Soft Penetration

Steady your breath and see Nazi Germany through the scope of a rifle in this stealth review of Sniper Elite V2.

[one_third]Steady your breath and see Nazi Germany through the scope of a rifle in this stealth review of Sniper Elite V2.[/one_third]

Sniper Elite V2 doesn’t know what it wants to be. With one hand delivering stealth orientated weapons, silent enemy take-downs, and a combination of visibility and noise meters, the game alludes to pure stealth-em-up mechanics.  It’s other hand delivers a gauntlet to the face, dishing out set pieces, loud rifles, and Super Snipers with such vaunted abilities that they must have been bred through the Lebensborn.

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Cue action set-piece.

These binary approaches often go hand-in-hand; the interplay between the two extremes is where stealth play can be at its most gripping, for the thrill of caution is ultimately a falsehood when consequences are absent. A poor representation of this interplay – and thus, a frustrating stealth game – is one that reaches down from the skies and lights a firecracker in your pants. Or, in the case of Sniper Elite V2, one that plucks control away as you watch your character stumble into trouble.

It’s disheartening because Sniper Elite V2’s premise is strong. Using some wits, and lots of bullets, the majority of levels have you making your way through enemy lines and into a lofty vantage point to spot and snipe a target. Although very much possible, it’s often not wise to actually use your sniper rifle when manoeuvring through the thick of enemy territory. A single shot suddenly puts you centre-stage. There’s no alert phase or moment of confusion. Guards from hundreds of meters away will begin the staccato ballet, while enemy snipers behind them prepare something more graceful; a deadly Allegro and Adagio.

Though the AI is attracted to disturbances, it's all-too-often more happy to stand still and allow you to kill it.

Liberal use of the silenced pistol sees you through large amounts of these pesky performers. The weapon offers a reliable, and completely silent, one-hit-kill. Occasionally, an enemy guard close enough to the quietly-deceased will investigate, offering you another silent freebie – an unfortunate high point of the enemy AI. Ammo for the silenced pistol is found everywhere, making it the most prominent and versatile stealth tool at your disposal. That is, besides the instant neck-snap takedown. A questionable ability, considering the safe usefulness of the pistol.

Masking your ascent are environmental ambiences: nearby mortar shots, tower bells, and officers yelling over megaphones. Oddly, these are all timed to go off at regular intervals and come with an accompanying symbol at the top of the heads-up display, so what could have been an interesting concept is, instead, far too helpful. Imagine a tense situation where you have a critical target in your sights, yet can’t risk alerting the entire base with the telling crack of your rifle… waiting… waiting for that perfect moment where a noise meter fills up just right. Alas, what could have been.

This ambience does ending up “working”, though. You can clear out a number of areas without alerting anyone by timing your sniper shots when prompted. It’s just not overly gripping stuff. If Sniper Elite V2 would allow itself to slow down and embrace the ideas of simply being a sniper, its stealth gameplay would be far more memorable. Instead of merely shooting when a noise indicator prompts, why not aggregate the war’s complete audio spectrum – the roar of a tank engine, the predictable crack of a firing squad, or the chaos of third-party gunfire?

Cover and regenerating health kill the danger involved in revealing your position, even in rare open areas such as this.

The original Sniper Elite featured aggressive enemy patrols which were varied enough that the ability to hide bodies was something you’d frequently need to think about doing. The levels were large and open, too – it wouldn’t be uncommon that an enemy soldier would alert his comrades because you left a mess. V2 also allows you to move dead bodies around, but why bother? Besides a few open levels which typically pit you against unreachable enemy snipers, most of V2’s environments are linear. You’ll never leave anyone living behind you, therefore denying enemies the chance to stumble upon a body.

First and foremost, this is a game about shooting dudes and watching elaborate bullet-cams.

Rebellion has clearly focused on trying to make V2 a capable stealth game, but somewhere along it fell into the shooter genre. Regenerating health and constant checkpoints ensure no player will be required to employ the situational awareness, subterfuge and extreme patience snipers are renowned for. Not only that, ammo is plentiful, negating the importance of planning or careful resource management a stealth game needs. The satisfaction of making a perfect shot is sullied when the path towards it is tiresome and predictable, making the game’s stealth approach something that removes tension, rather than serving as the source of it. Although there’s enjoyment to be had in its shooting mechanics and accessible level design, for stealth enthusiasts, Sniper Elite V2 has missed its mark.

1 thought on “Soft Penetration

  1. I played the demo of Sniper Elite V2 a couple weeks ago and although I thought the sniping was pretty good (namely the well-done killcam moments), the rest of what was in the demo didn\’t seem great. Using the machine gun seemed clunky as well as some of the controls and the level design wasn\’t anything to get me excited.

    That\’s probably quite a lot to take away from just a small slice of gameplay, and I wouldn\’t put too much weight on those observations myself but it sounds like I wasn\’t terribly far off, having read a couple reviews.

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