In 2005, Sniper Elite made everyone an ace American sniper skulking around a broken Berlin during the closing days of World War II. The city was bombed out, it was ugly, and it wasn't for the impatient, but the rubble-strewn playground was lauded for the sniping that required players to be patient in seeking out the perfect shot. Game developer Rebellion has revisited that playground with a glossy new remake that rewrites the story but maintains the kind of long-distance relationships that only snipers can appreciate.
This urban shadow op isn't so much a rehash of the first game as it is a full-blown remake, though the story is still far from making you reminisce about post-war Europe. It's there to neatly string together the missions but works up the conspiracy angle. It's certainly a more involved setting than what City Interactive's Sniper: Ghost Warrior worked with, especially where gameplay is concerned.
Just as in the first game, you play an agent who Uncle Sam has secretly sent into the crumbling capital of the Third Reich. The scientists behind Germany's V2 rocket program want to defect to the Soviets. Of course, the U.S. doesn't want the Reds to get their Communist mittens on the prize, so they need you to crash the party with a few well-aimed shots. That's only the start of a much larger plot that will have you shooting at Soviets and the last defenders of Nazi Germany.
Rebellion opted to play the "marketing safe" card by replacing the swastika on Nazi flags with a giant black cross. The audience knows which war it's fighting in, and other games haven't been as shy about the material, going back to Medal of Honor: Airborne in 2007 or The Saboteur in 2009. At least the Germans speak German and the Soviets speak Russian, though you won't have any idea what they're saying unless you've enabled the subtitles.
The good news is that the rest of Berlin looks like a blasted wreck. Taking to heart the criticisms about the visuals in the first game, the remake splashes its venues with a coat of glossy textures, detailed soldier uniforms, explosions, and remnants of life interrupted by the war. Tattered posters about the Werhmacht and Wunderwaffe cover walls while elsewhere, Soviet propaganda and red paint smear the posters like gang graffiti. A lone, wooden chair sits on a cracked sidewalk while the torn façade of a fancy hotel now houses a nest of gunmen.
The old areas aren't really back in play, but the new, re-envisioned ones range from ripped-open homes to a vast, ruined cathedral; they locations offer up everything that a sniping game should, with plenty of vantage points, cover spots and gutted apartments from which to take aim and control the battlefield. That's what Sniper Elite V2 does best. Anyone expecting this to be as good a third-person shooter will be disappointed because that's the weakest part.
That also means that this isn't a game for the impatient. You'll be taking careful aim, waiting for your heart rate to slow down so you can empty your lungs and calm your trigger finger, looking for the right opening, and then timing your shot to coincide with the barking noise from a nearby loudspeaker for added stealth. Hardcore shooters will probably want to crank up the difficulty levels to add factors such as wind direction. Unfortunately, it doesn't do much for the AI, which can be as dumb as a post.
It can't climb after you, for one thing, or at least I haven't seen it try when I'm on a ledge or have enough debris between us. They might rush a doorway in a column while my Thompson burps lead into their faces. If I put enough distance between us, they'll often use cover to frustrate your position while running around like chickens.
When a long-distance shot hits, the game does the same slow-motion cam trick that it did in its predecessor, but this time, it follows the bullet through an "X-ray" of your victim as it shatters bone and implodes organs before emerging from the other side. More than anything else in this game, this justifies its "Mature" rating without breaking a sweat.
It's over the top, bringing to mind films from the '80s like "Rambo: First Blood" or "Robocop." It's a celebration in getting the perfect shot in the most brutally morbid ways. It can also get slightly repetitive, though for a game that demands patience, it isn't as wearying as it might otherwise seem. Not every shot rolls out the anatomic carpet.
Controls for swapping weapons focuses on using the d-pad, which took some getting used to. Pushing left is strictly the "sniper rifle" mode; tapping right swaps between your pistol sidearm and your sub-machine gun. Regenerating health kept me in the fight, though checkpoints can be a little sparse in some areas.
Beyond the sniper segments, the game is not that great. Pistols and sub-machine guns, which hail from WWII's arsenal of goodies, tend to feel underpowered unless you're going for a headshot. Ammo can be found on everyone, Soviet or German, breaking some of the immersion. Disappearing corpses also didn't help, along with occasional, convenient instant spawn that materializes soldiers out of thin air.
The action is broken up into a series of missions that each encompasses a huge area. A pair of binoculars can help mark future targets to keep a running tally for who you have to whack when a fight occurs. Tanks also come down on your position, but thanks to a small arsenal of land mines, booby trap lines, dynamite and grenades, you've got options for turning your temporary nest into a booby-trapped fortress.
Multiplayer is strictly co-op, using bits and pieces of each of the campaign maps. Competition is point-based, such as in the Kill Tally mode or campaign co-op. At the same time, it offers up hours of fun outside of the main campaign once you've completed it. Playing through with a co-op partner turns the solo party in the main game into a mission where you can both work together to clear out zones from one end to the next, meeting up at the end to take on the final challenges.
A few other modes, like Overwatch, put a twist on regular play with one player spotting enemies and covering his sniping partner. Bombing Run puts both of you on a map where you must work together to do things, such as find the parts of a plane to aid in your escape, while fending off Nazi troopers before a bombing run comes through the area.
It was also difficult to find anyone playing a few of these specific modes; Overwatch seems to be pretty unpopular. Other times, I'd wait for my partner to start the game only to wait ... and wait ... and wait until I exited to search for another session — only to find the same person. Playing campaign co-op seemed to be a popular choice, but it was clear the community for any co-op felt limited, and that's too bad. When it works, it's a nice reprieve from having to kill the other guy.
Rebellion's remake might not be as dramatic as Tomb Raider's Anniversary edition by Crystal Dynamics, though it's still an atmospheric sniper sim with arcade leanings. Coupled with a solid co-op mode, the game tacks on several more hours to its relatively short eight-hour campaign. The thin story and dodgy AI are balanced against great set pieces and a decent ending that almost begs for a sequel. As a WWII shooter, Sniper Elite V2 won't turn you into a one-man Rambo toting MG42s and BARs across Europe. Would-be WWII heroes will get the most out of it by paying heed to the old adage of, "Good things come to those who wait." Your patience will reverberate in every shot.
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