Sniper Elite V2 Review
Posted by Jon Wahlgren
Reach out and touch someone
Let’s just get this out of the way: Sniper Elite V2 on Wii U seems built for the bargain bin. Were it a movie then this edition would be one of those bare-bones, dithery full-screen DVDs that advertises its interactive menu and scene selection as "features". So says the cynic in us, and our realist chimes in with a “yup.” With online multiplayer and DLC support yanked, Rebellion and 505 Games seem comfortable with letting their year-old game linger in the $20 wasteland on this platform. And for a bargain price, you really can’t go wrong: running around a bombed-out Germany in World War II picking off Nazis big and small from the shadows is a non-caloric pleasure.
The problem is that this sucker is parading around as a full-blown retail release with a price tag to match, which is a ridiculous proposition for a year-old game missing half its feature set and not even bothering to bridge the gap by, say, offering split-screen multiplayer or throwing the single-player downloadable content on the disc (no Hitler assassination for you, Wii U owners). If Sniper Elite V2 wants to be treated as a full-priced game, then it’ll have to do better than this.
What you do get with the Wii U version is a seven-hour campaign and three maps of Kill Tally, a score-based wave mode where you try to hold out for as long as possible against increasingly powerful platoons of Nazis. The campaign is super linear and relatively brief, and the game’s derivative art style does it no favours in standing out from any WWII shooter from the past 10 years. But Sniper Elite V2 isn’t without merit, with some clever set pieces and polished sniping mechanics that elevate the game beyond its rather dull presentation.
Mostly told through slides between missions, the story follows OSS officer and sniper extraordinaire Karl Fairburne, who is involved with Operation Paperclip, a program intended to recruit scientists of Nazi Germany over to America and keep them out of, amongst others, the hands of the Soviet Union. While on a mission to assassinate a scientist defecting to the Soviets, Fairburne learns of a plot to fire V2 rockets filled with nerve gas on London. As the only American in the region, it's of course up to him to stop it.
Just how difficult this mission will be is up to you. While a grand swath of games allow you to choose a difficulty level, Sniper Elite V2's modular difficulty settings allow you to customize in which areas you'd like to be challenged. Want dumb enemies, realistic ballistics and no tactical assistance like threat indicators or enemy tagging? Totally viable. Want tough-as-nails enemies but point-and-shoot aiming? Do it up.
Playing on the easiest setting for ballistic realism isn't recommended, as it doesn't allow you to appreciate how Rebellion has totally nailed the mechanics of sniping. Gravity, wind speed, scope stability and your own heartbeat are variables that strip the guarantee of a true aim, adding excitement to each pull of the trigger as you can never quite tell where exactly the bullet will land. This pseudo-mystery creates tension that can send your heart atwitter for even the most basic of shots.
It should be noted that the occasional "reward" for such a feat is a gruesome, somewhat fetishistic kill-cam that follows the bullet from the chamber to your target in slow motion, the view whizzing around it with cinematic flair and ending in a very graphic display of a human dying. Some of these include an excessive x-ray view of the bullet shattering bones and ripping internal organs. This isn't a game for the squeamish, and even with all the violent movies and games we've consumed Sniper Elite V2 made us feel a little uncomfortable as it isn't over-the-top enough to nullify the realities of such wounds. There doesn't appear to be a way to turn off this revelling in pain; on the flip-side, this grotesque display adds weight to each kill that you don't get in, say, a Call of Duty. Then again, that weight is nullified by getting a score for each kill based on how difficult it was to pull off. Make of that what you will.
Each stage has pretty simple objectives that mostly involve stealthing around a super-linear environment as best you can and picking off enemies until you've shot, exploded or stolen whatever is the current MacGuffin, and then often running back the way you came to escape. It's a little too easy to lose interest in the storyline since it doesn't feel like anything really matters beyond whatever is the current set piece and Fairburne possesses all the personality of a wooden chair, but Rebellion exploits their combat tension to great effect in the campaign.
As a sniper, it’s in your general best interest to stay hidden, preferably in an elevated spot with a clear view of the battlefield. That isn't a luxury afforded you as often as you'd like in Sniper Elite V2 — you won't be perching atop church towers the whole time and instead do combat in many flat but elongated locations, like war-torn streets and inside rocket facilities. There's a constant feeling of improvisation, that you're only fighting here because you have to. Not all encounters are winners, with several frustrating spikes in difficulty and endless flood of enemies, but the game makes up for it with some genuinely cool moments. Like blowing up a tank with a well-placed bullet, or masking the sound of your shot by timing it to distant explosions or church bells.
