The Return of Sniper Elite and the Immersive Shooter - shootist2600 Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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The Return of Sniper Elite and the Immersive Shooter

Six and a half years ago a game was released to little fanfare and mediocre critical reception. Like most games it quickly faded from memory for most -- except for a small devoted following including the studio that created it. So it's exceedingly rare when such a title gets a second shot at carving a niche, but the upcoming release of Sniper Elite V2 promises just that.

Rebellion Developments' original Sniper Elite game debuted in 2005 and, having only played more than half of the campaign, quickly became one of my all time fave shooters. Belated news of a second game excited me enough to blog about why gamers should welcome such a development despite the initial tepid reception (http://www.gameinformer.com/blogs/members/b/shootist2600_blog/archive/2011/04/09/sniper-elite.aspx).

Indeed when reminded of its May 1 release I immediately preordered the game based solely on my experience with its predecessor. But the demo afforded an opportunity to compare this new title with the original game though, while eager to play it, I was wary of any changes in a formula that I felt was an unqualified success. As it turns out any concerns were entirely misplaced.

In fact, I only recently discovered that the game basically is a reboot of the first, which explains their similarities in terms of gameplay and World War II Berlin setting. The story, however, is different. V2 in the title can stand for Germany's V-2 rocket program that you're tasked with disrupting, or this second version of the original game.

A demo can be a poor substitute for the final build, but this demo is relatively polished and fosters confidence in the final product. The opening menus provide a stylish introduction to options including difficulty settings. As in the first, you have several choices that include a custom alternative. Choose based on enemy prowess, visual assists and sniping factors such as gravity, wind and breathing.

In V2, your custom choices seemingly are preset, offering packaged options that vary your experience more than if you chose one of the standard three difficulty settings. However, I believe in the first game, you could adjust every feature in the custom setting. Still, the options appear deeper than most in this genre.

Controls work effectively the same as the previous game if I remember, especially using the direction (D) pad to cycle through both your items and your guns. Targeting and firing also feel familiar. The only issues I had were lack of a jump button (surprise!) and use of the Square button to both search corpses and pickup weapons, leaving me doing the latter when I meant to do the former. Otherwise, the layout was fairly intuitive. As in the first game, I appreciate both third person (for exploration) and first person (for sniping) perspectives.

The much-ballyhooed X-Ray Kill-Cam proved more a distraction to me than an improvement over the original's more realistic kill cam. I was expecting something along the lines of the film The Three Kings where a bullet is followed through a body, however, we're more often shown an odd clinical cutaway that due to rapid editing and copious blood is less revelatory than gimmicky.

To their credit, Rebellion does offer different, more dramatic perspectives from time to time. Also welcome is the return of in-game stats that document the kind of action or kill you performed and the points awarded for such an achievement. This arcade element does belie the overall realistic treatment of the subject matter, however, I appreciated how the game chronicled my performance in this regard and even encouraged personal improvement.

When choosing moderate tactical assistance in the custom difficulty, certain visual elements help you tackle the challenges you face. For instance, your ghosts will show the last locations of your sighting by enemies. This can help you avoid enemy fire, though their constant presence can become a distraction.

The bullet cam might be morbid to some or plain gruesome to others, but for me it was a creative means of recognizing one's prowess related to the game's chief gameplay mechanic. Not only was it a cinematic payoff for a carefully planned hit, but it provided motivation for improving that skill.

As in the previous title, I appreciate the ability to search or move bodies. One missing element, however, is the option to search quickly; you might miss items, but under fire this is a practical alternative that I used often in the last game. Still, the demo at least had few causes to use such an abbreviated function.

An interesting element is the ability to tag your foes. This reveals data about your target to help in your assessment of the threat. If I remember, this is part of the tactical assistance available depending on the difficulty your chose (I don't recall this option with such assistance turned off). A nice option to vary your gameplay.

