There’s a propaganda film-within-a-film in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds called Stolz Der Nation, in which German sniper Frederick Zoller singlehandedly kills 87 bazillion allied troops advancing on his bell-tower eyrie. It’s absurd, undoubtedly hammed-up to portray the young soldier as a hero by Goebbels and his propaganda machine – but within the outrageous context of the Tarantino flick it is somewhat plausible.
Sniper Elite V2 is the American equivalent of Stolz Der Nation: it features an OSS sniper disguised as a German officer and sent into 1945 Germany to take out prominent targets, in an effort to prevent V2 rocket scientists from falling into the hands of the Russians as Nazi Germany crumbles. It’s an outrageously unrealistic tin-can alley of Nazi-killing, but it’s nonetheless fun to play for it.
No small portion of Sniper Elite V2 is spent sneaking around in a traditional stealthy way. You’re an assassin first and a marksman second, and while you might not be able to get anywhere near your mark to stick a dagger in his back, the unsuspecting German soldiers that mill around the tatters of Berlin and come between you and a nice piece of elevated cover don’t have the luxury of an armoured escort. So assassination missions have a similar ring to them: hunker down with the circle button, hugging broken buildings and low walls with triangle, and then wait for the lone patrolman, out of sight of his fellows, to turn his back before you can creep close, strike with X and perform the time-honoured ‘wet’ kill neck-breaker. A quick rummage through his pockets is almost compulsory before you can drag his corpse into the shadows where he can’t be found, and there’s a good reason for that.
Ammunition and items, such as the dynamite, land mines and trip-wires you can set up to guard your escape once the deed is done, are scarce. You start each mission with a handful of bullets for your silenced pistol and M1 Machine Gun – enough to get you out of a pinch if your cover is blown – but not enough to maintain any kind of sustained attack. You do start with an abundance of bullets for your Springfield rifle, however; usually a hundred or so, with more at ammunition dumps dotted around the site. Considering a single shot usually takes an enemy out regardless of where he’s hit, you should easily be able to budget your sniper ammunition for the level.
It’s clearly Rebellion’s intention to make it difficult for players to treat Sniper Elite V2 as a bog-standard shooter; not only is machine-gun ammunition hard to come by but your man isn’t very robust – although he can take a few shots, you’d better pray there’s cover nearby if you do. Closing the distance and opening fire with your M1 isn’t a great idea under normal circumstances, either, because the enemy tends to swarm on your position in much larger numbers than you anticipated. Nope, there’s no cheating the system here, and though it is possible to gung-ho your way to victory, the rewards are much greater if you remain below the radar and keep your enemies a sniper’s scope away. And, naturally, it’s a much more interesting way to play too.
There are a variety of tools available to you once you’ve chosen and stolen your way to a sniping spot. Played properly, you’ll often find yourself in a position that guards won’t stumble upon, and which gives you a panoramic view of the area. This is a good opportunity to hold R3 and bring your binoculars up, tagging targets with red chevrons for you to pick off with your sniper rifle. Reeling a shot off will raise their alert status, making them much harder to hit, but there are ways around that: if another loud noise sounds, indicated by an animated loudspeaker icon in the top-right of the screen, then it will disguise the report of your gun. There’s no way to prevent another enemy from finding the corpse (short of shooting him, of course) but timing your sniping to a loudspeaker or a rocket engine can buy you more time to remain sniping from your covered position.
The kill cam is the single biggest reason to stick with your sniper rifle though. With delicious frequency, kill shots are rewarded with a bullet-time execution similar to those in Fallout 3 or Skyrim, but even tastier. As soon as you pull the trigger for the killing shot, the camera pans around to follow the bullet in profile as it makes its way into the target’s body, whether that’s the head, torso, a limb or even the crotch. Rebellion seems to relish a shot to the family jewels in particular, while head shots carry a gruesome satisfaction, as the bullet is X-rayed passing through the skull, macerating bone and ejecting brain matter from the exit wound as it goes. You’ll also be rewarded accordingly for long-distance executions or particularly sexy shots, like exploding the grenade on a soldier or shooting two enemies with the same bullet.
From a distance the AI holds up to scrutiny, with enemies reacting and seeking you out once they have a bearing on your position. But things break down when the battle closes in, which it inevitably will. Soldiers will inexplicably try to shoot at you through walls or, worse, attempt to scramble to inaccessible positions. They seem to get particularly attached to their fixed machine-gun posts too, to the point that they would rather die than let go of the gun so that they can turn to face the enemy they were shooting at just a few seconds beforehand. It’s a bit of a shoddy finish that doesn’t marry up to the realistic bullet physics of the hardest setting, but this is still a sniper’s Mecca, perfect for those that like to do their shooting from as far away as possible.