[UPDATE] Sniper Elite V2: Why It Deserves Your Attention - shootist2600 Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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[UPDATE] Sniper Elite V2: Why It Deserves Your Attention

[Update below.] I’m always intrigued when the public greets news of a new entertainment release with scorn and even rejection without knowing anything about a franchise or especially the product itself. Such is the case with Rebellion’s announcement yesterday of a sequel to Sniper Elite.

Many comments greeting the news of Sniper Elite V2 demonstrated a clear lack of knowledge and appreciation for the studio’s first title, which frankly is widely considered by those who have played it to have been a top-notch and unique entry in the genre.

In an effort to help educate my fellow members about this franchise and hopefully shed some light on its successor’s gameplay, I fired up the game again last night and will provide some details on its features while also dispelling concerns that detractors have posted.

Oh great, another shooter!

Yes, it IS great! LOL. Well, what is wonderful is that this title is not your run of the mill, run and gun arcade shooter, nor is it a squad based tactical shooter that is the antithesis of the former. Indeed, Sniper Elite was a well designed game built on lone-wolf style sniping missions, meaning long range combat played cautiously and intelligently, a unique premise in a genre lately focused more on shock and awe.

World War II AGAIN?

Aren’t gamers tired yet of fighting wars, insurgencies or terrorism in modern day Eastern Europe or the Middle East? I’m ready to re-enlist in WWII, especially when levels are as open world and interesting as the first game’s long range combat demanded.

Taking place entirely in war-torn Berlin, much of the combat occurred in city streets in between locales such as a train station, government buildings, residential homes, etc. As such, you could choose different streets or alleys for your approach; vehicles, barricades, landmarks, benches, etc. for cover; and ruins, windows or rooftops for sniping. How you approached each mission was up to you.

In that context it really didn’t matter what the setting was as the gameplay was versatile and immersive. Plus the setup was interesting as you were “one of the first soldiers of the Cold War,” a member of the OSS competing with Russia’s NKVD(?) to prevent them from obtaining the atom bomb. The one downside of the first game was a muted color palette of grays and browns, which, while realistic, was rather boring.

Why follow up a mediocre game?

Readers have latched onto the fact that Sniper Elite garnered, I think, 76/100 on Metacritic. First off, at least some of us know that the website’s method for tabulating its scores is controversial. I myself use the site as a reference tool, however, it should be taken with a grain of salt as it sometimes fits square pegs into round holes as far as scoring is concerned (given the variety of alternatives used including starred, percentage, report card and 10-point scales used).

More importantly, consider that their aggregate is based on the media’s impressions, some of who are influenced by industry, corporate or advertising sponsorship. The most telling figure is the public’s cumulative score, especially by way of comparison. The media’s 76/100 score (based on 21 reviews, I think) compares unfavorably with the public’s 9.5/10 score (based on 26 reviews). However, this should come as no surprise for those who noticed that everyone who played the game had a very positive reaction to news of its sequel.

This sounds too sim to be fun

Now we get to the meat and potatoes of gameplay, which frankly makes all other considerations moot. Besides offering open world maps with multiple paths and opportunities for attacking your objectives, Sniper Elite’s controls offer a high degree of customization so your combat and especially the sniping element is as challenging as you want it to be.

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve played the Playstation 2 version of Sniper Elite. The last time I’d played (prior to last night) was July 4, 2008! I’ve completed five of nine operations, each of which has multiple missions. I’m playing on rookie difficulty, which allows seven (?) saves per mission, easy AI difficulty, Hollywood (20? yard) grenade blast radius, and sniping features of gravity on, wind off, posture off, heart rate off and empty lung 25 (which I think means 25 seconds before you have to take a breath again).

With rookie settings, the game is not overly difficult. Certain missions can be more challenging than others but I don’t think I’ve found it frustrating at all. Other difficulty settings include cadet, which diverges from rookie with medium AI and heart rate on; marksman, which features hard AI, realistic (8? yard) grenades and empty lung 17; and sniper elite, with very hard AI and empty lung 10. I forgot to check, but if memory serves, you lose saves with each harder difficulty. Best of all, there’s also a custom difficulty, which allows you to set all such features.

All this is accessible from the start button prior to starting or loading a game. In-game, you can use start to resume, load or quit a game as well as change some options (I think related to presentation?). The select button shows your map and objectives. Visual cues on your HUD include a compass in the lower left that doubles as a clock and also incorporates a health gauge, threat indicator (which direction shots originate from), and saves counter. To its immediate right is a stealth meter, indicating how concealed your are ala Metal Gear Solid (or is it Splinter Cell?). In the lower right is your equipped weapon with ammo count.

The directional buttons use up or down to cycle through weapons such as sniper rifle, assault rifle, grenades and pistol; right or left cycles items like bandages, med kits, trip wire grenades and TNT. The left stick controls movement; the right stick, aim. R1 fires, R2 reloads, R3 is a first person scoped view and L2 is binoculars. O crouches/stands up, while holding O goes prone.

