Monthly Archives: November 2012

Sniper Elite 2 – A Great Game Hindered by Clunky Save System

Imagine yourself playing a WWII sniper, dug in, laying prone on a blasted out half-floor of a fourth story building.  You’ve just lined up a Nazi soldier a little over 150 meters away.  You hold your breath and go into “focus time” mode, slowing the world around you to a crawl.  Moments later, you pull the trigger.  The shot rings out.  But you miss the mark.  You hadn’t correctly compensated for bullet drop and the slight easterly wind.  You wing the target, who begins to run, hunched forward at a 90 degree angle.  Quickly, you raise your Springfield again, but in your haste your scope wavers.  Your shot hits the target square in the rectum, then rips through his body and destroys his heart.  All of this is shown in slow motion, X-ray view.  Despite the sloppy shot, a smile comes to your face.

The detail with which this game treats a well-placed (or even poorly-placed) shot is incredible.  If played on the hardest difficulty, EVERYTHING effects your shot.  Target movement, your heart rate, wind, and bullet drop.  The preparation that goes into taking a shot is meticulous. And the reward for a well executed shot is the brief cut scene in X-ray mode that illustrates in gory detail the sort of damage you just did to another human being’s body.  In one particular shot, I hit a soldier in the testicles.  Seeing his man-beans explode in slo-mo almost made me feel sick, but in a giddy sort of way.

As far as simulated sniper games go, Sniper Elite sets the bar.  You crawl prone through rubble and shadows, looking for a perfect vantage point, setting trip mines and land mines in case things go south and you have to defend your position.  You look for lone targets you can isolate and execute covertly, using mortar blasts or loudspeaker announcements to mask your shot, all in the hopes that when the enemies rush you, there aren’t too many to snipe all at once.  It emphasises that each encounter of each mission is a tactical puzzle to be solved.

Too bad this brilliantly designed game gets derailed by one of the worst checkpoint systems I’ve ever experienced.  While the game encourages slow, deliberately paced progress, much of your success can be undone by a single enemy that gets overlooked, or the fact that you had to travel across a well-lit area with no way of shooting out lights with your silenced pistol.  Now, purists might argue that this sort of punishing mechanic adds to the sim elements.  Whether you buy this or not depends on your level of patience.  I don’t mind trial and error gameplay, but in a game like this, spending 15 minutes quietly taking out a compound full of enemies with masked shots and stealth kills, only to have to do the EXACT same thing again due to a cheap death becomes tedious.

I’m of the opinion that checkpoint save systems in games need to be retired permanently.  Many games now play out with deep stories, and making progress should be like reading a book.  Have to stop playing right now?  No problem.  Save and exit.  Sniper Elite’s checkpoint system detracts from what is otherwise a fantastic game.  A player with extraordinary patience may be willing to overlook this, but an average player will simply quit playing after too many of these moments where a lot of progress gets undone.

One thing I will say to qualify this is that the checkpoint system flaws are mostly noticeable on the hardest setting, since getting discovered isn’t as much of an issue when you have pinpoint accuracy and can absorb more damage from the less aggressive AI.  But personally, I want to play it on the hard setting, since the sniping is more realistic.

Even with the savepoint flaws, there’s a great scoring system and some fantastic achievements for getting long distance shots.  Each kill you get has the stats tracked, and assigns score points.  You get massive scores for long shots, but next to nothing for simply kills with a Thompson or MP40.  It should also be noted, you get a very limited amount of ammo for your machine guns, so don’t expect to just run and gun through any part of this game.  You basically have enough ammo to deal with a few stray enemies.

Is the game worth playing?  Absolutely.  Try it on the hardest and see how it tests your patience level.  If it’s too frustrating, drop it down a notch and just have fun sniping Nazis with Call of Duty accuracy, not worrying about the sim factors.

The new, true cost of videogames

Game publishers often like to point out the fact that the price on their games hasn’t gone up in years.  And while this is technically true, the actual price most of us pay for complete games is going up all the time through DLC sales.  Publishers argue that they suffer immense financial losses due to both game trading, and to a lesser extent, game rentals.  Many ideas have been kicked around in hopes of addressing this situation.  I’ve heard everything from using codes in new games to unlock full content to making games available for download only.

While the industry fails to make up its mind on a definitive solution, one new trend seems to be gaining traction:  The Season Pass.  A number of high-profile games releasing this fall have announced DLC (downloadable content) on day one, coinciding with a season pass that gives gamers a 25% discount if they invest in the entire set of content.  What was most shocking this year, however, is the price of the passes.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and Forza Horizon both offered up passes for 4000 microsoft points, which can seem like an abstract amount until you convert it to the actual cost of around $57.00 (which can be less, provided you find a deal on MS points someplace).  The retail game costs you $59.99 on average, and then if you wish to have all the content that was held back from the retail game, the price nearly doubles.  In both cases, most of the content is geared toward multiplayer fans.  Black Ops 2 mostly includes MP maps and co-op Zombie mode content.  Forza’s content includes car packs and new race modes/areas.  In fact, if you don’t buy the DLC pass, there is a noticeably small number of cars compared to previous games.  Enough so, that I didn’t bother buying the new Forza game for the first time ever.

Borderlands 2 also offered a season pass for less money.  The cost was 2400 points, or around $40.00.  This cost covered 4 sets of story content, each offering around 10 to 15 hours of gameplay.  Shockingly, the Borderlands pass didn’t even include the Mechromancer class, which was available to anyone who preordered from selected retailers.  If you wanted that content, it would cost you another $10.00.

In each of these cases, the retail version of the game included enough content to make them worth the purchase, in my opinion.  I certainly don’t begrudge the publishers an opportunity to extend the life of their game through a trickle of DLC in the months following release.  However, it should be pointed out that this new trend effectively squashes the claims of publishers that game prices have stayed the same.

If you’re just a casual fan of shooters or racing games, would you have picked up either Forza Horizon or Black Ops 2 on day one if the price tag had said $120.00?  Chances are, no.  I read all about the Zombie content in Black Ops 2 prior to release, but when I got a chance to try the game first-hand, it seemed like there was a lot less than I’d been expecting.  So where was it?  In the upcoming DLC, of course.  For an additional $57.00.  Did I feel like I’d been duped?  A bit, yeah.

Maybe this is simply the new reality of gaming.  Publishers will look to fans who are willing to invest more deeply in the game.  Some PC titles do this.  The new Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic online game charges people $15 a month just to play (after buying the retail version).  Fans drop the coin without blinking.  One of the repercussions of this, however, will be a narrowing of the selection of games.  If people are investing $120 in a game, they’re going to give it more of their time.  This means that fewer and fewer new IP’s will see the light of day, and inevitably, a reduction in the amount of innovation we see within the industry.  And that’s not good for any game fan.