Contrary to what modern-day multiplayer games may make you think, snipers aren’t just a bunch of campers. They may not lead an assault, but relying primarily on stealth, they infiltrate enemy lines, hunting their prey from a distance. Choosing a vantage point, they zero in on the target, picking them off before they knew what hit them, only to escape without a trace. Sniper Elite V2 comes real close to offering players such an experience, but ultimately falls a bit short thanks to clunky controls, terrible AI and wonky stealth mechanics.
You are Karl Fairburne, an elite American sniper sent into Berlin during World War II to eradicate a couple of high-ranking officers who’re up to no good. Your mission will take you across conventional video game locations all over Berlin, from secret launch facilities to heavily guarded German strongholds. The PC version is quite good looking and its art style does a tremendous job in capturing the grit and grime of World War II. However, framerates do tend to dip quite often (especially on Nvidia cards). This issue isn’t a deal breaker per se, but in a game where quick reflexes dictate the difference between life and death, it can get a bit annoying.
Two for the price of one
Sniper Elite V2 isn’t really a sequel to Sniper Elite; it’s more of a re-imagining with a new gimmick thrown in. The draw obviously is the gruesome X-ray kill cams that display the damage of your bullet in all its gory glory. Strip that away and you're left with a linear game, where every level is designed keeping stealth in mind. You can take the more obvious path, but scout around a bit and you may come upon a sneaky little route that allows you to pass by unnoticed. Of course, that still requires a certain amount of preparation on your part as you’ll have to memorize guard patterns, move when they have their backs turned to you, and if need be, distract them by throwing rocks.
If forced to confront an enemy, you could quickly eliminate the threat with your silenced pistol and then hide the body so it doesn’t raise an alarm. However, in many levels, I found the patrolling guards to miraculously sense the death of their comrades even though I hid the bodies out of plain sight. Once that happens, they’ll summon all the backup in Berlin and you’ll be forced to indulge in some rather clunky third-person cover-based combat.
That's got to hurt
Even if you do manage to slip away from that location, leaving behind nothing but a ghostly apparition of your existence a la Splinter Cell: Conviction, they won’t just go about patrolling again like other stealth games. They will somehow always know where you are and will automatically target all their fire towards you. This does seem rather unnatural since I was under the assumption that I was fighting evil Nazis and not some psychic super soldiers who can sense death and see through objects.
Level design is awesome
The game is at its dullest when it forces you into combat, transcending into yet another generic World War II shooter, but the core sniping experience it offers definitely outweighs the negatives. I cannot explain how satisfying it is to survey a level, tag your opponents, climb up to a nearby tower, protect your rear by laying down some booby traps and then snipe the living daylights out of everyone. Watching their heads fly back in slow motion as your bullet pierces their helmets is satisfying, yes, but kills look even better when the game switches to an X-Ray cam following your bullet from the time it leaves your rifle to the time it enters their bodies, puncturing tissues and shattering bones only to make a rather bloody exit from the other side. Thankfully, these animations aren’t canned, which means you’ll see different organs getting ruptured every time you target a different part of the body. And yes, we all know which part you’d probably target first.