Sniper Elite V2’s sales success: a victory for diversity
Sniper Elite V2 received number ones across the world last week, and it is now sitting on a healthy 77 Metacritic rating. This is a remarkable achievement for developer Rebellion and publisher 505 Games for a few reasons.
First of all, it has been seven years since the release of the original Sniper Elite on PS2. That game was a surprise hit and received multiple glowing reviews, but it was a different world back then. A core group of fans have stuck with the series, but the game may as well be a new IP for most.
It is also worth mentioning that this is a relatively niche genre, based around one mechanic, sniping. Sniping sections in games have the reputation of being both limited and occasionally boring. There is a good reason why there aren’t many sniping games on the market.
Nevertheless, according to John Merchant, global brand manager at 505 Games, the publisher always had confidence that there was a market for a more complete and realistic shooter experience:
“Call of Duty and Battlefield pushed sniping out there into the mainstream in recent years, and we knew that there was a real want for a game that could deliver a more complete cerebral and realistic shooter experience.”
It’s interesting to hear Merchant use those games to justify 505’s confidence, because Battlefield and Call of Duty are at the forefront of the current trend which sees developers competing to see who can include the biggest explosions, feature the most enemies and produce the most chaos.
The success of Modern Warfare 1 largely kicked off this trend in 2007, and you only need to see the difference between that game and Modern Warfare 3 in 2011 to find evidence of how far we’ve come in four years. The first game was full of cinematic action, but these sections were interspersed with more progressive, slower moments. The second game upped the ante by creating even more absurd scenarios, and the third surpassed all levels of ridiculousness. Car chases through London Underground, anyone?
Sniper Elite V2 avoids most of this, and instead focuses on precision, accuracy and strategy. Sure you get sniping in Battlefield, Medal of Honor and Call of Duty, but these games include sniping sections to offer players a moment of calm in amongst the chaos. I enjoy these rest periods but I’ve never once wished that these moments would make up a whole game. It was bold of Rebellion and 505 to go against this trend.
Rebellion had the difficult task of proving that sniping games can be varied and that slow doesn’t necessarily equate to boring. Not easy. We asked Merchant what he thought was the unique feature in Sniper Elite V2 that has allowed it to succeed, and he answered unequivocally: the killcam:
“The killcam had to be special – and if you have seen it, you know that the team delivered on that breathtakingly. More than anything we positioned the game NOT as a run and gun, but a world where every shot mattered, rather than spraying random bullets running through a level.”
They needed something bold to catch our attention, and Rebellion had this in abundance with their X-ray killcam. It is exactly how it sounds. If you fire a sweet shot, the game will enter slow motion so you can watch your bullet enter your enemy, tear through their skin, chip away at their bones and explode their organs.
It is as disgusting as it sounds, and even as a person who doesn’t shy away from gore, Sniper Elite V2 has made me wince on more than a few occasions. But it is brilliant. The only thing missing is a player cam, so we can watch the horrified reactions of players as they see their killcams.
The killcam is a marketers dream. The launch campaign was built around it with 505 releasing a number of killcam trailers. They caught our attention and made us want to try out the demo, which left us suitably impressed. It tore down the perception that sniping games are boring.
The killcam is not just a gimmick, either. It is essential for appreciating the game, because underneath the blood and gore (and exploding testacles) is a foundation of solid, physics-based gameplay. Sniper Elite V2’s advanced-ballistics models are just as good as Rebellion has claimed. This is a game where every bullet counts, and the killcam makes you value every shot.
505 has also thanked the retailers for their support during the launch campaign. The staff at GAME in Milton Keynes dressed up in WWII themed outfits for the launch. It signals how important high-street retailers are for the gaming industry. Activision and EA can afford to put an advert up at half time during the Super Bowl, but most developers need retailers to be selling their games to the public face-to-face.
The success of Sniper Elite V2 should be welcomed by all. With competition increasing all of the time and game budgets spiralling out of control, we’re often seeing publishers looking for the safer bets. This leads to the same franchises being released every year – same old, same old, just with a higher number on the end. This makes for a less diverse and exciting industry.
Sniper Elite V2 also gives us proof that there is an alternative to the run-and-game, over-the-top action that we’re being spoon fed by the majority of action games. These games have their place, but we are reaching the point where we are becoming desensitised to cinematic gameplay. It is a dead-end road. Rebellion has shown that there is demand for a different kind of experience.
They went to the nth degree to make Sniper Elite V2 unique. It is by no means a perfect game but it is a breath of fresh air and they have been rightly rewarded with sales success.