Upon its initial launch back at the beginning of May, Sniper Elite V2 caused quite a stir. Heading straight to the top of the charts, 505 Games had a smash hit on their hands, which many attributed to the glorification of death presented by the now infamous Killcam. However, the UK studio behind the videogame – also responsible for the creation of the original title on previous generation hardware – was aiming for something a bit different: Sniper Elite V2 is design to be a simulation just as much as it is designed for titillation.
At it’s core, Sniper Elite V2 is an accurate portrayal of firing a sniper rifle and all that goes with it in the moments before taking down your target, wrapped –up in an enjoyable videogame product. This isn’t designed to be a lifelike representation – it’s doubtful many people would buy such a piece of software – instead it’s an action experience with realistic effects; much like Gran Turismo is to the racing genre, Sniper Elite V2 is the snipering experience in principle and the videogame experience in effect.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with walking this fine line between simulation and entertainment, in fact Sniper Elite V2 is the stronger title for it. In its most pure form, it’s a challenging action videogame where patience is just as important as accuracy; waiting for that perfect moment where distance meets wind accountancy meets direct line-of-sight. But beyond that players can tailor the experience to be as easy or as difficult as they so choose, using racing title inspired ‘assists’ to remove elements such as distance drop or add more precise targeting methods. It’s a toolkit that has been well designed to allow all players to choose their preferred level of challenge, making that fine line actually seem pretty wide.
The videogame itself offers a tightly structured campaign which slowly sees you forced to develop all the skills available to you. You can begin simply by lining-up a decent shot and pulling the trigger, knowing that your ability is greater than the speed of any enemy soldiers on-foot. As the campaign progresses you’ll quickly learn that this isn’t always the case, being forced to use distraction tactics or plant booby traps to protect your hiding spot; once out in the open Sniper Elite V2 is a very different game, and one in which the odds are heavily stacked against you.
The level design of the campaign is of course structured so as to offering many different vantage points and tactical options at times, and then narrow, stricter channels at others. It’s the mix between open-and-closed that keeps Sniper Elite V2 feeling fresh as you move through the levels, and alleviates some of the tedium that is offered by less capable third-person action videogames. The secondary gameplay mode however, the Challenge mode, likes to encourage single-barrelled tactics, using the same skills repeatedly to fine tune your abilities.
A co-operative multiplayer mode is also included, playable by two players online. It’s a pleasing addition to the single-player gameplay modes, though with only four maps available skilled players will make their way through the entirety of it in just one evening. There’s little reason to return too, with the co-operative clearly being the area that would benefit from downloadable content (DLC) the most.
From a visual standpoint Sniper Elite V2 is a bit of a mixed bag. Plastic looking character models exist in a decaying, believably war torn world, with environmental design clearly the stronger aspect of Sniper Elite V2’s design. That being said, each level is rather narrow in its design; not in terms of simply providing nothing but tight spaces – as stated above one of the finest principles of Sniper Elite V2’s campaign is the constant push-pull between wide spaces and tight alleys – but in terms of overall scale. Each level of Sniper Elite V2 is a relatively compact design, though in turn this does lend itself to some impressive aural presentation: gun shots will echo through the streets and enemy units will often be given away by footsteps just as easily as pulling the trigger.
Despite its flaws Sniper Elite V2 remains an entertaining experience. Its sniper-lead gameplay provides an additional trick for the adventure, and one which doesn’t grow old. Way the Killcam may be seen as a highlight upon purchase, in play it’s simply a notable moment rather than a core reason to respect Sniper Elite V2. Instead, it’s the clever design that encourages experimentation, the decisions that maintain the balance between simulation and entertainment, and the constant need to suspend disbelief that provide Sniper Elite V2 a reason d’etre, and as such also allow it to be seen as an action videogame highlight of the first half of 2012.