Game Review: Sniper Elite V2 Demo

Because I am a very strange man, I enjoy prowling YouTube for footage of computer simulations. And by strange, I mean stupid. The other day, though, I took a break from the usual neutron stars and such and decided to look into ballistics simulations. Did I mention that I was strange? Well, that led me to investigate Sniper Elite V2.

It so happens that I quite enjoy sniping in shooters, which is an excellent way to get accused of camping once every three seconds. If any military was ever dumb enough to accept my silly ass, I think sniper would be just about the only position I’d be qualified for (you know, apart from living target practice). Not a lot of running around (because, in spite of a gym membership, I still have the running stamina of the corpse of a ninety-year-old anemic grandmother) or depth perception required (which is nice, because, as I’ve complained before, I don’t have any depth perception).

I watched part of a video on YouTube, and thought SEV2 (which acronym looks like something from a horrible vanity plate) looked like fun. And as it so happens, the demo was on Steam, so I downloaded it. So began the awesomeness.

You play as an extremely generic action-hero type with a sniper rifle and an infinite supply of pebbles. You start out in a bombed-out German town during World War II, on the trail of a V2 rocket engineer (which explained the game’s bizarre title; I thought it was Version 2 of something at first). Your goal is to find him and kill him, but there are German soldiers prowling the streets. You can take them on with your trusty Thompson gun (insert Warren Zevon joke here), but you only have about twelve bullets for it, so you’d better do what it says on the tin and snipe the bastards.

I must say, the sniping in the game is absolutely excellent. Unless you play on the girly-man difficulty (and really, then, why bother?), you have to account for bullet-drop caused by gravity. On the hardest setting, you also have to account for wind. Your accuracy is affected by whether you’ve just been running, whether you’re being shot in the face (always affects my accuracy, let me tell you; after all, there can be only one Simo Hyähä), and, impressively, whether or not you’re holding your breath. Holding your breath sends you into bullet-time, which is a tired combat mechanic, but it really does work here.

Then comes the best part. If you’re a good enough shot, you’ll usually be treated to a fantastic little animation of your bullet whizzing out of your barrel (and I can’t tell you how pleased I am that they got the bullet’s shockwave more or less right, instead of just going for the Matrix BS of just having random ripples behind it; I am a nerd) and flying at your enemy. Then, when it hits them, oftentimes you get a cool little X-ray or anatomy-class-skeleton view of what your terrifying projectile is doing to their innards. I thought I was the king of everything when I managed to pop both of a baddie’s eyeballs with one bullet; then my friend came over and played it and managed to obliterate one’s scrotum and make me simultaneously cringe and feel inadequate. It reminds me of that Mortal Kombat game that came out a few years ago, where you got a very gratuitous X-ray of the bones you were breaking, except here, it makes more sense and is a lot more effective. If you’re lucky (blind luck every time, in my case), you can even nail the grenades on the enemies’ belts and make them blow the hell up. It’s pretty glorious.

There’s a decent amount of strategy to the game, too. Oftentimes, the enemy soldiers will be patrolling in large groups, and if you shoot and miss or even stand up from cover for too long, you’re liable to get turned into Leberkäse in a hurry. This is where the infinite supply of pebbles (sometimes) comes in handy: you can toss one to get the enemies’ attention and mislead them. At least I think you can. After a while, it started to seem like the only way to distract the German soldiers was to ping them right in the eye. You can take quite a few hits, even on the hardest difficulty, but the game definitely rewards slow, sneaky, snipery tactics, which is good in a game with “sniper” in the title.

Another thing I thoroughly enjoyed were the enemy snipers. They’re hard to spot and even harder to shoot, but if you’re paying attention, you can usually catch the glint of sunlight off the lens of their scope. Then, you have to pop up, take careful aim quickly, adjusting for gravity and wind, and pop off a shot before the sniper can shoot you. It’s a lot like that amazing sniper duel in Saving Private Ryan, doubly so when I managed to bullseye the bastard right in the eyesocket.

All that said, though, I don’t think I’ll be buying the full version, at least not in the near future. The first reason is that, for some insane reason, the full version currently costs US$50 on Steam. That problem is compounded by another one: the demo’s too damn short. You only get to play one very short mission in the demo, and that mission contains maybe fifteen enemies total. And the problems just keep piling up: rather than letting you cleverly snipe everybody, once you’ve fired your first shot, the enemies will realistically start running around, looking for cover and searching for you. I applaud that level of realism, but that really makes the sniping part finnicky and annoying, since you spend so much time waiting for the baddies to settle down. I guess I shouldn’t really call that a problem so much as an annoyance, since it’s how a sniper would actually behave, but when I just want to pick the game up and pop a couple of Nazis in the brain, it really dampens the fun.

