Sniper Elite V2 won't serve us well in any video game violence debate. "Honestly, games are wholesome and culturally important!" we'll cry as a slow-motion bullet rips through a Nazi's liver.
The big addition to this sequel of a 2005 original is a preposterous new killcam that activates every time you land a perfect hit. Think VATS from Fallout 3, only with more gruesome anatomy. You fire your shot and the camera whizzes along with the bullet, then shows a cut-away of your adversary's innards as they tear apart. Pleasant.
As ridiculous as it is (and, yes, it is utterly ridiculous), it's an oddly satisfying payoff for your sniping proficiency. As the name might well suggest, this is a game that does sniping wonderfully, painting it as a tense and skilled process that's more about readying yourself for the perfect shot than actually pulling the trigger.
Set during World War II, and in the aftermath of the first Sniper Elite, V2 leads you through a life of subterfuge as you sneak and deceive your way around enemy-infested cities and baddie-riddled factories. Missions tend to unravel in an established pattern: creep your way in, snipe some targets, sprint and blast your way back out.
My advice? Resist the urge to play on a low difficulty setting. Doing so leaves you with a bland and predictable shooter that offers no real incentive to press forwards. Start ramping up the challenge, though, and several important factors come into play. You'll need to steady your breathing. You'll need to consider the trajectory of the bullet, and any wind that might veer it off-course. And you'll need to compensate for any movements your target might make in the last second before you take the shot.
Cleverly, Sniper Elite V2 allows you to tweak specific difficulty options to your liking, which is helpful in a game whose harder settings pit you against properly ruthless AI. I found myself settling on the most complex sniping mechanics coupled with enemies of middling intelligence, so I still had to think about staying as silent and unseen, but didn't have one million troops all zeroing in on my position the minute my figure popped up in a distant window.
The game asks you to plan several moves ahead, inviting you to set traps that might assist you in your eventual and inevitable escape. There are also usually a couple of routes you can take around the game's large areas, though it's crying out for a little more flexibility at times. While you can booby-trap corpses or set up trip mines, that's about the extent of your sneaky skills. The game doesn't even register light and shadow, so while crouching makes you deadly silent, sitting down in broad daylight doesn't always expose you as much as it should.
A cover system is included, meaning there are plenty of chest-high obstacles to hide behind, assuming the game's decided you're allowed to hide behind that one in particular. They're most useful during V2's inevitable action sections, which generally leave a lot to be desired. The flaky, frantic and imprecise cover shooter you're forced to plod through at various points is a stretch away from the excellent sniping and passable stealth. These typical action moments didn't need to be here, and Sniper Elite V2 would have been a much stronger package had it focused purely on what it does well.
Outside of the main game there are single-player challenges and co-op play (only the PC version gets competitive multiplayer). The best distraction is an interesting take on the now-ubiquitous Horde mode, which sees you working to evade increasingly deadly waves of enemy soldiers, rigging traps and picking vantage points from which to most efficiently pick them off.
Ultimately, Sniper Elite V2 shoots itself gruesomely in the foot by frequently diverting you away from its best bits. On the 360 it's also a visually inconsistent game: grand views of city squares impress, but you'll be battling blocky geometry and muddy textures alongside Nazis and Communists. It adds up to a title whose heart is in the right place, but whose legs have been shattered by the bullet of bloated game design.
Version Tested: Xbox 360