Sniper Elite was, in the words of Rebellion's CEO and creative director Jason Kingsley, a game “many more people have heard of than actually played.” The tactical thirdperson shooter was set during World War II, with the player sneaking and sniping his way through the Nazi army while trying to discover the secrets of the atomic bomb.
You're peering down that same sniper's gun sights this time around, but now World War II is drawing to a close. The Nazis are almost defeated, the Soviets have invaded Germany, and it's V2 rockets that you're investigating this time around – hence the name. “[The end is] the most interesting part of any war,” quips Steve Hart, Sniper Elite V2's producer. “You're just this lone wolf engaging two separate armies for your own gain.”
Since the first game was released in 2005, manshoots have fallen in love with modern combat. For publisher Rebellion though, the WWII setting remained a perfect fit. “It's one of the more modern wars where it's clear who the enemy are, and it's a just fight,” says Kingsley. Vietnam, Korea and the Gulf War were touted, but the blurriness of just who the good guys are in these conflicts made Rebellion stick to the good old bad days.
Rebellion are keen to stay away from the entrenched, closed level design that defines modern shooters in favour of more open levels. The pre-alpha build I saw was set in crumbling Berlin, with multiple paths the player is free to move between. When you've found your angle of approach, you'll take out most enemies in the same way: lift scope, and shoot them in the head.
It's here that Sniper Elite V2 plays its trump card, with a close-up X-ray vision of the bullet shattering vertebrae or ripping the crown off the bad guy's head. It's giddily gory stuff, and it's procedurally generated so no two bullet hits are the same. Hart's team have seen about 125 animations, but they reckon there are over 500 ways for the bad guys to get hit by a bullet.
Rebellion haven't stopped at necks and heads. They've gone to the extent of including testicles in the X-ray animation. If you shoot them in just the right way – presumably from behind while they're on all fours – their man-eggs will rupture and split open. No one has fetishised the effects of bullet on body like this since Soldier of Fortune, and it's equally as discomforting.
Those nutshots, which are sure to guarantee the game's infamy, aren't the only thing that'll change each time you play. The AI will respond differently to threats depending on where you're coming from, and multiple routes ensure you'll always find a different way of approaching them.
Despite Rebellion's colourful take on combat, the team are keen to ensure that the setting and events are as realistic as possible, pointing out that snipers were – and are – the most horrible people in any war. “They're mad, quite sick,” says Hart. “And this is why they ate alone – even their own hated them.”
Those snipers employed cruel tactics that are readily available in the game. Shoot a soldier in the leg, and he'll lie there screaming as his comrades come to rescue him. “Shall I shoot now?” asks Hart. “No, I'll just wait. Let's give them that sense of hope. And just as they're about to come in – now! – and you get that epic kill cam.”
Sniper Elite V2 will be self-published by Rebellion on the PC, which Kingsley reckons will bring in more money for the company as well as providing a fluid experience for PC gamers. “It's frustrating as a developer and a game player to not be able to change something that you know needs changing,” says Kingsley. “We can now, and we are going to be supporting it.”
Although the sniper genre is intrinsically limited, it's a good match for Rebellion, who can put all their efforts into a polished experience. It's a nice riposte to current shooters too, with Rebellion returning to the battlegrounds where Call of Duty and Battlefield were conceived.