 also allows you to tag enemies using the binoculars and interact with objects (climbing walls, manning turrets, performing stealth kills, and dragging bodies), although the action-oriented nature of the game makes the opportunity to use the latter two stealth options few and far between.

Sniper Elite V2 comes with a range of realism options that can make the game more difficulty, covering the enemy skill, bullet ballistics, and availability of help spotting enemies and placing shots. Personally, I opted for a custom combination of the best AI, realistic ballistics, and minor shot assistance, and I thank the game for giving me the opportunity to do so. Several factors are taken into consideration when the trigger is pulled: bullet drop, wind, heart rate, and stance are all important. In addition, you can use “focus time” to slow down the game and carefully place your shots. Other tools are available as well: a threat indicator displays where enemies are located, and another display can inform you of loud noises (during which you can fire undetected). While Sniper Elite V2 doesn’t offer true realism, it is accessible to a wide range of skill levels.

Most skirmishes in Sniper Elite V2 involve finding cover or a high vantage point (or both) and staying behind it. Then, use the third-person view to spot enemies and pop out from behind cover, delivering the kill shot. Some enemies are equipped with grenades that can flush you out from behind cover, so don’t get too comfortable. Because most enemies appear in groups, you’ll need to move slowly and crouch-walk often: too much noise and nearby Germans will quickly converge on your position. Cover is also helpful since your health will regenerate, which is not at all realistic but makes the game easier to play. Some people won’t like the more action-packed pace of the game, but it fits well with the kill cam and pleasingly gory aftermath of your bullets.

The AI isn’t the greatest adversary, even on the most difficult setting. The level designers have placed the enemy in some tricky locations (rooftops, high floors in buildings) that can make finding them (at least until they shoot at you) difficult. In addition, the lethal enemy snipers only appear after you have advanced past a trigger on the map, which makes dealing with them even more bothersome. When on the move, the AI can run around aimlessly (strafing when there is no need). The AI also has the tendency to get stuck on objects (low walls, vehicles) and subsequently run in place. Enemies will head towards cover (even if there is open ground in between) and flank you if the level layout allows for it (which isn’t often). The doting AI does make it easier to line up double kills, however.

The x-ray kill cam is a huge draw for Sniper Elite V2, and if you don’t care for it, it’s very hard to justify buying the game. However, I do like it, and the game’s gritty nature and fast paced gameplay can be appealing. The game is certainly not a simulator, instead opting for lots of targets and points-based gameplay that emphasize attempting difficult shots. This is totally fine with me, but people looking for a slower-paced, more realistic approach to sniping will be disappointed, even on the highest realism setting. Sniper Elite V2 is certainly not geared towards stealth: you will be shooting people, and lots of them. That said, Sniper Elite V2 is a solid arcade-style shooter, with just enough realistic elements to make it more slightly difficult than point-and-shoot: bullet drop, heart rate, stance, and wind are all taken into account. For more novice players, a threat indicator, enemy tagging, and aim assistance can be used. Typically, a firefight involves choosing a remote location behind cover and popping out, taking out opponents one at a time (or two at a time if they are conveniently standing in front of each other). This can get a bit tedious at times, though, since you’ll usually be taking on a large number of enemies. While trying to line up perfect shots that explode several organs can be fun, the level design becomes tiresome too quickly, utilizing the same elements (lots of enemies, fixed sniper locations) over and over again. In addition, your progress is only saved at checkpoints, which are spaced apart far enough to become an annoying limitation; the lack of a quick save is truly irksome. Since the levels are so scripted and enemies spawn in the same locations, though, you will eventually be able to complete troublesome missions simply because you know where everyone will be. The AI benefits from hard-to-reach starting locations, and is not too smart when on the move. Although my press copy of the game did not have multiplayer enabled, I would imagine that cooperative play would be fun with a good partner and that competitive play would involve tons of annoying camping. The graphics are top-notch, and the awesomeness of the x-ray view cannot be ignored. I wouldn’t pay the full $50 price for what amounts to a novelty product, but it does deliver one unique, very notable feature that may be enough for some.