The enemy AI is dull at best. They’ll occasionally take cover cleverly or manage to sneak past you into the building you’re hiding in, at which point you’d best shoot them with your silenced pistol or your twelve-bullet Tommy gun, but for the most part, they’re just goofy. I took out one enemy while he was stuck running in place behind a lamppost. And on top of that, I got a bonus for hitting a moving target. Who wasn’t, you know, moving. Also, since I speak a little German, hearing the AI talk to each other was like playing the otherwise-excellent Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, where the enemies’ entire vocabulary seemed to consist of “Search the area!” and “Spread out!” In the case of Sniper Elite, the AI constantly holler “Man down!” and “Find him!” They also fluctuate between extremely perceptive and wildly inattentive. In one section, you have to kill a soldier who’s standing in a window you need to snipe from. I shot him in the collarbone with my slow-reloading silenced pistol. I missed with my next shot while he spun around confused, looking like he suspected that the wallpaper had done it. He was just noticing me squatting un-subtly in the doorway when I shot him in his face.

I also get the impression that the sniping mechanic is all the game designers really cared about. The plot (or the tiny particle of it that you see in the demo) is simplistic and the writing is weak. In the first mission, you’re tasked with killing a V2 rocket engineer who’s carrying a not-quite-microfilm McGuffin thing which you must retrieve to find his evil scientist buddies.

And in spite of everything I said above about how fun the combat is, parts of it are piss-poor. Whenever you’re not sniping, you go into a third-person perspective, and I hate almost all third-person shooters. If you get pinned down and need to, for instance, mow down the approaching enemies with your Thompson, aiming is pretty much impossible unless you go into ironsight mode, which makes you walk like you’re stuck in molasses. And as far as the sniper sections are concerned, they’re very formulaic and uninteresting. The enemies spawn in the same places every time and their reactions are predictable. And, even though it’s awfully fun to watch your spinning bullet punch through an enemy’s skull and ricochet off the inside of his helmet and come tumbling out his neck, after a while, the constant switch to the cinematic kill-cam just starts to get dull. And even though you can shoot out a baddy’s eyeballs, pop both his testicles, shatter his ribcage, pierce his heart, lacerate his kidneys, and perform very approximate brain surgery on him, it doesn’t really have much of an effect apart from the score you get for the shot, which doesn’t seem to affect anything, at least in the demo. For the most part (and I must say, I applaud this nod to realism), a hit in the gut will stop an enemy just about as fast as a hit in the chest, and as long as you manage to nail the thick fleshy bit in the middle, the foolish human isn’t going to be sprouting any more foolish humans, or whatever it is humans do.

So would I recommend that you buy this game? Well, no. Download the demo. It’s free. It’s easy. Play it for a few days and see if you enjoy the combat. Do like me and wait to see if the price ever comes down. Of course, like I complained earlier, the demo really doesn’t give you much of a taste of what the whole game will be like, but it’s a starting point at least. All in all, I’d say that Sniper Elite V2 is consigned to the purgatory known only as Well It Was a Cool Concept. I can see it being a lot more fun as a sort of target-shooting type game, a fast-paced heavy-replay-value simulator like the amusing Stair Dismount and Truck Dismount, if you’re enough of a geek to have played those. It would be fun if it was just you in one building sniping one street full of soldiers and one building full of snipers. Then you could properly revel in the glory of giving your foes hot ballistic vasectomies. I’d say toss out all the fiddling around with planting bombs and throwing stones and killing evil mad scientists and just let me shoot Nazis and watch their ventricles go pop.

The Amateur Mad Scientist: Quarter-Ton Tomato

You may have noticed that front-loading washing machines are rapidly eclipsing the top-loading agitator variety that was once popular. This is a good thing for two reasons: front-loaders save on water, which is obviously good in these environmentally-conscious times. And two: they allow me to perform all manner of extremely unwise experiments. For you see, my 1985 vintage GE washer, original to my 1985 domicile, finally died. And now, I am equipped with a snazzy new front-loader. It uses a high-speed spin cycle to centrifuge the water out of clothes. It’s really quite hypnotic to watch. And, when it’s spinning at full speed, a little scary. For you see, according to the manual, the drum’s maximum spin speed is 1200 RPM. Yes. 1200 RPM. That’s twenty revolutions per second. Holy shit!

