Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This week, Craig plays a hidden object game with bullets in Sniper Elite V2.
You, there: put down that spoon and tub of Nutella and go to a window, preferably one with a rural view. If you can't find one, you're out of fun as far as this paragraph is concerned. Just skip to the middle of the second and lament your windowless world. The rest of you, take time to absorb everything that you can see. Scan everywhere. Give it all a really good, hard look. Don't rush. Done that?
Now how many Nazis did you see? Be honest! Any number above zero and you should probably move. The reason I ask is because when I go to the window, even though there are no mid-20th century German national socialists visible, I worry that there might be dozens. Is that a fascist fumbling in the foliage, or was it just the wind? Might that broken wall conceal someone? I might sound unreasonably paranoid, but if you've played Sniper Elite V2's multiplayer as much as I have, you begin to realise the evil that could inhabit every bush.
This is because of the particular ruleset used on a server I've found: instakill, no bullet-drop, and no running. Not even when a bullet whizzes so closely by that you can read your name on it. That means that when you find a spot that gives you plenty of coverage of the level but protects your buttocks from König's killshot, you stay there for as long as you can. Sometimes it's a grave. Sometimes it's the remains of a bombed-out church tower. Sacrilege takes second place to safety. It's a ruleset that legitimises that otherwise unforgiveable sin of multiplayer shooting: camping.
It turns what was already a slowly paced game of sniping into something almost Zenlike. Where you lie has as much significance as how steady your aim is. I am one with the bush. I am the bush. The bush and I are quantum-entangled.
The scope of my rifle sweeps across the land, hoping to catch a Stahlhelm poking out, or find a foot fumbling for purchase. That's all you need. A pixel or two. A shadow. I click up the zoom level of my T-99, take a breath (in the real world and also by pressing 'E' in-game) and follow my bullet through the air. It doesn't matter if it's from 10 metres or 200 metres, every kill feels like a victory.
What makes it interesting is that others are playing the same game. If there's a server full of 12 people, all hidden, cowering in corners and barely moving, how do you know what to snipe? The clue is in 'barely moving'. When prone players shift their view, even just a tiny fraction, the entire character model moves. It's that movement that gives you the best chance of spotting someone. Shift your shoulder, the tiniest movement possible, and it could mean death. It has for me so many many times.
But learning to spot that movement takes time. The levels are gorgeous, animated marvels. Beautiful in the way only a destroyed city can be. Smoke boils out of fires, embers leap into the air, and torn flags cast rippling shadows that you need to absorb and make a part of the background detail. You need to get a feel for it all, and then to disregard it. Nazi-sympathising inanimate objects are everywhere.
While watching a green field from the broken roof of a bombed-out museum, I've discovered reserves of patience I thought had long since evaporated. Somewhere out there, among the trees and ruts, behind the crates and tanks, sunken in a crater, is someone. Finding signs of life in all that, and it could be 1% of a helmet spotted 250 metres away as it shifts a centimetre, is glorious. It wouldn't work if the game's draw distance was shoddy, but with the right kind of thousand-yard stare you can see the waggle of a gun rifle a map-length away.
When every movement can feel like you're setting off a firework display that writes 'I'm Here' in rockets, popping up to shoot someone is a tough decision. You're only in that position because you spent the time crawling to get there. What if this act of assassination is the one that gives your position away? Death comes quickly and from every conceivable angle. You'll often not even know where the shooter was.
With such a precise method of killing, things can also go hilariously wrong. At one point I accidentally hit 'F', which selects whatever trap you've highlighted, and bent down to place a landmine. Just above me a brick spat out a puff of debris. I'd accidentally ducked out of a bullet's path. That puff of dust told a hell of a story. It bloomed out from the brickwork the second I broke my cover, so I could be sure I was being tracked. I'd been crawling through a warehouse, the broken walls offering players across the map only a brief glimpse of movement, enabling me to be traced but not shot. Maybe I wasn't even visible, only my shadow betraying me? Then, ridiculously, I'd popped up. All that careful shuffling undone with a keyboard fumble that both exposed me then saved my life.
I dropped again and didn't move for minutes, trying to imagine what I'd be doing in my opponent's place. I'd be as still as I could possibly be. I'd just wait. The rest of the world would melt away as I kept my aim on that few square metres. I'd probably grin the grin of a man who's got a high-powered rifle and a target that knows even a shrug of a shoulder means death.
I expect that's what he was doing when another sniper's bullet zipped in from the side, shooting the land-mine that was my curse and saviour, and blowing me sky-high. It set off an odd chain reaction that seems unique to Sniper Elite's multiplayer: the guy that shot me exposed himself enough to die, then the guy that shot him was caught out as well. All told, three people made the mistake of moving an inch to take a life. At least I took a few people with me, even if it was indirectly.