I’ve never enjoyed sniping or snipers in competitive first-person shooters. I just can’t react as quickly or aim straight enough to pick off other players with a high degree of accuracy. Meanwhile, my superhuman, teenage opponents have no problem headshotting me from afar. And yet I had plenty of fun picking off AI enemies as Mordecai the sniper in Borderlands. The difference? Sniping in a non-competitive setting puts players under way less pressure and thus becomes far more enjoyable for novices like me. That’s precidely why I love Rebellion’s Sniper Elite V2.
The original Sniper Elite came to last-gen consoles and PC way back in 2005, so you could be forgiven for not remembering it (Steam and GOG can help!). Sniper Elite V2 is a reimagining of the first game, taking place during the same period of time: the final days of World War II. Gone is the original story of an American sniper posing as a German soldier in an attempt to stop the Soviets from acquiring the Nazis’ atomic bomb plans. In reality, Germany didn’t succeed in developing an atomic bomb prior to the war’s end. Hence Sniper Elite V2’s more historically accurate premise: an American sniper (or snipers in co-op) must rescue the German scientists responsible for the V-2 missile program for the Allies before they fall into Russian hands.
Story plays a much smaller role in V2 than its predecessor, though. The new protagonist’s overly-gruff mission briefing narrations are mostly just an excuse to get players out into war-torn streets so they can start sniping. That’s not such a bad thing, because V2’s gameplay proves quite compelling. Mission objectives include tasks like eliminating important Nazi targets or sabotaging their bases and resources. Along the way, you’ll relieve countless Nazis from the unbearable lightness of being (it’s a mercy).
Before we get to the killing, let’s talk about navigation. It goes without saying that snipers do a lot of sneaking and climbing around between shooting targets. In that respect, V2’s stealth elements feel a lot like Splinter Cell’s. Pressing the B button (on Xbox 360) toggles between standing, crouching, or going prone. The latter two positions don’t make noise, so you’ll want to use them judiciously to avoid enemy notice. Sneak up behind someone and press the action button to snap his neck like a Slim Jim. If you’re really playing it safe, you can then move the body to a less conspicuous location. Or booby trap the body with a landmine to kill anyone who investigates it. Alternatively, toss a rock and the soldiers will run off to investigate, allowing you to sneak by with minimal fuss.
Once you’re in a prime sniping position, you may want to scope out the area below. By switching to binoculars, you can tag enemies and easily track their movements. In co-op, your partner can also see the tags, so it’s a great way to help the other guy out. Whether or not you tag a foe, firing the sniper rifle generally draws the attention of nearby soldiers. It might be smarter to wait for a loud noise to cover the sound of your weapon. Suitable noises like passing trains, aerial bombings, and the like are indicated by a speaker icon at the corner of the screen.
A number of factors affect the sniping experience beyond the rifle itself. If you've recently been running, for instance, you'll need to let your heart rate slow down before firing. Holding your breath further steadies your aim and zooms the camera in a bit closer than otherwise. Even still, it's quite possible to 'no scope' charging enemies in the heat of the moment, on lower difficulties at least. On the higher difficulties, players will also need to compensate for bullet drop over distance and bullet drift over distance (wind) in order to make perfect shots.
Those well-aimed shots can be anywhere on the opponent's body, as long as it kills rather than incapacitates. You'll know you did it right when the camera switches to a third-person perspective and starts following the path of the bullet from your rifle to target. It then shows the impact in slow motion, just like the original. New to V2, an X-ray view sometimes showcases the bullet's effects inside the opponent’s body. Skulls, eyes, organs, bones, and even unfortunate groins can shatter and burst in gory detail. These money shots don’t happen every time, but they always pack a satisfyingly sadistic punch. Plus both players get to see any such slow-motion kills in co-op games.
The joys of maiming unsuspecting Nazis would be reason alone for sniping aficionados to give Sniper Elite V2 a look, but 2-player online co-op really cements V2 as an outstanding game. Full campaign co-op is the main course on offer, with three additional co-op modes rounding out the package:Kill Tally is your basic Horde mode. Both players start on the ground, but you’ll want to scramble to a higher, defensible position as soon as possible. From there, take on 10 increasingly aggressive waves of enemies and vehicles, scrambling back to the ground on ammunition runs as necessary. Bombing Run gives players a limited amount of time to hunt down the spare parts needed to repair a vehicle and escape the impending carpet bombing. The part locations are indicated by waypoint markers, and you can also check an area map to plan your route. Will you split up to save time or play it safe and stick together? Bombing Runs are tense and challenging; in one memorable game, my partner and I repaired our vehicle and escaped only one second before planes bombed the area to ashes. Overwatch makes excellent use of cooperative dynamics. One player snipes while the other is only armed with machine gun, pistol, and binoculars. The Spotter not only marks targets for his sniping buddy, he also has to perform tasks like recovering plans and planting bombs on targets. Both jobs are actually fun to play and necessary for success. If the sniper doesn’t take out the incoming enemies while the spotter does his job, the latter will be killed and you’re forced to restart from either scratch or the most recent checkpoint.
In all modes but Overwatch, players can revive each other when downed. The injured player even gets to shoot at oncoming foes with a pistol, just like in Splinter Cell: Conviction. The host player can set the difficulty for each game type as well – a good thing since not everyone wants to deal with the extra variables that affect the sniping on higher difficulties. Oh, and the highest difficulty, Sniper Elite, is strangely unavailable in campaign co-op. I suppose Rebellion thought it might be too frustrating in a group setting.
While V2’s co-op modes are pretty much all that, they aren’t quite a bag of chips too. At present, there are only three maps for each non-campaign game mode. You can replay them on higher difficulties for variety, but more maps still would have been better. I expect they’ll put new maps up for sale before too long though. Note that the PC version gets some extra longevity from 16-player deathmatch, a mode the console ports lacks. As you could probably tell from this review’s intro, I didn’t miss it too much on Xbox 360.
Still, the consoles could have used split-screen or at least system link play for some fine offline co-op. Online, the matchmaking is a bit rough – your only options are to search for games of a particular type, any type, or host a private match. There’s no way to specifically host a public match; the game just makes you host if no other lobbies are open. If a host sits in his lobby and idles, you’ll have to search for a different game type instead of being able to make your own game of that type.
It’s nice to see Rebellion come out fighting after the mixed reception to their last two games, Aliens vs Predator and Neverdead. Sniper Elite V2 offers everything you could want in a third-person sniping simulator. Ducking around ruined European villages, setting up traps, and scope-killing the evil agents of Hydra, I mean, Nazis makes for a methodical good time. Co-op campaign support, additional co-op modes, and Achievements/Trophies that are actually fun to go after, turn what could have been just a good game into something great. If you enjoy stealth or sniping, Sniper Elite V2 is an asset worth liberating posthaste.
Editor's Note: The Co-Optimus Co-Op Review of Sniper Elite V2 was based primarily on the Xbox 360 version of the game, with some dabbling in the PC version.