The original Sniper Elite was a shooter that was quite unlike any other at the time. While pretty much any game with a firearm features a sniper rifle, this game really made you work for your position and your shot. Bullet drop and your beating heart were big factors working against you in lining up a shot to get the glorious kill cam that showed the bullet's flight path. Just as important, though, was the proper scouting of the area, making sure that you were not only properly fortified in your position but also only shooting at targets when they were somewhat alone or if you knew you could take the group. Making a shot alerted nearby enemies, who could approach from all sides, so it was a gamble each time you pulled the trigger.
It is worth devoting a paragraph to explaining how well the original game worked because without it, it'd be nearly impossible to convey the depth in which the sequel, Sniper Elite V2, does not. The original game took itself fairly seriously and had unique elements in its sprawling open levels that made it stand out. In comparison, the sequel has fantastic kill cams and graphics, but it has absolutely eviscerated the original gameplay, coming across as little more than a linear progression of narrow corridors of enemy placement so scripted that it feels only slightly more advanced than a World War II-themed shooting gallery.
The game takes place in the closing days of World War II, with the Allies and Russians putting the last bastions of German defense on their heels and breaking through on both fronts. You play as an American sniper tasked with assassinating German scientists who are trying to finish their work on the V2 rocket project. During the course of the game, a sinister plot is uncovered, and with only days to spare, it is up to you to stop the Nazi plan in its tracks.
Mechanically, Sniper Elite V2 is solid and carries over many gameplay elements from the original. While you can no longer control movement speed using the mouse wheel, you can still move in different stances, all of which have differing effects on your heart rate and your overall visibility to the enemy. Your current heart rate is represented on-screen as well as signified by how hard your character is breathing; higher heart rates make it difficult to line up shots using the scope. Unlike the original, you can take cover behind objects, which is a system that works rather well and allows you to securely sit back and lower your heart rate before popping up in an attempt to make a shot.
The tutorial goes over many of the gameplay elements, such as how to fortify your position by placing mines or trip wires, how to throw stones to distract enemies from their posts, and how to pick up and carry bodies to hide them. It also goes over a lot of the basics of inventory control and general gameplay to acclimate you in how it all comes together. A lot of the ensuing results are pretty scripted, presumably to show the associated cause and effect. For example, you placed a mine on a dead soldier, so another comes along later to check it out. It succeeds as a tool in showing some advanced tactical depth in a tutorial environment.
The problem with most of that knowledge is that you never need to use it during the proceeding gameplay or, even worse, never get the option. With precious few exceptions, every level is a linear path, and in every level, you will find the same enemies in the same spots. Some of them participate in longer patrols, but more often than not, they hardly move. Every firefight is about simply finding a piece of cover, taking shots at the enemy, and continuing to do so until that "wave" is completed and you can proceed down the path.
This high degree of linearity also completely removes the need to hide bodies, booby trap them, or fortify your position with mines and traps. Since there are no flanking paths, it means that enemies never show up directly behind you to see your handiwork and raise an alarm. You never need to plant mines on bodies because you will never have a dead enemy near a live one who isn't already actively shooting you. Likewise, this means that you rarely have any opportunity to sneak around to get a better sniping position; as such, nearly every firefight is a one-sided slugfest in which you clearly outrange those who you are shooting and have absolutely no worries about checking your flanks.
There are occasions when using defensive items or hiding bodies becomes useful, but they are by far the exception rather than the norm. In one level, you must stalk through a facility that is mostly underground, using your silenced pistol and stealth skills more than your rifle. In another level, you must work your way through a rather open museum filled with patrols. In both of these areas, the game finally begins to deliver on the idea of using stealth and the possibility to flank and be flanked, but in both areas, you are in environments where your sniper rifle is nearly useless. The areas are a welcome reprieve from the otherwise thoughtless shooting, but nonetheless come across as bland due to the absence of the sniping element. Other areas finally require you to make use of mines or trip wires to secure your position, but it is only because it is the end of the level and you have to hold your position against a massive, scripted wave of enemies that try to make it to you via any means possible.
The sniping aspect is the only solidly enjoyable part of Sniper Elite V2. The difficulty level is adjustable on a variety of metrics, such as whether or not gravity or wind affects the shot, so you can tailor it to suit your tastes. Lining up that perfect shot at long range that goes through the heart of one enemy and proceeds to detonate the grenade on the belt of his comrade behind him is a pretty entertaining feat. Holding your breath temporarily slows time and steadies your aim, with the trade-off that it significantly increases your heart rate afterward. The intended result is that the bullet leaves your rifle and begins its short journey into some woeful enemy soldier, and the associated kill cams are absolutely brutal.
When a kill cam is displayed, there is a pretty high chance that the X-ray feature will be invoked. A kill cam first follows the bullet in a cinematic fashion for a few seconds, and then right before impact, time slows down even further as the enemy is shown as an X-ray. From this perspective, you can see the bullet as it breaks bones, sends teeth flying, and lets eyeballs flop about in newly shattered sockets. Skulls will fracture, testicles will explode, and you will rupture just about every major organ in bloody fashion. It's entirely possible to have a single bullet go through multiple "zones" as well, such as sending one that goes through the forearm bone, the heart, and then finally breaks a couple of vertebrae in the spine on its way out. Kill cams are a celebration of accuracy-induced gore, and while the presentation is over the top, they are pretty evocative of the catastrophic damage you are inflicting upon your enemy.
At the same time, the enemy doesn't make it difficult to line up a shot. Enemies often run down the street at you with reckless abandon or move back and forth between cover for no particular reason. You can be right next to an enemy soldier while a distant enemy sniper is firing at you, and the nearby enemy continues to stand there, oblivious. Enemy snipers are incredibly gimmicky in their implementation, as they are capable of immediately spotting you regardless of your stance or if you had previously fired a shot. They also hit more often than not, even in incredibly high-wind situations where a shot lands many feet away from its intended target. Thus, the enemy forces boil down into two categories: snipers who have superhuman vision and otherworldly knowledge of ballistic trajectories, and bumbling idiots in uniform who serve as little more than vessels into which you deposit a slug.
It is perhaps that thought that drives Sniper Elite V2, with its feeling of complete detachment and a lack of personality. The kill cams provide an intimate look at how your rounds dispatch the recipient, but there's no real suspense or difficulty in doing so. Line up, shoot everything, move on, and repeat. It's a cycle of gameplay that should be fun and allow for suspense and isolation in a world that should offer unpredictability and danger, but it ends up feeling like little more than a carnival game. Behind the flashy graphics and the brutal depiction of gore, the game is surprisingly mundane, eschewing what made the original work while including no new features of its own.
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