Sniper Elite V2 lets us do just that, by handing players a high-powered rifle and placing them in Berlin circa 1945. The setting ensures that any and all indiscriminate slaughter remains guilt free, because just like Indiana Jones once said; "I hate Nazis".
Given Doctor Jones' dislike for all things Third Reich, he'd have probably loved playing Sniper Elite V2, because here, shooting Nazis (as well as the occasional Russian soldier) is the name of the game.
Like Indiana Jones, Sniper Elite V2's protagonist, Karl Fairburne, is an all-American hero. Whilst he might not be a dashing doctor of archaeology, he's a dab hand at shooting long range through a scoped rifle.
The recent success of City Interactive's Sniper: Ghost Warrior is testament to that. Despite receiving a luke warm reception from critics, over 2 million gamers ghillied up and crawled through the long grass, squinting down the barrel of their high powered rifles. (Unsurprisingly, a sequel is on its way.)
Given the staggering success of Ghost Warrior, it didn't take long for the folks at Rebellion to remember that they too had a sniper game tucked away in a drawer somewhere, and given the popularity of the genre, it made sense to dig it out, dust it off, and revisit the IP.
The first game, Sniper Elite, was popular with PC gamers when it was released in 2005. The mixture of precision shooting and stealth, along with the freedom to explore multiple paths to the game's various objectives struck a chord, and the game went on to develop a strong following. Both games are third-person shooters, and the similarities don't end there. Fans of Sniper Elite will be pleased to know that the sequel retains much of what resonated so strongly the first time around.
As with its predecessor, in V2 it's not just Nazis that have to be killed. The game is set around the fall of Berlin, and that being the case, there's plenty of Soviet forces in and around the city. Fairburne is on a very specific mission; infiltrate the city and stop the Russians getting their grubby mitts on Germany's V2 scientists. Along the way to killing his various targets, Fairburne encounters resistance from both armies, and he indiscriminately kills all that fall under the spell of his scope.
The most prominent feature in the game is the explicitly gory x-ray kill-cam. Whist it may be a bit of a gimmick, it's probably the most satisfying gimmick I've ever come across in a game. Rebellion uses it sparingly, so it never gets boring. And with each shot creating a unique explosion of internal damage, watching each kill cam becomes a macabre, yet satisfying punctuation to a well taken shot.
The detail present in the kill-cam is impressive. I shot off fingers, detonated grenades strapped to belts, destroyed kidneys, pierced hearts, hollowed out eye sockets and I even managed to shoot off a testicle. The bollock shot is a wince-inducing moment that sticks in the memory, whether you want it to or not.
The AI of the troops encountered is undeniably poor. It can, at times, feel a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, with dopey foot soldiers regularly assuming suicidal positions, inviting their own death by trying to conceal themselves in unprotected positions. Equally disappointing was squaring up against other snipers, they rarely relocate as a real sniper would, making them fairly easy to take down.
Duels with other snipers could have been a defining element of the game, but instead these ranged battles fall short of the mark. Often it's just a case of waiting in cover until spotting the glint of their scope, then popping out and taking the shot.
Rebellion and 505 missed a real opportunity by failing to include some kind of PvP combat in the console versions of the game, because dueling with a human opponent would've more than made up for the poor AI of the computer controlled adversaries. PC gamers will be pleased to know that they will have this option, but everyone else will have to cheer themselves up with the four different co-op modes on offer (Campaign, Kill Tally, Bombing Run and Overwatch).
Movement around the broken city of Berlin can be tricky at the best of times. Although a majority of my time was spent on the keyboard, a control pad does little to iron out the problems encountered. The controls sometimes feel a little sticky, occasionally unresponsive. Climbing scenery is especially cumbersome. It's not game breaking, but it does frustrate.
The cover system implemented by Rebellion is passable, but it could've been more intuitive. There is no seamless transition between cover, and no covering fire (although you can lean out to take a shot, a move that leaves you incredibly vulnerable). If pinned down, combat quickly descends into taking potshots, and because the AI is limited, enemy troops don't engage in firefights from protected positions, instead they rush in, and in doing so reveal another of Sniper Elite V2‘s problems.