It should be noted that while rookie difficulty is relatively easy, you still don’t want to present an easy target for your foes, who are plentiful, good shots and savvy enough to keep moving, either strafing, finding cover or changing their stance, not to mention flanking you when given the opportunity. In this context, level design works both ways as enemies will use multiple paths to attack your position.

Therefore, it’s always wise to use your positions, foot speed and cover to your advantage. In fact, engaging at a distance is the best strategy to avoid a firefight against the odds. This is why I spend most of the game either behind cover or crawling on my belly. To this end the third person camera provides a great means of navigating the environment.

Likewise, to avoid getting hurt and treat yourself when wounded, various features and items help prolong your life. Besides those settings mentioned previously, there is also an auto-aim feature that works well and is to your benefit if you find yourself in a pickle too often. The med kits and bandages are easily accessible and quickly applied to replenish your health gauge.

Indeed, you start each mission in a safe area with supplies you can gather. However, once out on your mission items are rare. Thankfully, you can search victims from whom you’ll obtain various items as well as ammo. A quick search can be initiated if in danger, or a more thorough search can be conducted when the opportunity allows. Dropped weapons will also allow you to change your arsenal or pickup extra ammo. Besides searching victims, their bodies can be carried for concealment. These RPG style features are much appreciated and enhance gameplay considerably.

The items and weapons are all very effective whether applying bandages or explosives, shooting from the hip with an assault rifle or pistol, or targeting distant foes with the sniper rifle. Sniping in fact is appropriately addictive. The scoped view is detailed and allows you to see when you’ve missed or hit your target, upon which they’ll realistically stumble, fall and/or writhe on the ground. A headshot, however, is so gratifying as to make you feel guilty for enjoying it.

You’ll know you’ve hit pay dirt the second you pull the trigger as the camera will move to a bullet cam that rotates around the bullet all the way toward its target, pulling back behind the bullet as it nears its destination before connecting in a grisly, close up and slow motion display of your sniping prowess. After this gruesome depiction, you’ll get a rundown of relevant stats such as distance and any records. It’s an arcade touch that is welcome and encourages more dramatic setups in the future.

Likewise, end of mission stats detail your performance during the previous task. These include shots fired, hits, kills, hits taken, head shots, torso shots, arm shots, leg shots and dog tags collected. There are also details to review that impact your score: two for one kills, three for one bonuses, four for one bonuses, silent kills, long rage covert kills, double covert kills, triple covert kills, long range headshots, moving target kills, remote detonations, minimal damage taken, accuracy and longest shot (I think mine is 440 meters, at least in my most recent outting).

I know I’ve barely addressed the missions themselves and that because, well, after all this time they’re not what I remember most. I think there was the usual assassination task, demolitions duty, foe eradication, etc. But Sniper Elite was a perfect example of the journey being more important than the end. Getting to each objective was the really fun part and hopefully is a precursor of what we can expect out of Rebellion’s sophomore effort in this budding franchise.

Last but not least …

Like many gamers, I play a disproportionate amount of time online whether in cooperative or competitive multiplayer online matches or games. While Sniper Elite predates my access to online gaming, it did feature both co-op and multiplayer modes. Co-op was at least split screen, and by some suggestions it was the best feature (despite being tethered to your partner so you couldn’t stray too far). Likewise, multiplayer was supposed to be solid, especially the cat and mouse assassination mode.

All in all, Sniper Elite was a complete package of solid offline and online gaming components that made terrific use of a well-implemented sniping mechanic and well-designed open world levels for a tense, deep and unique experience that was customizable for each gamer’s skill level. For these reasons I can’t wait to see what Rebellion has on offer in 2012 for its new Sniper Elite V2 title. And that’s why you should keep this one on your radar.

UPDATE

I had an opportunity to explore co-op gameplay recently and can attest to its excellent quality. For the record, co-op was played split-screen on the same console. I was able to load my saved profile, while my teammate created their own. We were able to load my save game from the single-player campaign (though oddly I couldn't load my co-op save file to play by myself). The only difference in gameplay besides having a teammate was being able to resuscitate them when downed (without losing a med kit).

The ability to approach an objective or challenge with two players adds a welcome level of strategy to each encounter. Whether assaulting a target from different paths, creating a diversion to allow one's teammate to get into position or providing covering fire when the other is performing an important task such as planting explosives, the opportunities to exploit a situation increase dramatically. Besides it's always more fun playing with a friend. Especially when one scores a cinematic, full-screen headshot.

Having played co-op, I'm more confident now that Rebellion can deliver a deep, compelling experience for jaded fans of the genre. My only concern and hope is that so many years after its predecessor's release, Sniper Elite V2 will be developed by some of the same staff who helped engineer such a successful formula in the first title of this promising franchise. Here's hoping ...

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