Yes, Sniper Elite V2 is a game in which, through an x-ray kill-cam, you can see a man’s testicles explode from the force of a high-velocity sniper rifle round. But the sooner you giggle that imagery out of your system, the sooner you’ll realize that such silliness is in stark contrast to the realism and quality that this game exhibits. It’s not always the most polished game, but overall, it’s a pleasantly fun surprise.
While the setting of V2 is the same as its 2005 Xbox-era predecessor, the premise is different. World War II is nearing its close, and the Germans are all but defeated. You are a lone American sniper creeping and crawling around ruined Berlin in an effort to stop the Russians from acquiring assets related to powerful V2 Rockets, hence the name of the game.
The mission isn’t the only thing that’s changed since the first Sniper Elite, though. The 2005 original gave you a limited number of saves per level; V2 has a well-designed (except for a few specific occasions) checkpoint system that prevents excessive frustration. The larger, emptier environments of the original game have been replaced with richer, more tactically conducive ones in V2. You won’t find as many missions either, but even that’s an improvement; V2 keeps the objectives varied and avoids tedium by condensing and refining the physical scope of the game.
Above: I think that red thing in the middle is sort of important
Speaking of scopes, one of the most satisfying gameplay aspects remains the sniping — which is what you’d hope for. The mission structure of finding a vantage point, lining up your target, and squeezing the trigger are disturbingly gratifying. The new x-ray kill cams aren’t there solely to gross you out, but to graphically educate you on what exactly is happening as a metal slug rips through a body at 2500fps. Whether it’s the destruction of the heart, lungs, or head (among many, many other possibilities), any fatal blow is displayed in slow-motion (with bullet cam) — not just so you can watch the exquisite detail of all the gory happenings, but also so you have enough time to fist pump in self-congratulation.
But don’t assume V2 is all scoped shooting; half of your time will be spent slinking in the shadows. Maintaining stealth is crucial en route to each objective or vantage point. You don’t have a silenced sniper rifle, but you do have stones for distraction, a short-range silenced pistol, and of course, the ability to snap necks from behind.
Above: You’ll have to move quietly to each vantage point — that means heavy use of your silenced pistol
Combining that tension of sneaking and the pressure of a single make-or-break shot makes V2 emotionally intense. You are one man against two armies, and it always feels that way. While the core mechanics are reliable enough to run and gun (you do carry an SMG, though ammo is scarce), the game’s joy comes from careful, cautious play. It’s not designed around playing Gears of War-style. If you attempt to, you’ll discover not only how important sniping is, but frankly, how much the other elements just aren’t sustainable as a third-person action shooter. If you want to kill your buzz, run and gun. If you want to enjoy the intensity of creeping around and pulling off gruesome shots, color within the lines. Guns blazing should be a last resort, but ultimately, how you play will depend on how you configure the difficulty settings — a few preset, plus 27 possible customizable configurations, affecting everything from realism to bullet trajectory and wind resistance – which ensures that whether you just want big kills or you want conditions closer to the real-world, you’ve got options.
However, even if you do find the right personal balance, it’s always not the most polished game. Even though it’s not meant to be a Gears of War-style shooter, popping in and out of cover (even with the rifle) felt cumbersome and our reticule didn’t often appear where we’d have expected. And even on the higher difficulties, AI could be exploited fairly easily, as you could silently headshot a queue of guards, each obliviously investigating a growing pile of corpses until you were eventually unopposed. In another instance, an editor took down a sleeping guard, then ended up backtracking through the same section five minutes later and encountered... a respawned sleeping guard. There’s some wonkiness at play here, though the core experience is solid, as long as you approach it, again, as a slow-burning, stealth-centric game.
Above: Spotting enemies with your binoculars beforehand ensures you remember their location
Aside from the campaign and single-player survival mode, there are four different online two-player co-op games. Having an ally with your through the single-player campaign changes everything, allowing for that true-to-life pairing of a spotter and shooter sniping team. It’s also fun to mow down any enemies trying to flank your friend’s sniper perch.
Kill Tally is essentially survival mode, where you attempt to entrench yourself as you fight off waves of baddies. We did experience some problematic enemy spawning here, but nonetheless, picking off foot soldiers as they funnel through doorways or booby-trapping roads and turrets was a fun way to mix things up. Bombing Run forces you and your partner to gather parts from the battlefield in order to repair your escape vehicle before your location is (further) reduced to rubble. An interesting concept, but the uneven enemy presence and sheer legwork required made this mode daunting, confusing, and even boring at times.
Above: You didn’t think one x-ray death screen was enough for this review, did you?
What really stood out was the fourth and final mode, Overwatch. Here, one players is the designated sniper unable to move from his nest, and the other player is on the ground, spotting enemies and sprinting to objectives. Since all of these multiplayer modes are so heavily dependent on cooperation, you develop a camaraderie with your teammate far beyond what you’d find in most multiplayer shooters.
Sniper Elite V2 is a prime example of how a streamlined take on a singular gaming concept can result in something great, even if it’s got a bit of clunk to it. The delivery of competent and enthralling gameplay was effective enough that the weaknesses we found were hardly roadblocks to enjoyment. It’s a gory title that’ll surprise you if you give it a shot. We still haven’t seen all the ways a bullet can kill a man yet, and we might just keep on playing until we do.