Before I go on to the really unwise part of the experiment, let’s do some quick math. Now, I measured a drum diameter of about two feet, which comes out to a radius of, let’s say, one foot. According to other sources, the maximum spin speed of a washer like mine is 900 RPM. To be on the safe side, let’s assume that, at maximum speed, the drum spins at somewhere between 600 RPM (10 RPS) and 1200 RPM (20 RPS). Centripetal acceleration is given by radius times the square of the angular velocity. Therefore, at 600 RPM, the outer edge of the drum is experiencing a centripetal acceleration of 1.203 kilometers per second per second, or about 122 gees. At 1200 RPM, the acceleration is a terrifying 490 gees. That is to say, under the most conservative estimate, my washing machine generates a hundred and twenty times earth’s surface gravity. I say again: holy shit. And I’d like to add: holy fuck!

Now, the first time I did this calculation, I started having all kinds of unwise ideas. I started wondering if I had any sufficiently compact friends I could coerce into climbing into the drum. I started scouring my neighborhood for particularly troublesome squirrels. Ultimately, I decided to test a tomato. I happened to have some tomatoes that were just moldy enough that I was afraid to eat them. Here’s our test subject:


Now, regular readers will be fully aware of the fact that I am insane. But my insanity has its limits. You see, as fun as it is to centrifuge fruits to death in a washing machine, I realized that at some point in the future I might like to do some laundry in my washing machine. That didn’t stop me from proceeding, by any means, but I decided that a watertight container was probably necessary.

I stuck the container in the drum, closed everything up, set the washer for a “Spin and Drain” cycle, and got ready. Our brave test subject had no comment, but he looked about as terrified as a tomato in a plastic bowl can.

I was a little nervous as the washer spun up to full speed. But I discovered that even my cheap-ass camera could take unblurred photos of the drum, which allowed me to confirm that the bowl hadn’t exploded everywhere and voided my warranty.

Notice the way the duct tape curves down towards the center of the lid. It wasn’t doing that when I first put it in. I guess that’s the effect of approximately 100-300 gees (remember, the force is less on the lid because the lid is closer to the drum’s center). But the container valiantly took the abuse. The same cannot be said for the tomato.

HOLY SHIT! Imagine that was your spleen or your brain or something. I’m glad I didn’t talk any of my cousins into that drum… Because 490 gees turns a 1-pound tomato into a 500-pound tomato (quarter-ton tomato! Get it! …sorry…) If I’d talked my 120-pound cousin into taking its place, that’d be 60,000 freakin’ pounds. But then, I might seriously void my warranty, so I’m glad I didn’t.

How Many Miles? -or- Weird Conversions Part 1

I love conversions and comparisons. How many ball bearings would it take to fill up the Empire State Building? If Jupiter was made entirely out of lead, how much smaller would it be?

Well, finally, the strange people at Wolfram (who are responsible for the ridiculously expensive and popular math software Mathematica), have created something to titillate this extremely weird and unproductive part of my soul. They call it Wolfram Alpha, and it is honestly a frightening piece of technology. You can, for example, ask it questions like “(mass of jupiter / density of lead),” and it will, in a flash, give you the answer. Which, as it turns out, is 167,400,000,000,000,000,000,000 cubic meters. And, like an obedient child or an extremely well-trained German Shepherd, it also serves up the tidbit that this volume of lead would have a radius of 21,244 miles, which, the link Wolfram Alpha provides will gleefully tell you is about half the radius of Saturn.

