2005 was right in the thick of gaming's World War II obsession, and if you hadn't yet tired of smoky cow pastures, M1 Garands, and French horn soundtracks, then you might count yourself among the cult audience that surrounded Rebellion's tactical-stealth title Sniper Elite. Realistic bullet physics, canny AI, and innovative co-op made for a game that rewarded those patient enough to see it through. Now Rebellion has returned, bearing a full reboot of the original game and keen to see that new players come into the fold. We spoke with Rebellion's Creative Director Tim Jones about what their design goals are, and how additional content will make the game even better.
Darkstation: First off, would you take a moment to address the confusion related to the Ghost Warrior series and Sniper Elite? Are these games in any way related under the same “Sniper” banner?
Tim Jones, Creative Director at Rebellion: There is no link between Sniper Elite and Ghost Warrior.
DS: This is an update of 2005’s Sniper Elite, but the protagonist has changed from a Russian to an American. Can you elaborate on what fueled this change?
TJ: The protagonist, Karl Fairburne, is American in both the original game and Sniper Elite V2. [ed: Mr. Jones has caught me with my pants down here. I have no idea what led me to ask this, but let the record show that the protagonist has not changed.]
DS: What appeals to you about the Second World War setting?
TJ: Recently, there have been a number of high-profile military shooters set in modern times, so it’s refreshing to return to the World War 2 setting.
The more basic and mechanical level of technology in the weaponry means we can really focus on you, your gun and your scope. There were no computer-aided assists or laser sights available back in 1945, and I think those limitations mean that the experience feels more personal and direct than it might otherwise.
It’s a rich vein of history to explore too. In 1945, Berlin was reduced to little more than rubble – and that is reflected in many of the environments you have to negotiate in the game. There are haunting reminders amongst the ruins that normal families lived there before it was so utterly destroyed: you might stumble across a child’s cot or a gramophone among the dust and the debris that can make you stop and wonder at what was there before.
The specific period and location of Sniper Elite V2 is pivotal because it heralded the beginning of the Cold War – in which the temporary wartime alliance between the US (and its NATO allies) and the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany broke down, fuelling political and military tension that cast a heavy shadow over the world for decades to come.
DS: Sniping has a checkered reputation in gaming, people tend to think it’s either great or awful. In making it the primary element of this title, how did you leverage your approach to making a game that’s both fun and realistic? Do you feel like you’ve had to cleave to one side of that equation during development, or is that an unfair bifurcation?
TJ: When done right, sniping is undeniably one of the most compelling activities in shooter games. It was our goal to build on the aspects of sniping that proved really popular in our original game and bring them to a wider audience. Above all, the sniping had to be fun! Part of the fun comes from the attention to detail in the ballistics: accounting for gravity, wind, and breath-control. Another part – which is easily over-looked – is the preparation for the shot: sneaking into the perfect vantage point, booby-trapping vulnerable exits where you might get flanked, observing your targets before pulling the trigger.
These elements make it much more compelling than a simple point and shoot: when you’ve taken time to line up that perfect shot, it’s so much more rewarding than just letting the auto-aim kick-in and then pressing fire.
We keep hearing again and again from many players that they are tiring of the run-and-gun approach to shooters and are hungry for something with a little more depth. Sniper Elite V2 delivers that experience.
DS: Jumping off that last question, describe your efforts to ensure that players understand what Elite’s gameplay goals are. What’s it like to make a game that divests itself from popular shooter design while still using well-known gameplay mechanics?
TJ: It’s certainly a challenge. We’ve taken great care to introduce the necessary approach to combat in Sniper Elite in an intuitive manner. What we’ve found is that players take to it very quickly once they understand that running out into the open with a machine gun blazing will get you killed almost immediately!
DS: The original Sniper Elite was praised for its unvarnished portrayal of violence, yet V2 is already facing criticism for its inclusion of an anatomical “X-Ray kill cam.” What about this feature has compelled you to retain it amidst the detractors?
TJ: I would argue that we are exposing the physical reality of what happens when a bullet hits a human being. It is - and should be - shocking. To me, the sanitized and de-humanized approach to “taking out targets” in games like Call of Duty portrays the taking of life in an unsettlingly detached manner.
DS: The co-op in Sniper Elite was also an audience favorite. Will this mode return in V2, and what, if any, changes or updates have you made to it?
TJ: Cooperative multiplayer is absolutely returning in Sniper Elite V2. You can go online and play with a friend though all of the campaign missions together. We have also added three new cooperative game modes.
In Kill Tally, you have to survive against oncoming waves of enemies of progressive difficulty.
In Bombing Run, you have to retrieve items of equipment from around a map in order to repair your escape vehicle before the area is bombarded from the air.
In Overwatch, the two of you take different roles: one player is the Sniper and the other is the Spotter. The spotter has to complete mission objectives while marking out targets for the sniper to take out. It requires real teamwork and is possibly my favourite of all the modes!
DS: Finally, tell us about your bonus mission, “Assassinate the Fuhrer.” Will you be developing any more “What-if” scenarios or DLC post launch?
TJ: If you pre-order the game, you get access to the Assassinate the Fuhrer mission, in which you get the opportunity to take out Hitler himself before he boards a train in rural Austria. It is entirely separate from the main campaign story and – as you put it – a “what if” scenario rather than based in historical fact! But in a World War 2 game, Hitler has to be the ultimate target – and if you had the chance, would you take that shot?
That does it for our interview. If you're interested in the game, you'll be able to pick up Sniper Elite V2 on May 1st for the PS3, 360, and PC. And for a better look at just how shocking the physical reality of Rebellion's design can be, skip to the 15 minute mark of this video.