This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Sniper Elite V2.
It was with a small amount of bitter laughter - like the sound of someone's life-saving medicine gurgling down the plughole - that I picked up Sniper Elite V2 on the basis that a World War 2 game would be a welcome relief. It wasn't that long ago that World War 2 shooters were like earthworms on a wet lawn and you couldn't fire a gun in a video game for more than five minutes without hearing someone yelling about things being schnell, but now that endless quantities of modern shooters are clucking about like a bunch of strutting roosters in a farmyard, I'm really, really missing the days when the vicious, imperialist, xenophobic, war-hungry nationalistic bastards treading all over other peoples' countries with a ridiculously excessive war machine are the people I'm supposed to be killing, not playing as. Most of all, I guess I was looking forward to not having to kill Russians for once, because I like Russians. Worked with a Russian girl while office temping and I imagine we'd have gotten along very well if I'd understood a bloody word she was saying. Nazis are like Skittles in that you can rid the world of as many as you like and never get a bad taste in your mouth.
So Sniper Elite V2 is the sequel to Sniper Elite, and the plot concerns the development of German V-2 rockets. A-ha, I have indeed seen what they did there. As a lone American operative set loose in the bombed-out ruins of Berlin in the closing days of the Second World War, your task is to assassinate a bunch of German V-2 rocket scientists before they can be enlisted by the dirty Russians - oh for fuck's sake! Could we at leave off the fucking Cold War until we're finished with the hot one? I mean, historically America and Russia are fucking allies at this point. This is going to make things awkward at the next White House Sunday coffee morning. There's something rather dreadfully "me, too!" about the way this game has you gun down Russians, especially while there are plenty of Nazis around, who as we've established can be murdered infinitely without causing the slightest blip on the karma meter. It's like trying to pioneer chocolate-covered Brussel sprouts alongside a plate of Ferrero Rochers. How many catalog brides do Russians have to sell to rich Westerners before we stop demonizing the poor sods?
Anyway, Sniper Elite: We Poo - he he he he, classic - ends up being a mission-based shooter with an emphasis on long-distance combat, stealth, preparation, tactics, and an occasional throbbing erection for slow-motion graphic violence brought to us by Rebellion Developments. When I first noticed the logo, it almost made me not pick up the game, because Rebellion is a company one could describe as either "prolific" or "relentlessly vomiting garbage like a New Jersey seagull watching a Los Angeles award ceremony" and yet never seems to go out of business, in a pattern that would normally flag it as a possible front for organized crime. But while it has brought us such startling piddle as Aliens vs Predator, Rogue Warrior, and Shellshock 2, the fact that it also produced the NeverDead of recent memory indicates that maybe there's at least one person there who is genuinely trying to do a good job and make interesting, innovative games even if they have to work with a bunch of lazily-flexing arseholes who put the original vision through the wringer so many times they end up resembling an old crinkle-cut chip you found behind the oven. And in fairness to whoever that one brave person is, there's nothing particularly wrong with the mechanics of Sniper Elite V2, but, then, the same could be said of an automated fish-gutting device and that won't make it smell any rosier.
Gameplay is based around stealthily clearing out teams of baddies from little playgrounds of ruined streets, cover, and strategically placed vantage points. And while there doesn't seem to be any reason not to just waive your all-American kiss curled willie at the enemy and then hide around a corner waiting for them to all run up in single file for a rifle bullet to the gut, I'll be damned if it isn't gratifying as hell to get the job done sneaky style. Especially when you get to watch a well-placed bullet zoom along in slow motion and tunnel through Fritzl's brainpan, tearing up all his treasured memories of eating schnitzel as a boy. NO GUILT; HE'S A NAZI!! You could pull his fucking toenails out with pliers and it'd still be about as morally complex as Duck Hunt. Having said that, half the time the game does that fucking psychotic Mortal Kombat X-ray thing where you get to see what sort of damage you'd have inflicted if hypothetically the game was set in Jason and the Argonauts. And all right, I admit in this context it's kind of satisfying to watch, but afterwards I did feel a little ashamed of myself, not unlike when I jerk off to pictures of Disney princesses.
It's the mark of a good stealth game that while skill and tactics are rewarded - the little readout that an enemy trying to flank your position blundered into your tripwire trap will probably leave you in the kind of good mood where you won't even have to beat your children to get through the day - you can fuck up and still salvage things by running away or pulling the old around the corner murder queue tactic, which I think was first popularized by Rommel. There's some other nice little touches, too. Like if you time your shots with loud noises, like bombs landing or the dying moans of a beached whale, then you can take out baddies without the others realizing your position. But the thing is, when they do know your position, I don't think it's possible to avoid getting shot while you're drawing a bead, even if you change position, because wartime sniper rifles are about as wieldy as firing eggs from a trained ostrich, and you just have to let your regenerating fucking health tank it up. And don't even bother trying to spot enemy snipers before they get at least one shot off, because I'm all but certain that Mr. Scotty beams them in when you pass invisible checkpoints. That's exactly the kind of fair play I'd expect from that fat, Glaswegian git.
I've a couple of other nitpicks. It'd be nice if you could tag enemies while looking at them through the sniper scope rather than having to hurriedly switch between rifle and binoculars like a badger watcher with anger management issues before the target can saunter out of sight. But I guess my overall summarizing criticism-type thing is that Snipery Cockhole V2 just stops engaging after a while: it certainly gets dull - seen one Prussian eyeball explode in a bombed-out house, seem 'em all - ; and the short mission structure and constantly resetting health puts paid to any sense of flow.
Mostly, though, there's a terrible sense of emptiness about the world in which the game takes place. Our kiss curled, square jawed, white bread hero never interacts with anyone except for people who are about to unwillingly decorate a nearby wall, and he narrates his own mission briefings. So it occurred to me after a while that we only have his word for it that he's on a special mission from the US military. He could just be a paranoid nutter running around Berlin. It might not even be Berlin, it might be a World War 2-themed living museum or something. There's not a lot to go on. Come to think of it, it could just be some sophisticated program simulating small sections of wartime Berlin inside a computer. Maybe I'm being simulated right now. That would certainly explain why my cock is shaped like a catfish playing a trumpet.
You'll know he's there when he starts flashing: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I always think any WW2 game where you don't get to kill Hitler at the end represents a missed opportunity
Russian national anthem status: still frickin' sweet
Extra: Escapist ExpoEdit
So me and a bunch of my Escapist chums are attending a bit of a get-together this year we're calling "the first Escapist Expo". September 14 to 16 in Durham, North Carolina, Check the website for more details. Hope to see you there! Yes, you! No, not you, the pretty one.