Sniper Elite V2 is a lot like the original game from 2005, which is both a great and bad thing -- but mostly great.
In SEV2, you are an American sniper deployed behind lines in 1945. Your targets include Nazis and Russians alike, and the story revolves around the present and potential future threat of the infamous V2 rockets. Played from the third person perspective, SEV2 is a stealth shooter -- run and gun simply won't work here, or at least not beyond very brief encounters. In every mission, you are significantly outnumbered, outgunned, and backup doesn't exist, unless you're playing co-op. Game modes include an eleven mission single player campaign, ten mission co-op campaign, and three co-operative multiplayer modes with about three maps each.
The game doesn't actually look quite this good...
Gameplay mechanics are similar across modes and very much like the original game from seven years ago. One key difference I noticed right away is that Rebellion opted to go with the popular, yet often disagreeable auto-regenerating health system. In the original Sniper Elite, players had to decide how many medkits they want to carry going into a mission. When you took damage, you permanently lost health unless you healed up with a medkit. Given the duration of the missions both in the original and in SEV2, that made things extra intense. I thought the use of a auto-heal mechanic in V2 cheapened the experience. Then again, the medkit system from the first game isn't a great solution either. I think the most balanced health system for this type of game would have been something like Resistance used: a segmented health meter with some kind of penalty system to where maybe when you're at 50% health, your heart rate stays above 70 bpm, making long shots harder to achieve. As is, the auto regenerating health just feels out of place in a game that tries to be a sort of simulator.
Also worth noting is that you cannot save your game during a mission. In the original, you had a limited number of save games to use, a system that I also didn't like. There are checkpoints in SEV2, but should you quit the game or your system crash or whatever the case may be, you must start the entire mission over again. Fortunately the missions are indeed fun, but they don't change from one reload to the next, which would have also been interesting to see. Instead, enemy placements are the same from one load to the next. Missions tend to be rather long, upwards of an hour depending on a variety of factors, especially your play style. I appreciate the lengthy missions, but I think that not giving the player an opportunity to save is a design choice (or flaw) that games simply shouldn't have anymore. I understand how quick saving can ruin the immersion of a game, but if a player is doing that to their own experience, that's their own fault.
A little multiplayer mayhem for you
Anyway, when you start the campaign mode, you have the option to customize your difficulty, and I suggest you do so. You're able to adjust the difficulty, which changes how enemies approach you. Ballistics settings alter how elite your sniping skills need to be (i.e. from not at all to great). And then there is tactical assists, which effects what help and markers you receive in game. The Elite setting maxes these out for you, which is great way to play co-op. For single player though, and for this review, I kept the difficulty at medium, maxed the ballistics, and left tactical assists on. I thought the ballistics were well presented, fun, and believable. Gauging the distance of your target, minding your breathing, and adjusting for windage is a challenge from one shot to the next, but man, there is nothing like nailing that long distance shot. The AI was far less impressive, though, and I had my concerns about it since the demo.
What really irks me about the AI is how impossibly accurate they are at locating you at times, and how incredible inept they are other times. On one very early mission, I took a 150m shot at a soldier from about fifteen back in a dark room. As soon as he dropped, I went prone, but his buddies instantly knew where I was. Before taking that shot, I had planted a trip wire bomb at the front door, which was visible in the sunlight. But, the same dude that saw me so far away in a dark room ran right into the trip bomb. Next, I situated myself at the top of a flight of stairs, lying on my stomach, completely out of view. There's no way the remaining enemies could have known where I was in the building, much less on the right side of the stairs, on my stomach. But, lo and behold, the instant that they appeared on screen they knew exactly where I was and even began firing before they turned their head up from the ground to look in my direction. This type of AI is cheap and uninspired, and downright disappointing in a game whose biggest draw is immersion and near-life simulation. It's a blow to the significance of the experience, and I wish Rebellion made a more concerted effort to make the AI more realistic and balanced.
Solo play is great, but SEV2 really shines in its multiple co-op modes
A few other notes I took remind me of how you can't crawl underneath a truck, even though it certainly looks like you can. You're also not able to open and close doors, or move objects front of doors to block enemies from entering. Level design is fairly linear, but even within what is there, I wish players had more options to interact with the world. You know, practically ever door is closed, every potential alternate path is blocked by debris, and so on. Weapon reloading and switching is nearly instant, which is unrealistic, which is again another confounding design choice. Melee encounters are painfully lame and really need to be re-worked; while you are a sniper, and your greatest advantage is distance and surprise, there are going to be times where you and the enemy are within feet of each other. I would have liked to have seen the game better adapt to this, like what Uncharted 3 does. Instead, your left to run around awkwardly, switching to your pistol or machine-gun, trying to get the aim right. Or, in one bizarre instance, the enemy and I brush shoulders, but he continued to run right past me into the room where I was first detected at from the outside of the building. It was as though his AI routine had him focused on that one spot and he was not able to adapt when he encountered me before he reached that point. I also had a few issues with the new cover system, which is prompt based. There was at least one area where the prompt appeared for me to take cover; I pressed Triangle, but as soon as he moved into said cover, he bounced right out of it and the game again prompted me to take cover.
Yet for all of its flaws, great and small, SEV2 manages to do exactly what the first SE did -- be fun as hell and very compelling. Make no mistake, you have to have an interest in playing in a deliberate and slow manner. You'll spend a lot of time crawling around and getting into ideal positions, but if that's of interest to you, SEV2 delivers like a .300 win mag to the head. As an avid FPS and third person action gamer, SEV2 is a wonderful change of pace. Few games reward the player with such satisfaction as a well placed, well timed shot, too. The new x-ray cam feature really is as cool as it looks, and the original bullet-cam is back too. The rush of these moments is powerful, and it's one of the main reasons to work with or overlook the game's flaws. V2 has also added collectibles (gold bars and bottles), which encourages exploring every corner of the map. The "Silent But Deadly," and other x/y "challenges" are back as well. Points for each kill and leaderboards give you that extra motivation to make every shot not only count, but also be a thing of beauty.
Multiplayer modes are all two player co-op based, including splitscreen support. You can replay through the campaign, except for the opening Prologue mission, and three other modes with three maps each are also entertaining. DLC with more maps is surely on the way, but what's included here is quite good. Kill Tally mode is your classic firefight or horde mode where enemies come in waves and it's up to your and your buddy to take'em down. Bombing Run has one player running to try and repair a vehicle while the other provides sniping support. Overwatch has one player at ground level, tagging enemies with his binoculars for his sniper pal to nail. All three modes are creative and a lot of fun, adding many hours of time to SEV2.
With that, to the summary to wrap up...