Because I am a sad and lonely man, I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time punching numbers into this thing and seeing what kind of funny stuff comes out. I can, through a simple multi-step process involving some shadowy calculations that I feel compelled to trust without question (Wolfram Alpha, as an extra feature, apparently comes with hypnotism), find out how large a cube of uranium weighing the same as me would be (distressingly large, is the answer). But sometimes, it comes up with slightly odd comparisons. Something might, for example, be said to have 0.25 times the mass of Earth’s atmosphere. Or, this little gem, which has spawned what may or may not turn into a post series of strange conversions and comparisons:

Don’t you go sticking your nose into why I wanted to know what 45,000,000 times 3 centimeters was, just take note of the bit at the bottom. Wolfram Alpha very helpfully pointed out that the result is 0.84 times the number of miles the Proclaimers would walk to fall down at your door. Which is a reference to this:

Every other weird comparison I’ve gotten has been, well, weird, but not quite as weird as this. And now, because, as I mentioned earlier, I am a sad and lonely man, I’m off to stick a lot of other weird numbers into it to see if it will tell me more odd facts about Scottish bands. And if it doesn’t serve up a reference to Harry Chapin’s 30,000 Pounds of Bananas, I shall write a scathing letter of complaint.

Remembering 9-11-2001

Today, on the ten-year anniversary of the day a very bad thing happened, I’m sending out my traditional plea:

Today, forget about politics. Agendas. Conspiracies. Strategies. Arguments. Today, simply remember that, ten years ago, a lot of human beings went to work in two skyscrapers, and some other human beings got on planes, and some of the human beings on some of those planes hijacked the planes and flew them into the skyscrapers. And as a result of what those human beings did, a lot of human beings have died in the ten years since. Learn from the hijackers’ mistake: they learned to forget that the people on the planes they hijacked and the towers and buildings they attacked were people. Today, learn from that terrible error. Never forget that every other human body who walks or crawls around the world is inhabited by a person. We must learn never to de-humanize another person. We must never write another person off as insignificant.

And we should take this opportunity to remember that life is precarious. It might have been you or I on one of those planes, or in one of those buildings. Or it might be you or I who dies in a car crash today or tomorrow, or dies of a heart attack. In the memory of the people who died on September the 11th, cherish life, and remember that, no matter how bad or good it seems, the fact that you are alive is a gift, and it can be withdrawn at any moment.

What Have I Become?

It all started out innocently enough. After my last nervous breakdown, during recovery, my parents gave me an old scuffed-up aquarium, which I proceeded to fill with dirt and old leaves and rotting plywood. And pillbugs. For a while, it was fun to watch them breed and run around and poke each other and chew on my fingers when I picked them up, but soon, I wanted more. So, when I wasn’t busy with my Modern Algebra class, I spent many irrational hours sifting through leaflitter in my parents’ back yard (my own back yard being not quite large enough to house a single moth) looking for millipedes. Then I was peeling the bark off dead trees, on the hunt for the big scary centipedes that lived back there.

When I got what laughably counts for my sanity scraped back together, I returned to my home with my aquarium of extremely well-fed, pampered pillbugs and millipedes in tow. But I’d caught a bug–sorry, that was terrible–and there is no cure. I’d fallen victim to that little-known scourge: invertebrate addiction. I’ve always liked invertebrates. So few of them are nasty and hairy, and they never call me “psycho kid” or yell at me because there aren’t any dry towels or make funny faces when I ask them on dates. Unfortunately, the cephalopods–my very favorite class of invertebrates, on account of including the nautilus, the cuttlefish, and the octopus, any one of which is probably smarter than I am–are practically impossible to keep in captivity, and I’m the kind of half-autistic obsessive-compulsive who likes his nature in a very neat rectangular container where he can poke at it at whenever he likes. And, being so intelligent, I figured it would be pretty cruel to keep an octopus or a squid in my tiny-ass house (tiny ass-house), so I went looking for another kind of invertebrate that I could keep in my tiny-ass house.

It was then that I discovered snails. I’d added a few snails to my terrarium when I was first setting it up, but I soon learned of a much larger, much less everyday variety: the apple snails. Good old Pomacea diffusa. And then I sighed melodramatically and thought “Aw gee…I could never afford an aquarium to keep them in…” But then one day, I was at the petstore. And I saw snails running around their fishtanks. They had tentacles growing out of their faces and eyes without pupils and sharp teeth and iridescent orange marks on their sides, and they were cheap, and I bought five. And, because I am an idiot, tried keeping them in a gallon Mason jar. They reacted poorly, but my parents, probably worried that I was going to destroy the entire animal kingdom at this rate, gave me a little ten-gallon aquarium as a birthday present. And I, being, once again, an idiot, thought “Filtration? Filtration’s for weaklings!” The snails disagreed. So, several hundred gallons’ worth of water changes and about fifteen dead shrimp later, I had an aquarium, inhabited by nothing but snails and shrimp.