You can't rely solely on your sniper rifle, though. It's loud and best suited for long-range combat, and often you'll find yourself manoeuvring around the inside of buildings hoping you don't have to shoot lest you give away your position. Fairburne is frail — he'll drop after a few bullets — so you'll want to maintain as much cover as possible. When all hell breaks loose, which it will, you might be more inclined to rely on a short-range weapon like a machine gun or pistol. Weapon variety is somewhat limited (even the "improved" sniper rifles you gain access to really only differ in clip size), offering a handful of entirely interchangeable arms, and you can't choose which weapons or gear you bring into battle, either. Using anything but a sniper rifle is a generally inaccurate and terrible experience, causing much frustration and death as enemies take far longer to down and bullets run dry quick. You can chuck grenades but they're pointless in a pinch and traps like landmines and tripwires will often not be worth the trouble of setting as you're often trying to keep a distance from the enemy, not passive-aggressively kill them up close. It's often easier to just let yourself be killed and start over from the nearest checkpoint rather than try to survive a close encounter, although the checkpointing system has a nasty habit of surprising you with just how long ago it last bothered to save.
We completed the seven-hour campaign with enemy skill set to medium, and we found their brains to be really hit or miss. It wasn't unusual for us to drop one enemy standing next to another and their buddy not even batting bat an eye, or having an enemy stare right at us in close quarters without reacting. It swings hard the other way, too: The AI can have an incredibly keen sense of perception, spotting us from across the courtyard or hearing absolutely everything despite our best sneaking. Once one enemy has spotted you, they're all suddenly very aware of your location, even if they can't see you.
It would be disingenuous to say that Sniper Elite V2 brings nothing new to the table on Wii U as the GamePad does offer a few gimmes. The GamePad screen shows a map of the stage when using the TV as the primary display and allows "quick" weapon and gear switching with a tap. The map is useful for approximating where an enemy combatant might be located when you're pinned down. Pausing to ensure you tap the correct item or weapon on the screen is not terribly helpful as it's quicker to tap the D-Pad in a pinch. Holding down the Start button at any time enables off-screen play. If you prefer a traditional controller setup, you’re out of luck: Pro controllers are not supported.
With all the showy slow-mo shots tempting you to post to Miiverse, you may be disappointed to learn that you can't actually do that. The main display skips to the pause menu whenever you hit the Home button to access Miiverse, so the only screenshots you can post are either of said menu or the map display. Perhaps this is an intentional step to avoid what would likely become the single goriest Miiverse community, or maybe even evidence of a rushed port, but either way the functionality is hobbled.
Sniper Elite V2's visuals aren't anything to write home about. It is a grey/brown war shooter that looks like all the other grey/brown war shooters out there, with poor animation and little diversity in enemy models. "Snoozefest" wouldn't be a totally wrong adjective for describing how the game looks, and it doesn't sound much better with its generic war music — that doesn't quite loop correctly — and over-serious voice work.
Once the campaign is over and done with, well, that's it really. You can go back and try to collect the hidden gold bars or improve your score, but there's no co-operative multiplayer to keep you going like on other platforms or online leaderboards to see how you did compared to others. We can understand the Powers That Be hedging their bets on an online infrastructure that, let's face it, probably wouldn't get enough broad use to justify the cost, but literally zero effort has been made to preserve these modes for local play or offer anything similar for Wii U owners.
The Wii U version of Sniper Elite V2 is really just a bad port that we can't recommend to anyone who has access to literally any other version of the game. It's stripped of features like multiplayer and DLC and absolutely zero effort was made to fill the void by including local multiplayer modes or bundling the extra content on the disc. With such little effort put in, we're surprised 505 even bothered with a Wii U version at all — let alone trying to pass it off for full retail price.
Sure, the sniper combat is a good deal of fun, but how much are you willing to put up with? Are you OK with clunky non-sniping combat? How about inconsistent enemy AI, or the visually dreary and dull art style that feels derivative of every other WWII shooter? Are you bothered by the gutting of content? Can you play it elsewhere? These are all questions you need to seriously consider before laying down anything above $20 for this title.