Pros: Varied gameplay, an ever-present sniper rifle with loads of ammo, entertaining kill cam.
Cons: Bare-bones story, X-ray kills get old, less content than on other platforms.
The bullet soars across the courtyard, the camera following it, swooping and turning to show bombed out buildings, burning rubble and a zeppelin-filled sky. As the bullet enters the soldier in slow motion, he is displayed in x-ray form as the speeding projectile crashes through his ribs, which splinter and fly away as the bullet slices neatly through his briefly beating heart then continues to throw out more bone splinters as it cracks the spine. It’s kind of cool, it’s kind of gross, and it’s your reward for a particularly good shot in the 3rd-person shooter Sniper Elite V2.
The Basics: World War II Sniping
Set in World War II, V2 follows the exploits of OSS sniper Karl Fairburne, who wanders through Germany assassinating Nazis in a sketched-out story you can easily ignore. For each mission, Fairburne must infiltrate an area, carry out a task, and then exfiltrate.
In a typical shooter, there comes a moment when, after hours of fighting with shotguns and machine guns, you discover a sniper rifle. For a few moments, you stand in a tower and pick off panicked enemies from two thousand feet. But then, out of bullets or in need of a shotgun for close quarter fighting, you have to toss that rifle away. That’s a sad moment you never have to face in V2; it’s a game for everyone who ever kept dragging an empty sniper rifle around in a game just hoping for some more ammo.
While players have a machine gun for close enemies and a silenced pistol that allows you to take out a guard noiselessly (if you can get close enough you can also just snap his neck), the game is mainly devoted to taking cover behind a wall or crate and periodically popping up to catch the enemy in your scope.
In order to protect yourself from sneak attacks while you are focused on distant enemies, the game gives you tripwire booby-traps and mines to place in doorways. You also carry grenades and dynamite, but since the number of ancillary devices you carry at a mission’s start is limited, I liked to customize my soldier with all tripwires. Weapons can all be selected instantly on the gamepad (instant weapon selection is turning out to be one of the Wii U’s great strengths), which also shows a map with your next waypoint.
Presentation: Detailed Ballistics, Even More Detailed Deaths
V2 does everything it can to make sniping interesting and realistic. Since bullets drop as they travel long distances, you need to aim above a target’s head. You can press a breath-holding button to steady your aim, which on easier difficulty settings will display an indicator showing where the bullet will strike. Hit the head or the heart and you’ll have an instant kill, but other shots will simply incapacitate enemies, who will lie there calling for help until another soldier runs over and carries him to safety (if you don’t shoot him first).
A particularly good shot is rewarded with a Kill-Cam view of the bullet’s flight and the resulting carnage. This is really entertaining for about a half hour, but after that I was disappointed to discover there was no way to turn it off or even make it happen less frequently. The animations are pretty impressive - a head shot from the back will show you the nose bone blasted out of the skull while hitting a soldier’s grenade results in a slow-mo explosion – but there are only so many times I want to see someone’s skull explode, and when you want to take out two adjacent enemies quickly, a long animation between shots is just disruptive.
Unlike a run-and-gun shooter, V2 stresses strategy and caution, as you pick out enemies from afar with binoculars, take out snipers before they see you, sneak up on guards for stealth kills, and set off explosions by blowing up a vehicle’s gas tank, which in the game’s first mission allowed me to completely bypass a firefight. The game probably allows more stealth than I took advantage of; you can distract soldiers with a thrown rock and sneak past, but the only time I did that was in the tutorial level.
The Gameplay: A Tough Challenge with a Lot of Variety
Since you are able to shoot soldiers from far away, you might think the game would be pretty easy, but the great number of enemies, the open areas that give them a lot of cover and maneuverability, and the tendency for new soldiers and snipers to suddenly come out of nowhere, make the game pretty challenging. Soldiers are freakishly skilled; in a game that emphasizes how wind and distance affect your bullet’s trajectory, it is surprising that your enemies seem able to hit you with any weapon from any distance. They are also a spectacularly eagle-eyed set of individuals, able to instantly see you whenever even the littlest piece of you is exposed. In other words; I died a lot.
A game entirely focused on sniping might be expected to lack variety, but V2 does a good job of mixing up the action. One mission involves sniping a potential informant’s executioner and then clearing the soldiers blocking his path. Shortly after I had to protect a building, a sequence that required me to lay every booby trap I had to kill off those who made it to the door before I could take them out. In a sequence I struggled with mightily, I simply lay on the ground shooting dozens of enemies storming down a hallway.
Beyond Gameplay: Customized Difficulty, Missing Features
The game has a nicely flexible difficulty system. There is the usual easy, medium, and hard settings, but you can also separately customize enemy skill and ballistics behavior and turn on or off indicators that tell you where bullets are coming from and where your bullets will hit. It’s unfortunate you can’t change these settings after starting a new game, as you won’t necessarily know what you want until you start playing. While I played on a straight medium setting, I think I might have liked turning off the indicators and upping the realism while weakening the soldiers to balance things out.
What the game has is terrific, so it’s frustrating that the developer gave less to the Wii U than to other platforms, which received the same game a year ago. While Wii U ports of Trine 2 and Darksiders 2 made up for their age by including all the existing DLC, V2 has pared down the game, removing co-op and multiplayer, and says it currently has no plans to offer any DLC. In spite of this, consumers are being asked to pay $60 for a game you can currently get for half that on the Xbox 360.
The Verdict: The Perfect Game for Snipe-Lovers
While that feels like a bit of a cheat, it doesn’t change the fact that what the Wii U version does give players is terrific fun. If, like me, you enjoy a game that combines stealth and strategic thinking with long-range ballistics, you’re going to love Sniper Elite V2. And you’re going to love it even more if you like seeing a guy’s spine fly out of his back.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.