A couple observations about your environment: Lighting is impressively implemented and helps immerse one in your setting (it reminded me of the superior lighting in SWAT: Global Strike Team); likewise, I'm a sucker for moving cloud cover -- its inclusion helps suspend your disbelief whereas a static sky is two dimensional and dull (unless its id's Rage, which has gorgeous cumulus clouds).

Indeed I was very impressed with the overall presentation. While the last gen title was a quality production it was average in implementation and undermined by a muted brown palette. V2 sports some detailed textures, albeit inconsistently, smooth animation, nice particle effects, layered sound and more varied colors. As a demo, this was a relatively high quality build that bodes well for the final product.

Collision detection is one of the few areas that lapsed in the demo, though hiding inside the body of a fallen foe is a welcome tactic LOL.

Fires are ubiquitous in V2 and thankfully sport some excellent particle effects (poorly represented in any screenshot I attempted). Floating embers enhance the realistic flames. Likewise, various objects blow convincingly everywhere you turn, such as the drapes on these windows or banners hanging throughout the city.

Given the distraction that the X-Ray Kill Cam can present, I appreciated the inclusion of old-fashioned headshots that this title's predecessor was known for. Indeed, it was odd to me how some body or headshots warranted the X-ray treatment while others did not.

I spent most of my time in the first game crawling around on my stomach. While you'll spend your share of time in this position, it's not as necessary in V2 to judge by the demo. The reason is regenerating health. Last gen's game required health packs or bandages to keep one healthy, and allowed up to six hard saves per mission depending on difficulty. I'm not sure how the save system works in V2, but the redesigned health management suggests a less demanding approach. I'm usually grateful for that, but it might undermine the gameplay Sniper Elite is known for.

While inconsistent, I was impressed with the overall presentation more often than not. Especially considering that the demo represents an earlier build of the game, the fact that textures and lighting at times surpassed that on display in most titles was quite a feat for Rebellion.

One of the pleasures of the first game was an enemy that could be hiding anywhere. It was not an arcade style shooter that encouraged run and gun gameplay; on the contrary, you had to venture forth slowly and methodically, exploring your surroundings carefully to gauge the threat level of any new area. I found this strategy was just as important in V2, as snipers often perched in bombed out buildings or on rooftops.

Earlier in my gameplay I appreciated how corpses were persistent in the game world. Looks like I jumped the gun, as eventually some bodies would disappear though others would remain. Their presence seemed arbitrary, as most were killed by bullet and all were searched so there was no discernable pattern as far as whether one body stayed or another vanished.

As mentioned, foes could be found virtually anywhere, even sitting in a diner/coffee shop. Seems almost uncivilized to shoot one so preoccupied. But he IS a Nazi, so ...

The details can sometimes astound, such as the care taken in the bullet cams to show the heat distortion trailing your bullets on the way to their targets.

I don't recall having seen a bullet cam prior to 2005's Sniper Elite but since have noticed it in other titles such as John Woo's Strangehold. It's a signature element of this series and demonstrates the developer's attention to detail. Speaking of, I noticed a trait in V2 I don't think I've ever seen implemented elsewhere. Spilled blood is bright red at first, but then turns darker the longer exposed (before ultimately vanishing). The level of detail and care this demonstrates is praiseworthy in my opinion.

Enemy AI is convincingly implemented throughout the demo, whether a tired foe who goes through respective animations before awakening if you draw too close, or a sniper on a faraway rooftop who emerges briefly to take one or two shots before crawling back out of sight for a spell. Likewise, footsoldiers will patrol until fired upon or sighting an enemy, at which point they'll seek cover or fire while on the move. They also might advance or retreat depending on your reaction or lack thereof. I've even seen them attempt to see to fallen comrades.

Worth noting, too, is their variety of animations. They will react if shot at, apparently even if you miss, momentarily ducking or stumbling. When hit, they will react depending on where shot. I have not noticed more advanced tactics like flanking in general, although one soldier did surprise me by entering the ruin I was using for sniping his comrades and then attacking from below.

