Hello dear readers of Artistry in Games. Today we begin a new journey, you and I. We’re going to venture into a dark and mysterious realm most of the gaming press forgets of or simply pretends doesn’t exist. A world that I merely grazed with my previous article The Other Multiplayer. Every two weeks from now on, we’re going to dive headlong into a chosen title’s multiplayer. We will not be covering traditional multiplayer games like Starcraft, Call of Duty, or DOTA 2. No, instead we’re looking in exactly the opposite direction. It doesn’t matter if it’s a AAA or indie game, what matters is finding those online communities that have stood the test of time. Those gamers who keep playing games long after the normal expiration date. We’re going to analyze why they survived, how the community has held together for so long, and what makes these titles stand out from the crowd. Most of them will be from before 2013, with rare exceptions of cult-hits or critical misses that somehow still remain active. The games we’ll be seeing might not be great, or even good, but we’re going to find out why they are Still Alive!
First on our list is none other than Sniper Elite V2 on PC. Now, it should be noted that this game got a bit of a shot to the arm thanks to the free release of it for 24 hours on Steam to promote Sniper Elite 3. That said, considering how few servers I found populated, I don’t think it had that much impact. At most active, around 12 servers are still up and running thanks to the game’s player base. The ability to host custom servers also means plenty of unique rules, something you rarely see these days outside of games like Warhawk. The game also has no form of progression system, instead favoring a basic loadout with what you can use being determined server-side. This can range from rifles and pistols only, with limited supplies, to having everything unlocked to allow for more chaotic battles. It all sounds very good and shows Rebellion understands how PC gamers like to have their multiplayer. Unfortunately, that’s when the gameplay waltzes in like a drunken best friend, who you know means well but just keeps s******* everything up.
To understand why some people keep coming back is to understand what they are putting up with and how they’ve overcome it. The problem with Sniper Elite V2’s multiplayer isn’t that it is horrible per-say, but that its game design and execution is questionable at best. Let’s start with a key fundamental: respawns. Respawning in and of itself is a fairly simple concept. You run out, die, and respawn at either a predefined location on the map or wherever your enemies are least active. Except Sniper Elite V2 doesn’t do this. Numerous times, it respawns you within twenty meters of where you last died, some positions even blatantly open for getting killed at the same angle.
This means that, especially on some maps, spawn camping is so frequent you start to feel bad for anyone on the opposing team. This is even worse considering this is a sniping game, so if your opponents have a good lead on you in that corner, and there’s only one way out, I sure hope you enjoy bullet sandwiches. That is, except for one instance in which I respawned less than five feet away from where I died. Less than five feet, and the player who killed me just ran up and killed me again. This is game breaking for modes like Team Deathmatch, where the very objective is nothing but taking pot shots at your opponents. Some maps really have an issue with this, like the rail yard map and the bombed out town map.
So why do players put up with this kind of mistake? Well, as you can see from the above screenshot, there are still a few active clans in the game. Most of the ones I encountered didn’t speak English, so I couldn’t really gauge why they were still playing through conversation. Those who did speak English mainly threw around vulgarities, save for one match where I had some genuinely cooperative teammates.
Most of the average players in Sniper Elite V2 fell into two categories, and I’m going to warn you now that these two types of players are going to show up a fair amount in this series. The “Pro Who Can’t Stop” and the “Newb Who Just Bought the Game”. The Pro is someone so good at the game that if it were something like Call of Duty, he’d have every achievement and in-game toy unlocked. The Newb is some poor gamer on a budget or just a casual browser through the used/cheap games market who thought the title sounded interesting, and decided to venture online. When these two types of players collide, it ends up resulting in The Newb leaving, but there are almost always guaranteed to be more like him or her that will be target practice for The Pro. Since the game’s major fanbase of novice to moderate players will either have moved on to new games and/or the sequel, Sniper Elite 3, this means only the die-hards and the unsuspecting victims are left to populate servers. The buffer that kept games balanced and made skill advancement easy are gone.
