I walk into a large conference room late, having dealt with a parking lot maze. As I enter, I spot a television well into a demo -- a bullet ejects from a Springfield rifle, time slows following it to an enemy, and cuts through a Nazi soldier like a chainsaw through a stick of butter.
Reps from developer Rebellion and publisher 505 Games are huddled over the monitors, showing off Sniper Elite V2, a reboot of Rebellion's 2005 Sniper Elite for PC, PS2, Wii, and Xbox. The demo, I'm told, had only just started. "We get right into the action," a PR spokesperson tells me. But the action in Sniper Elite V2 isn't about quick progression through its Battle of Berlin setting -- it is methodical.
"This is not a run and gun game," Rebellion's head of creative Tim Jones explains. "You have to mark targets and plan ahead." Using a set of binoculars, it's possible to mark all targets in an area, placing a waypoint above their heads. When planning against a heavily fortified area, this tactic is essential. Whether enemies are patrolling an area or hunting a player down after being spotted, setting these markers ensures soldiers cannot get the 'drop' on you.
The single-player level is Schoenberg Convoy, tasking players to assassinate a scientist before he can rendezvous with Axis leaders. Though players begin the mission on the streets, it's essential to gain the high ground against enemy forces.
Buildings have holes punched through them. Rubble and dust fills the area. Vehicles and bodies rest on cobblestone streets. The war in these sections have been all but won; held tightly by enemy hands. Your mission is to go where soldiers have already failed and attempt to unravel the twined fingers of evil that hold these positions.
After pushing through thick enemy lines, I place explosives on two predetermined spots on the streets before turning around and climbing through a bombed out building. As I make my way to a perch, an onscreen indicator alerts me that I have been spotted. The streets are silent. All that remains are the bodies I've left in my wake -- some of which I've moved behind cover. Buildings surround me.
The crack of a bullet whizzes past me. A sniper has pinpointed my exact location. I crouch down and move slowly through a building, rising in search of the enemy. In the distance I see light flickering off a scope. I push through to another room and look through the scope of my rifle. Far off, I spot a sniper on a roof. Having lost sight of me, he's crawling slowly to a new position in hopes he'll gain a better vantage point. The distance between us is great, meaning I cannot simply fire a perfect shot from the crosshairs of my scope. Sniper Elite V2 uses more realistic systems for long range fire. I must compensate for bullet trajectory, gravity, wind.
Though it all sounds complicated -- and Jones promises it will be in harder and custom difficulty settings -- all I need to do is tap the right bumper of the Xbox 360 controller, which steadies my aim and forms a contracting red diamond on the screen. This diamond shows me exactly where my bullet will land. I lock the shot into place and fire.
The screen pulls away and follows the bullet from barrel to bad guy. My shot is so pristine that the game shifts into an X-Ray Mode -- similar to the one most recently featured in Mortal Kombat -- as it hits the sniper. My bullet punctures just above the right eye and exits through the prone adversary's back. Another shot during a later part of the demo shows an enemy's kidney exploding after a shot ricochets through another soldier.
After setting up for a convoy, I put my plan into action: fire at one explosive pack I've left behind, destroying the lead vehicle; fire at the exposed gas tank of a supply truck; and shoot the targeted Nazi scientist in the back of the head as he exits his vehicle in fear.
Sniper Elite V2 features a number of cooperative-focused multiplayer options, including the entire game being available for two-player co-op, a wave-based mode dubbed Kill Tally, a sabotage mode called Bombing Run, and Overwatch.
Overwatch puts one player in the role of a spotter and another as a sniper. The spotter tags enemies as they appear and the sniper attempts to clear a path for the spotter -- armed with a pistol and assault rifle -- to complete objectives. In the level I played -- called Opernplatz -- it was up to a game rep playing as spotter to enter a building and capture equipment necessary to destroy a target. As he entered the building it became much more difficult for me to cover him, leaving me only to relay enemy positions as they entered a building and made their way up three flights of stairs. Throughout the entire experience we were in constant communication, splitting the onslaught of enemy forces between us. It was superb.
There are a few concerns however. Sniper Elite V2 has no melee option, so coming face-to-face with a hidden enemy will almost certainly result in death, leading to trial-and-error style replaying. Also, you can't shift your body position, meaning you'll have to expose your entire body when exiting behind any structure to the right side of the screen. I asked about these two items, but it doesn't sound like changes are coming. Stealthy types may also be disappointed that there doesn't seem to be any way to avoid enemy contact when hunting down a single target.
The build of Sniper Elite V2 I played was, graphically, rough around the edges. Images released for the game have been either cleaned up or came from a newer build. But there's a lot of promise here. I sense a lot of replayability from Sniper Elite V2's multiple modes -- including the ability to set you own custom difficulty, which gives players the options to turn on and off any assists the game includes.
Returning to World War II is a welcome change in a generation currently filled to the brim with modern-day shooters. If Rebellion can stay on target, Sniper Elite V2 could end up surprising a lot of players.