The RPS Verdict: Sniper Elite V2
Shooting the skin off someone's head?
World War II shooter Sniper Elite V2 has topped the all-format charts in the UK for the past couple of weeks, which meant it was time to turn the searchlight of RPS judgement on this high flier. Was it one of the great FPS sniping experiences? Or had Rebellion really just given everyone a good excuse to put a bullet in Hitler? Turns out that without his robot-suit, he wasn't so tough.
Jim and Adam got together to talk killcams, testicles, and Thief with a rifle.
Somewhere, in a dark room behind the internet, two game bloggers have just finished playing Sniper Elite V2. To the grainy wailing of a 1930s diva over the wireless, we could make the following transcript:
Jim: The act of ending someone from far away has become peculiarly fetishised in videogames. You can see why: it's a powerful thing to reach far out into the distance and snuff out a threat. Ideal, then, for the the entire basis for a game. But I think the feeling that I came away with from Sniper V2 was that it was a sniping game that bought into commercial design trends almost entirely. It was, in some ways, a sort austere WW2 that had fallen in with the Gears Of War crowd. It might be stood at the back of the room smoking a rationed cigarette, but it's still hanging out with them.
Adam: I felt it was a commercial WW2 shooter that happened to have bits of sniping in it. More bits than is usual. I didn't play the full campaign but what I did see convinced me that running and gunning was often the better option.
Jim: Well I don't know if it was a better option, but it was certainly an option for a good portion of the time, which felt odd placed under that name. “Commando Elite” might have been more appropriate. “1940s Gun-Hero Elite.”
Adam: It was a better option than delving into the inventory at least. The tutorial teased me with trip wires and stones to throw and distract enemies, but they seemed cumbersome in the heat of the moment, things to use when they were meant to be used rather than cunning alternatives to the crosshairs or the iron sights. Did you find much use for distractions and traps?
Jim: I have to admit I was hoping it would be Thief with a rifle when I saw that stuff. Ultimately, though I tended to snipe the folks who were out in the open, and then machinegun everyone else. I would like to think the stone would have been vital if the AI were smarter... or dumber, or something. As it was I never found it too hard to get the next person into my crosshairs, because they came looking for me pretty readily, and there was no reason to send them away.
Adam: Yeah, any sort of tool becomes fairly pointless if the reactions to it aren't, well, reactive enough. Maybe it's one reason why guns are so consistently useful, beyond the simple fact of killing - the reaction doesn't have to be particularly complex to be understandable. They either fire back, shout a lot, or try to find cover. I did enjoy sniping, I have to say. I wonder whether I'd have the patience for a whole campaign of it, so I can certainly see why I get to pull out a machinegun so often.
Jim: I suppose my feeling was that they'd created this versatile action game, and taking people out from a distance only has so much mileage, so yes, like you say, ending up with a submachinegun in your hands seems inevitable. And it's mostly a solid action game. I couldn't help feeling, though, that it practically wastes the idea of a game whose calling card is long-distance headshots. A sniping game needs large theatres, where you choose your position etc. This game was far more linear lone hero. I mean, crucially, true sniping takes place in suipport of other troops. A genuinely interesting sniper game would see you - as we've seen in a few FPS mini-sniper sequences over the years - firing over the heads of chums to take out important baddies.
Adam: Absolutely - the sniper should be a tool to support other things that are happening. When he becomes the only thing that is happening, at least on one side of things, then he inevitably has to down tools and become something else. It's very much a game about being a soldier with everything that a soldier can have except, crucially, a squad, or an army even, to be part of. That seems kind of important. Particularly for a specialist.
Jim: Yes, indeed. That said, the game's philosophy as a whole is about sort of glamorising the sniper as a one-man army. Especially with the absurd kill-cam stuff, which made me hoot with laughter, in a bad way.
Adam: I think I already mentioned this privately, but my girlfriend thought I was actually shooting the skin off someone's head when it went to X-ray. That was the highlight of it for me. I never actually saw a testicle shot, even though there are millions of them on Youtube. Does that actually happen? Do I have to unlock testicle shots?
Jim: I dunno about the testicles, I never saw it happen. But rightly so regarding the skin being shot off. Why *can* I see that Nazi's bones?
Adam: That's some relief then. I didn't find it hard to get headshots all the time,, although I wasn't playing on hard, and I certainly wasn't going to aim for a gut just to get an achievement for it.
Jim: It's certainly a better game on hard difficulty settings, but there were still issues with general wonkiness in places. It does have problems. Such as that bit in our co-op session where we didn't trigger the baddies spawning to go off. Hilariously, the trigger was in the middle of a large corridor, exactly where the sniper would not go if he was exfiltrating - their word - the building
Adam: Exfiltration is rubbish. I quite enjoyed the co-op when we were infiltrating. When we were exfiltrating it was just running through explosions toward a point on a minimap.
Jim: Yes, it that was a lame “cinematic” sort of bit. But I really did enjoy that session. The co-op did seem to adhere that rule - which doesn't apply to John of course - that games are just better with other people in. We were able to do that actual snipery thing of covering each other as we infiltrated.
Adam: Yeah, and because there's the versatility in the sniper/super-soldier that I complained abut earlier, it does mean that one person can choose to take on the sniping while another is a sort of assault chappie. And it'd be easy to switch back and forth as well. But I'm not convinced the actual maps are all that interesting - you've seen more of them, what do you reckon?
Jim: No, it was extremely unsurprising. It looks good, no doubt about it, but there was some higher grade of style missing. Partly that's the World War II setting, which we've all seen before. I think there are ways of doing it though, the best games do manage to make that stuff fresh, it just wasn't here. There wasn't enough art to it, even when the technical stuff was good. And it was overly obvious that the level design spec was one of those "well you need to have alternate routes through the level, this is a sniper game!" So there was always the main bit, and the side bit. And it sort of worked, but it became too obvious most of the time. And the environments really all needed to be larger for the sniping thing to ever be interesting. God, I wait for the day when we actually get a worn-torn Berlin to crawl through in this kind of game, instead of one street bookended with scripted events. Anyway, that was to be expected. What I suppose I am most surprised about is the general popularity of the game. Does it really prove that people just want to be able to snipe Hitler and Nazi testicles? Or is there something else going on?
Adam: It must have tapped into the general shooter crowd. It's recognisable in its WW2 trappings and it doesn't look unimpressive. And on top of that, interest from people who were hoping for Thief with a rifle, or at least a game that allowed for a slightly different approach to Nazi shooting. I don't know if the kill cams helped. They certainly used them enough in the marketing. Kill cams and Hitler. Put them in all marketing. See what happens.
Jim: It seems to have worked! We can expect more next year, no doubt.
Adam: Yes, maybe with a tasteful Osama Bin Laden preorder bonus.
Jim: I suppose the conclusion here needs to be that Sniper V2 is mostly solid as a linear shooter with co-op and multiplayer options, but that it does not fall far from a template that many of us are now tired of. If you want genuinely breathtaking sniper experiences, you'll have to look elsewhere. I heard that Arma 2 game is good, especially with a few mods.
Adam: Sounds about right. And I still haven't played Day Z, which makes me sad even though it's entirely my own fault.
Jim: That is very sad. I think I am going to go and play it right now. My character just got a sniper rifle - topical!
Adam: And I shall play Endless Space and attach sniper rifles to spaceships. Hurrah!
Jim: Gosh, all is right with the world.