The Sniper Elite series has come a long way over the years. The 2005 original was rough around the edges but built on an effective concept: a WWII-era stealth action game with a focus on long range marksmanship and life like bullet physics. By 2017’s Sniper Elite 4, the series had earned its stripes as one of the best stealth games you’ll play, complete with vast, open maps, a wealth of options to approach any given situation, and production values that are second to none.
Sniper Elite V2 Remastered is a throwback, not quite to the series’ humble origins, but to 2012’s Sniper Elite V2—itself a sort of remake, sort of sequel of the first game. Though it admittedly shows its age now, even in its remastered form, it’s still a great game in its own right. But perhaps more significant than that—for me, at least—it’s a chance to see where a lot of the ideas that are now synonymous with Sniper Elite got their start.
It was in V2 that Sniper Elite introduced its infamous X-ray bullet cam feature. Sometimes, when you hit a killing shot to the head or a vital organ, you’ll see a slow-motion view of the bullet travelling from your rifle towards the target, before ending with an X-ray of the bullet’s impact through the skull, heart, or what-have-you. It’s purely superficial, and you can turn it off if you want to, but there’s no doubt that it’s part of Sniper Elite‘s identity. There’s also something morbidly satisfying with watching the gory results of a well-placed shot to a Nazi cranium.
On a more practical level, Sniper Elite V2 introduced the “last known position” mechanic, which fundamentally changes how you approach the game. When an enemy spots you—and that’s a question of “when”, not “if”—and you manage to break line of sight, you’ll see a white silhouette of the last place they saw you. So long as you avoid getting spotted again, enemies will work on the assumption that you’re somewhere near that silhouette, giving you room to find a better position from which to fight back. Stealth in Sniper Elite isn’t so much about a pure ghost approach, but about misdirection and using enemies’ own AI against them, and the last known position system plays a big role in that.
Sniper Elite V2 also saw the introduction of enemy tagging, a system through which you can mark enemies and track their movements, even when they’re out of your line of sight. Needless to say, this is immensely helpful when you’re trying to plan a stealthy approach, but more than that, it helps to drive home the game’s slow, methodical approach. Before long, you’ll find yourself stopping before each new area, pulling out the binoculars, and tagging as many foes as you can see—training you to get into the vital stealth game habit of scoping out a situation before deciding how to approach it.
If you’ve played any of the later Sniper Elite games, none of this will be new; indeed, both systems have become commonplace in a wide variety of games, and Sniper Elite can’t claim to have invented either of them. But, as an artifact of video game history, it’s fascinating to see how these systems were first introduced here, before the later games could hone them, expand their scope.
What hasn’t changed, right from the very first game, is Sniper Elite‘s commitment to realistic ballistics. Unless you’re playing on easy mode or a custom difficulty with bullet physics turned all the way down, you’ll have to factor in things like wind and bullet drop; it’s not enough to just line up the sight and assume your bullet will go where the crosshairs are aimed. There are some optional assists to help with making those calculations, and whether or not you make use of them, it’s a welcome additional layer to the strategy of sniping.
Things like heart rate and breathing also affect the accuracy of your shots. If you run around too much, or find yourself pinned down by a hail of gunfire from a turret, your heart rate will rise, making it more difficult to keep your aim steady. On the other hand, you can temporarily hold your breath to help keep your sights still—but only if your heart rate is sufficiently low enough. (Just try holding your breath after a 100m sprint, compared with when you’re resting!)
This, again, encourages a methodical approach, since running everywhere will just mean spending more time sitting around waiting for your heart-rate to drop, but it also adds an interesting dynamic to the cat-and-mouse gameplay. Inevitably, you’ll find yourself spotted by enemies and forced to scramble for a hiding place, and trying to manage your heart rate as you do adds a new element to that.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference between Sniper Elite V2 Remastered and the later games in the series is the level design. Compared with the open, sprawling maps of Sniper Elite III and Sniper Elite 4, V2‘s are relatively narrow and smaller in scale. They’re not purely linear affairs, mind—you’ll still usually have multiple routes forward, and winding, intertwining passageways that connect in ways that you can really use to your advantage if you take the time to learn your way around—but neither are they the wide-open sandboxes of later games.
In some ways, this is a shame; one of the best things about Sniper Elite 4 in particular is just how much freedom you have in how you approach each situation, and how big a role things like map position play. On the other hand, it has its benefits: even on the first run, you wouldn’t typically take more than 20 or 30 minutes to complete a mission, making V2 much more suited to quick play sessions than the later games, where it’s not unusual to spend upwards of an hour on each level.
That said, some of the bonus missions, which were DLC for the original release but are included with the Sniper Elite V2 Remastered package, offer much more open maps. Of these, “Assassinate the Fuhrer” is probably a high point—who doesn’t want to have the chance to assassinate Hitler and change the course of history—but all four DLC levels offer exciting new challenges.
As much as Sniper Elite relishes in its grisly Nazi-killing violence, there’s also an element of introspection in the games. This was most pronounced in Sniper Elite 4, where you’d discover brief personal bios of enemy soldiers while tagging, driving home their humanity—not everyone who fought for Italy or Germany in World War II did so because they were enamoured with the repulsive ideology of the Fascists or Nazis; many just did so out of desperation, or because they were conscripted, or because of the propaganda they were sold.
Sniper Elite V2 doesn’t go to those same lengths to look at the horrors of war (even as it relishes in the violence of such a war), but you can see the seeds of the sort of that sort of thinking. The game takes place almost entirely within Berlin during the final days of World War II, by which point the city had been bombed to hell and back. Even as you hunt Nazis, the backdrop is a constant reminder that German civilians also suffered horrifically from the war—a perspective that’s easily lost in other games that take an “Allies good, Germany bad” approach to history.
Compared to the likes of the more recent games, Sniper Elite V2 Remastered admittedly shows its age in superficial ways—no matter how much you remaster it, a game from 2012 is never going to look as good as one that pushed graphical boundaries in 2017. But so long as you don’t go in expecting Sniper Elite 4, V2 has plenty to offer. It’s a great game in its own right, but more than that, it’s a window into the history of one of the best stealth game franchises on the market.