But I wanted more. I couldn’t settle for just one kind of snail, I wanted all species of snail. Soon, I discovered that the tanks at the petstore were infested with Malaysian trumpet snails, cute little invasive bastards who like to dig in sand and pop up as if to say “Fuck you, I’m a snail, I go where I want!” And the petstore, pretty much at their wits’ end on how to get rid of them, happily gave me twenty for free. And on a later visit, they, with a mischievous look in their eye that I didn’t recognize, happily gave me five common pond snails, the deadly scourge known as the European physa.

Then, my first snails laid eggs, providing me with my next novelty fix for a while, but after the eggs hatched, I had more snails than I knew what to do with, and so I emptied out a second terrarium I was starting and turned it into an aquarium just for overflow snails. And my parents, glad that I finally had a hobby that didn’t involve vivisecting woodland creatures, happily gave me a seventy-five gallon aquarium that used to house our dear boa constrictor. I turned it into a terrariaum. I bought hermit crabs and pestered them endlessly, trying to get them to snuggle with me like little hard-shelled kittens. Then, as always happens in the summer, I found my house overrun with field crickets, which I immediately caught and forced into slave labor, that slave labor being the endless manufacture of insectile cuteness.

And the other day, it finally occurred to me what I’ve become. When I was younger, I played Pokemon on the good old GameBoy. And there was always that one pain-in-the-ass bastard who hung out at the edge of the tall grass, waiting for some hapless beginner to wander through, all his Pokemon half-dead from the endless battles with pigeons and caterpillars in the dreaded Tall Grass, and then sprang out and challenged said trainer to an inescapable battle, at which point he would deploy fifteen fucking caterpillars and kill all your Pokemon.

Well, I realized the other day that I’ve become that guy. I’ve become some bizarre real-world analogue to the tall-grass Pokemon bastard. I am a collector of strange animals. All that remains now is for me to put them in little containers and walk around looking for someone else who happens to have their own container of water snails and challenge them to a duel. All I have to do is wait…

Spawn More Overlords!

Bam! You just looked at a picture of two snails having sex! It’s like a Rickroll, except it makes you want to wash your eyeballs and move into a monastery! I would just like to congratulate the snail on the right. He (yes, he; not all snails are hermaphrodites, trolls…) has been..spreading the love at least once a day for the last two weeks. Which is more action than I’ve gotten in the last year. Which, considering I have an aquarium full of snails and take pictures of them boinking, isn’t really too surprising. Sooo lonelyyy… Anyway, that snail is awesome. In spite of the fact that, out of the four females in the tank, all but one (the other snail in the dirty, dirty picture above) are at least twice his size. Does he let that stop him? No! Is he dissuaded by the fact that the other snails are more or less uninterested in his runty ass? Of course not! Does he let go when they maneuver under low-hanging objects in an attempt to bash him off their backs? No way José! Like the emperor Caligula or a that one guy in high school, he will not rest until he’s fathered at least a thousand bastard children. (Which really, is unfair to the snail; lacking a concept of matrimony, they really have no distinction between legitimate and illegitimate offspring. You judgmental bastard.) Anyway, kudos to him! I’ll leave you with this:

Or, (and with many apologies to Allie Brosh, whose blog is much better than mine):

The Amateur Mad Scientist: Episode 5

Having discovered that I can maintain a closed ecosystem in a jar indefinitely (by which I mean for three weeks; I have the time-sense of a hyperactive Chihuahua), I decided to try a slightly riskier endeavor. Using a high-grade sterile enclosure cleverly disguised to look like an old curry jar, I added sand, gravel, crushed seashells, conditioned tapwater, and one Malaysian trumpet snail (Melanoides tuberculata). I chose the trumpet snail because: 1) I had some on hand, which the petstore (somewhat forebodingly) gave me for free; 2) They’re a lot smaller than my big aquarium snails; and 3) They’re apparently tough as hell and don’t have much in the way of oxygen demands. For oxygenation, I added four or five fragments of a Marimo moss ball plant I bought about a week ago. Here are the results:

In case you couldn’t tell from my wonderful photography, the plants are in the middle and the snail is that little brown thing half-hidden by a reflection off to the left. Surprisingly, the water isn’t cloudy because of my incompetence, but because the crushed seashells haven’t had time to settle yet, and I’m apparently harboring some latent anger, because I crushed them really well. More updates as events warrant!