This review was originally published in PC Gamer 241
Sniper Elite V2 puts you so far behind enemy lines that during its entire campaign you'll meet precisely one person who doesn't want you dead.
Two nations are out to get you. The Germans aren't happy because... well, because it's Berlin in 1945. They don't have much to be happy about. The Russians, meanwhile, are trying to capture the German scientists behind the V2 rocket. Your mission, as a American sniper, is to ensure a bullet greets those scientists before the Reds do.
Given the precariousness of his situation, it's hardly a surprise that the protagonist is a bit of a dick.
SEV2 delights in coldly calculating tricks. Catch a soldier off guard and you can snap his neck, booby trap his body with landmines, and wait for a concerned squadmate to run over to him. Or you could surprise patrolling guards by laying trip mines in doorways and corridors. Chuck a rock at the other end and they'll investigate the noise, their curiosity rewarded with explosions.
When you do unleash .30 calibre chaos, it's possible to take someone down with a non-fatal incapacitating shot. Your target's screams of pain will attract more soldiers to run in front of your crosshair. And if someone does spot you, just change position – a ghostly white image will show your last seen point – creating confusion and panic as the enemy fires impotently at nothing. Snipers, it seems, are the griefers of war.
The easiest option in any given situation is simply to camp behind cover and shoot anyone who comes into range, using the third-person perspective to check you aren't being flanked and the regenerating health to stay alive. That doesn't diminish the pleasure of conceiving and executing a plan: put the effort in and SEV2 rewards you with the feeling of carefully thought-out mischief falling into place. Or at least, it does when it gives you room to manoeuvre. There's no consistency to the levels; the distance between each checkpoint feels like a standalone vignette in a series of unconnected sequences. The best are large open courtyards where distant falling bombs mask the sound of your rifle fire, allowing you to move and shoot unseen and unheard. The worst involve tight corridors, or narrow paths through winding streets, where the uncanny vision of enemy soldiers allows them to discover you before you're ready. In these moments the game devolves into a pop-up shooting gallery, punctuated only by the kill-cam animations every other shot.(opens in new tab)
Those kill-cams are an uncomfortable flourish. A successful killing shot triggers the camera to follow your bullet on its slo-mo journey from gun to soft vulnerable body, showing the resultant splintering bones and collapsing organs in X-ray squeam-o-vision. The lingering gratuity seems to miss the point of sniping in games. A skilful shot over long distance is a thing I want to feel good about. Perforating a man's lung isn't.
Fortunately the sniping itself is a satisfying challenge. Adjusting for bullet-drop and wind strength becomes second nature, to the point that a missed shot feels like the consequence of your own stress in tight spots. Even in the weakest moments, shooting enemies from range is enjoyable enough to carry it. That the game so often falls back on this, however, shows some serious structural flaws with the level design. Ultimately Sniper Elite V2's linearity gets in the way of the danger and tension that its campaign attempts to evoke.