Friday, 16 March 2012

The Sniper 2 (PS2) - Guest Post

A good friend of mine warned me to never, ever buy a game published by Midas Interactive Entertainment. That's how we got into the whole Hybrid mess.

This is what happens when you don't listen to your friends.

This title music sounds bad. It sounds like PS1 game music: tracker modules with bland instruments. I suppose its apt enough, considering this is a sequel to a PS1 game.

I don't think The Sniper was ever released in English, but lucky for us, the game starts with a recap of the story of The Sniper so far, presented in appropriately crap graphics.

I don't think these are pre-rendered sequences captured from the first game, so they must have coded up these sequences using the original levels and character models. Were they going for accuracy, or is it a self-aware joke? Or were they just lazy?

"His name, Harry C. Spencer. A firefighter. During the rescue of a girl named Melissa, he stumbled across a counterfeiting ring. As a result he lost his job and his girlfriend, Claire Anderson, was killed by the Mafia. Burning with anger, Harry swore revenge upon her killers. Leaving the city, he trained under a ex-military vet to become a killer. Time passed. Harry, now a top ranked sniper, returned to the corrupt city in order to exact his revenge."

Take a breath, please!

"There, he received a phone call from a girl who called herself only CA She offered to provide him with information on the Mafia's activities. Even through his lingering doubts, Harry strangely found that he bring himself to trust CA So, with her help and advice, Harry began a concerted attack on the Mafia. It was only after killing the Mafia boss and completing his revenge that CA appeared before him."

That sounds fair enough...

"She was Melissa, the girl whom Harry previously saved. What is more, she possessed the memories of Harry's murdered girlfriend, Claire. And so, amid this confusion, their journey began. A journey in search of something lost."

Whaaaat?

They say that Melissa has been altered to include elements of the late Claire Anderson's memory and personality. No one knows for sure, but I intend to find out. REBOOT!

So Harry and CA are on the run from most everyone in America, when CA insists that Harry pick up this guy Stanley, whose car has broken down. In return, Stanley offers to treat us to lunch at a greasy spoon on the outskirts of the next city.

You've seen 3D pre-rendered graphics before, right? Close your eyes and imagine what a really good animation looks like. Imagine how all the parts of a well-made game simply come together as a coherent whole.

Now submerge your senses in the world of The Sniper 2 on YouTube.

Suddenly, awful MIDI jazz starts playing at full volume! Chairs and tables sliding through the air! We're under attack from the Mafia!

The owner of the greasy spoon we stopped at throws Harry a weapon. Looks like Harry's not going to be able to outrun his past just yet!

STAGE 01

Okay. I can walk very slowly around this platform of the fire escape I'm on. There's a Mafioso somewhere down there, and I've got... three bullets? Is that all you could spare, Abby?!

Sniping controls are straightforward. Zoom levels, blah blah. You can't use the analogue sticks at all, even though the back of the box says they're used! I think they only enable the analogue mode to get the vibration function for Harry's heartbeat.

No music, but that's probably a good thing.

Kaboom! That Mafia guy is down! Now for the next one. Or not, I can't move the controls.

Cue the Slick MIDI Jazz as the game shows me a half dozen replays and fly-bys of my shot.

Hurrah! What? Only a B? C'mon! That was a textbook shot! I suppose I did spend a couple of seconds messing around with the controls, but the shot itself was great, right? Also, if you're going to do this every time I kill someone, we're going to be here a long time.

Wait... that one guy was STAGE 01?

It's asking if I want to save! There were three guys after CA! Why is the level over? Did I shoot the wrong one and now she's dead? I know I like to spam quicksaves constantly when they're there, but this was just one man! Alright, next.

STAGE 02 is exactly the same level as the last. This time I have to shoot the two remaining guys. So the first level was a tutorial or something and this time I get to finish the job and save the girl!

The men are running towards me and I have 38 seconds to shoot them both without wasting a bullet.

Nope, the game yanks away my controls after shooting just one of the remaining men. I got an A- for missing with my first shot. Darn.

And it asks me if I want to save again. STAGE 03 is the last of the three men. Same level AGAIN, this time with music! And then it asks me if I want to save AGAIN. And then it shows me the credits.

No foolin', it's the end-of-game credits. The entirety of The Sniper 2 was those three men: Stages 01, 02 and 03. I don't know what's going on here at all. The background is showing clips from cutscenes that didn't happen, so I'm assuming... I don't even know what to think.

I think I lost. CA was carried off by a mysterious stranger that 'smells' like Harry. (Don't ask.) Hmm, this game really doesn't mess around with its time limits. I'll start again and hopefully 'do it right' to get something a little more interesting to show you.

"Next stage: 'A Man Looking For Trouble'. What can you see beyond the darkness?"

Huh, the game carries on. STAGE 04. Opening titles... again?

There's screenfuls of text.

Screenfuls and screenfuls of text.

Harry's being ordered by the CIA to assassinate some arms dealers. They're chasing Gabriel, so we're going to kill them and then interrogate them to find out Gabriel's location. And having saved CA, we'll mumble mumble antidote. And for some reason we've brought Stanley along!

This is the target. Bald guy. Has arms. That doesn't narrow it down that much. What if he's wearing a hat? What if there are other people wearing hats?

I've only got one bullet in this level and I'm shooting into a wide open public city street! Jesus, CIA woman! What are you playing at?