Moderates are sadly the first to go in most cases of alternate multiplayer venues, as they plateau at a certain level and move on. I’d know, I’ve been one of them in a few cases. For example: I was heavily into Assassin’s Creed 4, but I never made it past rank 43 due to time limitations and a declining interest resulting from that. Now I debate every now and then getting back in, but the one other thing that keeps a moderate from getting back into a game is when their skills have declined. They lack the refinement they used to have, the games feel different and they just don’t have the same kind of fun with it anymore. It effectively creates a hard to breach barrier of relearning most of the skill curve, which makes what was once an exciting progression into a tedious climb back up to your original skill level.
For The Pros, this isn’t a problem as they’ve kept playing to the point where the game is almost automatic. They know every map, every weapon, every perk, and every strategy that you can think of, and they’ll laugh as they mow you down. They might have figured out a strategy through pure repetition that gets them out of a spawn-camped zone. They know what rifles they can get the most kills with even while running around. The level of comprehension these players have is staggering, and whether they realize it or not, it actually further increases the difficulty for everyone else. For themselves however, it’s a blast, so they keep coming back. They can laugh at you, insult you, and get their kicks, and from all that I can tell, this subset of Pros is what’s keeping the game alive, with their feed drip of random Newbs every so often cropping up.
Now, the game also comes with a number of cooperative modes where two snipers can team up online, but to date I only found one other person in the matchmaking lobby. Unlike the competitive modes, everything is handled very “console multiplayer style”, with no server browsing, and just an overall lack of functionality to the interface. This makes sense since the co-op was made for consoles and PC (competitive multiplayer was added post-launch to the console versions), but it just seems silly to make it so hard to find a partner. It got to the point where I had to have one of our own writers join me to test out the rest of the modes available. Once again, while Rebellion tried very hard to create some compelling game types, even if they all kind of blurred together due to the monotonous enemy design and small levels.
One mode has only one sniper, with the other player working as a spotter who only can carry a pistol and SMG. Another is just like traditional horde mode, but with AI snipers spawning in buildings, and levels dynamically opening up a little here and there as you reach certain waves. You can even play through the entire campaign with a friend, although the game does very little to even signify the other player’s presence. Not only do cutscenes use the singleplayer hero, but some levels are just not designed for co-op. Just like every other aspect of the game, it just lacks any sort of flavor or real staying power. There’s a brief thrill of sniping enemies left and right, but by the tenth wave of the same N*** soldiers, I was even more bored than in the competitive mode. At least “pro sniping” repeatedly gets your heart pumping — co-op does the exact opposite and removes practically any tension the game had going for it.
As far as living goes, this isn’t how a multiplayer game should go out. To quote the Doctor Who, Dalek, “This is not life! This is… sickness!” I really hate having to say that for my first game but… I just can’t really find a reason this game should still be even as active as it is. It seems to be surviving by sheer force of will from its old guard, and if they want to do that, they are welcome to. It’s just one of the least favorable ways for a multiplayer game to go out. Resistance 3 had the exact same problem until right before being shutdown, as a lot of players came back for one last hurrah and rebalanced the playing field. I don’t expect we’ll see a similar thing in Sniper Elite V2‘s case though. I’m not even sure if I want it to.
The heart’s still beating, but it’s grown shriveled, old, and bitter. Best put it out of its misery before it starts to decline further.
Lessons To Be Learned
Sniper Elite V2 is a prime example of why solid execution is just as important as proper porting. The game is a decent port and the multiplayer was clearly built with PC in mind. This doesn’t change the fact that the game’s multiplayer level design is severely lacking, that core mechanics aren’t well implemented, or take away from the fact that there’s no attempt to add longevity to the game. You can’t simply throw together some maps, a few game types, and expect it all to magically fit into place. You need to polish the experience, and you need to understand what you need to change in multiplayer to fit your genre and focus. Spawn camping should never be an issue, especially not in a sniping game.
Worth Digging Up?
Nope. Not unless you already own a copy and really, -really- can’t play Sniper Elite 3: Afrika for some reason.
Dead Space 2