Close quarter combat is brutally unforgiving. Whilst the aim of the game is always to keep enemies as far away as possible, this isn't always achievable. When troops eventually descend (and descend they will) it's usually only a matter of time before a restart from the last checkpoint ensues. To survive, brute force has to be brought to bear, which is at odds with the elegant combat encouraged throughout the rest of the game.
Audio plays a strong role. At several points in the campaign there is ambient noise that can be used to mask the fire of your rifle. Pulling off well timed shots under cover of falling bombs, or chiming bells, is essential if the game is to be played on the harder settings.
Tense music accompanies the action, adding tangible tension to proceedings. When not in combat, violins serenade in the background, providing a haunting soundtrack to the brutal din of war.
The broken streets of Berlin provide a distinctive backdrop to events. Rubble is piled high, buildings teeter on collapse and the streets are littered with wrecked vehicles and battered city defences. Although Berlin was comprehensively flattened by Allied bombing, you can't begrudge Rebellion for keeping an unrealistic amount of buildings upright for players to explore. Not that the casual eye would notice; it doesn't look unnatural.
There are a lot of rough textures and graphical imperfections littered throughout the game. None are major (although I did experience a glitch that turned Fairburne's head white for a while), but this lack of polish does act as a constant niggling distraction. Troops are nicely animated, though, and the splash of blood that erupts from them once hit is always satisfying.
The environments through which Fairburne travels are varied and detailed. The broken skyline provides plenty of places for enemy snipers to hide, so scanning each and every building is essential. Movement in the open is always tense. Inside it is a similar story. Lighting flickers and troops lurk in unexpected places. Never knowing what waits around the next corner gives the experience of scurrying through war-torn Berlin a threatening edge.
There is plenty of detail to admire as you go. A family of suitcases sits unclaimed next to a dirty teddy bear. An abandoned card game on a makeshift table. A lone empty can of processed food. All reminders of the human cost of war.
From everything I've said so far, you'd think that I didn't enjoy Sniper Elite V2, but this is far from the case. Despite its flaws, this is an engaging and engrossing game. It has the ability to be immensely satisfying, irrespective of its rough edges. I found that this is the case because, like a lot of people, I enjoy shooting things with sniper rifles.
In this regard Sniper Elite V2 is a triumph.
Ballistic physics are well implemented and they feel fair. The success of each shot depends on a mixture of gravity, wind, velocity, bullet penetration and aim stability. It's a lot to take in, but a welcome challenge. Ranged shots are rewarded with score bonuses, as are head shots. It creates an atmosphere in which audacious shots are encouraged. Bettering previous achievements becomes compulsive. I found myself scanning the horizon for distant troops, just to see at what distance I could be accurate from.
There is little resistance from the enemy when played on easy, but taking it up a notch certainly solidifies the challenge. On the hard setting - Sniper Elite - aim assist is turned off; each sniper left with nothing but a gun and their skill. Hitting a headshot from distance on this setting is immensely satisfying. But the problems with AI and tough close quarters combat makes playing at this level incredibly challenging, and as such, all but the most hardcore sniping enthusiasts will probably stay clear after the novelty of playing sans aim-assist wears off. Happily, the custom settings can be tinkered with to come up with a challenge more to individual tastes.
Scoring Sniper Elite V2 is easier said than done. On one hand it is a flawed and occasionally cumbersome game, on the other it is fun, engaging and, when it works, incredibly satisfying. It's a strange juxtaposition of ingredients. At times it feels very linear, despite the shortcuts and multiple routes through levels. Once combat descends into a straight up gun fight, most options are removed, and the stealth and subtlety observed up until the point of discovery becomes nothing but a distant memory. When this happens the game goes through a Jekyll and Hyde like transformation, where satisfying shooting and considered strategy make way for underwhelming cover mechanics and panic induced machine gun fire. It is this inconsistency that prevents it from being a truly essential title.
All told, Sniper Elite V2 is a solid and enjoyable game. Not without its flaws, but well worth a look nevertheless.