I decided a seemingly more elaborate threat detector, ghost images and tagging feature were more distracting then I wanted from my experience so changed my custom difficulty to exclude them. I didn't notice whether the option to change such settings is available in-game on the fly, but the ability in general is still appreciated.

In the first Sniper Elite, there were a variety of challenges that could increase your score. I don't remember if there were related leaderboards but it at least allowed a means of tracking your progress and skill development. V2 appears to follow suit, though I never realized remote detonation was among the challenges! It was by accident, and likely never to be repeated again; but those kinds of discoveries help make this game worth exploring.

It was only after several playthroughs that I actually was treated to detailed X-Ray Kill-Cams of the kind I expected to see given the hype of this feature. I still prefer the more superficial treatment afforded by exterior kill cams, however, these sequences did showcase Rebellion's attention to detail. Also worth noting was that such kills were scored as vital hits, suggesting they involved vital organs.

As mentioned, attention to detail is everywhere apparent, all the more impressive for this being a demo of an earlier build. For instance, not only do most if not all foes seem to fall in unique positions instead of canned poses, but in a feature I once again don't recall having seen implemented especially on this scale, each sports wounds consistent with the shots that fell them. Such design elements made me stop in my tracks more than once.

My 2 For 1 Grenade Kill achievement was more like 3 for 1, but who's counting? Again the depth of challenges seems to mirror the variety in the first game and increases enjoyment if not replayability. The one caveat of grenade use is that when throwing in an arc, you look higher, which makes targeting your throw more challenging then it has to be.

Design elements such as moving clouds, birds in flight, believable (and scalable) ruins, statues on facades, rays of light from the sun or dancing flames, convincing shadows, floating embers, ambient noises, etc. are not without precedent but are rare enough that their combination in V2 helps immerse gamers more deeply in the game's setting than many other titles can boast -- and all this in a demo.

The satisfaction of sniping a far-off elusive adversary is rarely so fulfilling as in V2 thanks of course to the telltale bullet cam but mostly due to the intuitive gameplay. In a title that mostly relies on ranged combat this is a boon for gamers. That said, it's testament to the quality gameplay that Rebellion has demonstrated both in the first game and in V2's demo that even close quarters firefights, when necessary, can be entertaining affairs (especially with a cover mechanic that -- if memory serves -- might be new to the series).

Mission objectives continue to vary gameplay whether planting explosives to disrupt a convoy or eliminating a key figure before he can escape. Mission accomplished!

A last word, on the game's online component. As I understand it, all platforms will offer a variety of co-op modes, including the option to play the story campaign cooperatively. My limited cooperative experience with the last game was in split screen, and it was a rewarding compliment to playing alone. Options for creating a distraction or covering fire opened gameplay, and health management meant players had to help treat fallen comrades. With med packs in question, that aspect might be absent from co-op play. Full screen bullet cam for either player was pleasantly implemented.

To the extent there is disappointment with the prospective online gameplay, it is the omission of competitive multiplayer for console editions. To my recollection, there was a competitive cat and mouse game in the previous title, and I was really looking forward to a return of that mode. I have great fun competing against friends with sniper rifles in Red Dead Redemption, but if ever there was a series created for such a mode it is Sniper Elite. In fact, that omission alone diminishes my enthusiasm for this game.

Still, why create such a comprehensive blog based on the experiences of having played this game's predecessor and its demo? I do so because I believe such rewarding gameplay as they demonstrate deserves a wider audience. Rebellion is going out on a limb rebooting a game that didn't produce impressive numbers the first time around, but they as well as dedicated fans have faith in Sniper Elite V2 as a detailed, immersive and ultimately rewarding experience that can challenge and entertain any gamer regardless of skill level with its custom gameplay.

So do yourself a favor and at least play the demo, then support Rebellion's commitment to quality gaming experiences by purchasing this reboot of one of the best modern shooters in the past several years.

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