The Dreaded Backlog: Sniper Elite V2
Video games love killing Nazis. Video games are often extremely violent and amoral about that violence. There is something about Nazis that make it morally acceptable to kill them violently in media. I wonder why that is? Sniper Elite V2 doesn’t seek that incredibly obvious answer, instead it strips out nearly all story and characterisation and dives straight into revelling in Nazi Killing.
Sniper Elite V2 is a remake of the original Sniper Elite. Which is nice as it means I don’t need to replay that ancient title as an introduction to the series. It is essentially a stealth shooter set in World War II (prime time for legal Nazi shooting) and you play as Karl Fairburn. Another character that’s an exercise in bland stubbly white men from the late 2000s.
You sneak to an objective and complete the objective. You might get seen and have to shoot some folk in a way that attracts attention. The objectives are usually one of the following: shoot a man, pick up a thing or set charges to blow up a thing. I’m making this sound quite bland, but the purity is what creates the fun. The sound design conveys the atmosphere well enough for the player to feel things about what they’re doing. Every mission is in a very different setting apart from the handful in bombed out German cities, but they keep those spread out. Every level is also a semi-open world that gives you options for directions of assault and traversal, but also allows you to spam dodgy tactics too.
The game has options to customise your experience too. However there are quite a few issues. The stealth option of this game doesn’t really exist. Stealth is a hassle. After the fifteenth-thousandth time you get spotted through two solid walls you learn to ‘go loud’ in every situation. In fact it is often easier to just set traps and draw the Germans to you. That is mostly very easy as the AI for the Germans is a combination of amnesia and overwhelming aggression. For obvious reasons this makes for frustrating game-play when it isn’t infuriating. When stealth is the only option be prepared for redoing the section repeatedly after getting spotted through an entire building again.
However this game still manages to have huge pockets of fun and memorable sequences. I enjoyed cover the corridors of a library in trip mines as I held off a city square full of Germans. It felt cinematic to use a graveyard to sneak past a German defensive line. It felt awesome to snipe a V2 rocket in the air in slow motion.
If you didn’t already know, slow motion sniping is the USP of the Sniper Elite titles. If you shoot a German somewhere significant you are treated to a slow motion camera track of the bullet hitting said German. Sometimes there’ll be a cross section of the German showing the exact damage you did to a human being…I mean a Nazi. This feels less innocent when you have to shoot Russians you’re trying to screw out of Nazi weapon plans. But a little more moral ambiguity is appreciated in a game with a tense atmosphere in which you shoot people who cannot shoot you back.
Overall I got the sense of a game pretending to be AAA when it really had AA production values. Constant glitches, bad AI and shoddy level design are everywhere, but the core gameplay loops are pure and fun enough to be worth doing. I would never play this game again though, regardless of the generous replay features they programmed into it. A higher difficulty setting than normal sounds like hell.
Ultimately Sniper Elite V2 is a slightly sociopathic, but fun, distraction. The period setting separates it from other contemporary ‘stealth’ military games and its game-play style separates it from other World War II shooters at the time like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Medal of Honour and so on. If the setting of World War II and being a Sniper for a change attracts you, this might be fun for you. Although it might just be worth starting with Sniper Elite III instead.
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