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.