If you’re in the business of dismissing games on first impressions alone, Sniper Elite V2 stands about as much chance as Joseph Kony Babysitting Simulator. Unabashedly targeting a subset of Call of Duty veterans, Rebellion’s sequel to a game categorically nobody cared about appears destined for bargain bins worldwide. But it has a lifeline, and it’s not its wanton show of violence.
V2 riffs on the Hitman formula, tweaking it to suit an audience that cares less about mingling with the locals and slipping poison into a food basket and more about causing heads to burst in bloody slow-motion. The demo level starts out with a a tawdry voiceover dripping with virility and practiced bravado. You’re an assassin of sorts, deep inside World War Two Germany on the hunt for Dr. Gunter. Dr. Gunter must die, but that’s about as far as the scene-setting goes.
So you skulk through the battered city streets toward an ambush point far enough away to provide ample opportunity to play with the game’s ceremonial toy. There’s really not much to the demo. You plod through the crumbling city pausing periodically to peruse the streets ahead through the scope of a Springfield rifle, taking potshots at dimwitted German soldiers when the need arises (which is often). Even when they cotton on to what’s happening, the AI characters are more than happy to potter about in no-man’s land giving you sufficient time to line up liver-butchering shots. Sometimes the soldiers dash to their fallen chums and attempt to heave them away from the battlefield. Sometimes they explode, which is odd. You switch up tactics using the pistol to make silent kills on a couple of occasions, but besides that and a couple of contextual hold-A-to-do-this moments, there’s little besides the sniping.
That’s true until you’ve played through the level a couple of times, anyway. Once you’ve learned the enemy routines you can put the sniper’s additional tools (chiefly trip wires and landmines) to good use. Methodically constructing an ambush before falling back to a roost and watching as the carnage pans out, picking off any surviving stragglers and basking in the torrent of well-earned points is Rebellion drawing from the pool of Hitman-conventions to great effect.
On the harder difficulties you have to take into account wind direction and the distance of targets. Neither are particularly hard to get to grips with but there’s nothing more agonising than spending 20 seconds lining up the perfect shot and joining the ranks of the hasty on a pockmarked wall in the distance. On the flip side, the sense of satisfaction when everything falls into place is palpable.
Played on the easiest difficulty it’s a case of point, click and sit back as the in-game kill cam transforms routine death into a sadist’s wet dream. Nothing else in the level has been modelled quite as intricately as the human skeleton that appears in part as bullets tear through meat and muscle to wreak havoc on vital organs and bones. You get a front row seat through the whole spectacle as lungs blast open like water balloons and bones fracture, piercing through the gyre of mincemeat and offal and out into a sun-bleached world. Freedom at last.
Sometimes the camera doesn’t bother to prolong the spectacle and the speed at which the bullet snags through flesh and pops back out again is sickening. Sometimes it slaloms behind the bullet, other times it’s positioned in front, charting its hypnotising rotation before the inevitable thwack as metal meets bone. Even without the skeleton kill-cam, you can still see bones and tissue migrating backwards through uniforms and the piercing howl as a bullet rips through the air like an aeroplane blasting down a runway only adds to the consummate drama.
It’s all so gratuitous, so distasteful and so clearly the game’s superficial selling point. It feels like a parody but what it’s lampooning is completely equivocal. And just how long the wanton carnage will remain appealing is another matter still.
Fortunately, beneath the tacky homage to CoD’s least likeable clients and the overt sanguinary, V2 bubbles with the workings of a score mechanic similar to The Club’s. Although even that feels gratuitous at first, rewarding shots to the vital-organs with bonus points and adorning the screen with things like “MOVING HEADSHOT” and “VITAL HIT”. Cool moving-target headshot bro, extra points for the way the bullet careened through that dude’s eye socket!
But by prizing precision and patience over the whiz-bang-pew, run-and-gun bravado of Call of Duty, the demo demonstrates V2’s potential to follow in the footsteps of The Club or Bulletstorm. Learning where the AI clusters and memorising their paths, calculating where best to uncoil a trip-mine and absorbing the nuances of the Springfield rifle harks back to the kind of punctiliousness required to excel at Bulletstorm’s Echoes. So does the brevity of the demo level, it’s all over in ten minutes and that score-system tying everything together magnifies the desire for perfection inherent to any good score-attack game.
Rebellion has sold itself short drawing hasty parallels to Call of Duty. Tucked away beneath the macho-sniper stuff and farcical violence, Sniper Elite V2 has the makings of a solid score-attack game. How deep the points-system is nestled and how and if leaderboards factor into the final build remains unclear, but those early impressions belie the potential Rebellion’s sequel so aptly displays in a mere ten minutes.