There's no big flashing arrow telling you which guy I'm supposed to kill... I really should have paid attention to the photograph. I've got a 180 degree arc of city to scan and the chances are he's going to be hiding behind one of these buildings for a lot of the level timer.

I couldn't see him before the time ran out. An awful MIDI Game Over tune plays and I get a stock photo of a cathedral with some filters stuck on it. Never mind, infinite continues. I hope that's not going to affect my rating.

Bingo! Harry has just murdered an unarmed civilian in a crowded street. Fanfare!

Grading A. Smashing. Like it.

And here's the credits again... What's the deal with this?

Ahh... it's supposed to be like episodes from an anime or something! Like [PlayStation fighting game] Evil Zone's story modes! Except Evil Zone's story mode sequences had fantastic, continuous silly radio-drama sequences, with a separate style of show for each character. The Sniper 2 has the exact same closing and opening credits between each level.

There's a Tacklmacain arms deal taking place in the city. Two men approach the cafe, exchange suitcases, then leave. I have to shoot the suitcase containing the Tacklmacain in the one second window while its on the ground. I'm categorically told to not shoot either of the dealers as this would result in the activation of the weapon.

Of course, I had to test that immediately. With hilarious consequences.

Whaddya know! Turns out I can shoot a large, immobile object without incident!

There can't be many games that put both the ending and opening credits in between each level. There's just no reason to do that! Is the game that short? At least they're skippable, and they've got real music rather than these synthesized instruments. It wouldn't be so bad if these sequences weren't skippable, to be honest. Very few people worked on this game. Can you tell?

Between levels, we're treated to the inane existential rambling crap inside the heads of Harry and Stan, complete with screen-filling close up.

In this level, I have to shoot the skylight on the top of a building in order to set off a security system, and then shoot this guy while he's running away.

Let's see. Average height. Wearing clothes. Has hair. Could be either one of these two. In the briefing, Stanley helpfully informs us that he's a violent, ex-military man who uses a knife. So... if I mess up the sniping, I can expect him to... climb all the way up the walls of the building I'm on and stab me? At least then I'll be able to tell which one is him.

I think the JPG compression on these images has actually made them look better than they do coming out the real console. It gives them texture.

So I shoot the skylight. At least thirty people come running out of the building. I'm looking for a person, am I? Let's go.

Most of these people are identical. That's useful. The target would be unique. If there's two of a kind of person, neither of them can be the target. Right?

Sounds logical enough. Unless this game wasn't thought through very well.

Oh.

It took me almost an hour to find the right man.

We've lost contact with Harry's CIA handler. So, what do we do? We do what any ex-firefighter and precision engineer does when they've been exposed to toxic gas and are due to die within the week. We take full advantage of the CIA's facilities and go on an unsanctioned killing spree. Stanley's found some likely candidates for Harry to murder indiscriminately, and Harry's game for anything.

This screenshot is as action-packed as a TS2 cutscene gets, by the way.

What's our friend Stanley got planned for us?

Shooting the tires of a moving limousine, at long range, at night. No problem!

...it took me five retries to hit the tires even once, and even then I didn't know which guy from the limo I was supposed to be shooting (you instantly lose if you shoot the wrong person).

Yeah! Shot a man in the back. What a hero, Harry.

Having shot the Mafia boss in the back, Harry asks Stanley to rummage through the limo to see if there's anything Tacklmacain related in there to nick.

Not a sane idea to run out into the street and start stealing the Mafia's stuff, especially if you're unarmed. But then again, we're going to die in a couple of days so who cares.

Sure enough, we've found something!

Directions to the Tacklmacain factory! And we're gonna take it on! Just the two of us! A sniper who can't do anything at short range, and an engineer who can't do anything whatsoever. I don't think our guys have thought their plan through.

I wonder what Gabriel's up to?

This game deserves honorary Resident Evil game status. It's got everything!

Who did they get to do these voices anyway? Ha, oh wow, real professionals! Well then, good for them!

I wonder if the crazy, shoddy visuals are making the voice acting worse by association? I guess that the actors did a good job insofar as they did exactly what the directors told them to do, but they didn't have anything more to go on other than a list of dialogue with no context. Or maybe making games is really hard and I should shut up.

Honestly, now. Comic Sans is not a good font for a serious, hard-boiled shooting game. And this is a Hard-Boiled Shooting Game, according to the Cowboy Bebop rip-off title card and the Killer7 rip-off menus. WAITAMINUTE, this predates Killer7! What's going on?! And why hasn't Ray played Killer7 yet?

This level's the best one so far. I have to destroy all the cameras on the walls surrounding the Tacklmacain factory. There's no stupid monochrome photograph to work from or multiple identical people to sort through. Harry's packed more bullets than there are cameras so I can actually miss once or twice without having to sit through the damn Game Over screen every time. The game has become a game.

BUT THEN!

Stanley's shot by an enemy sniper!

A level where somebody's shooting back! It will surely be a memorable boss battle!

Well, not exactly. At first, I thought the game had bugged out and had forgotten to put down an enemy for me to shoot at. After one and a half minutes of listening to some truly lousy music, a sniper stood up from behind one of the boxes on the factory roof. I shot them and they died.

Poor Stanley. In his dying breaths, he confesses to Harry that he was CIA. And all he gets in return is a monotone 'Yeah. I know. I figured it out.'. Show some emotion, Harry!


It's Gabriel!

He's decided to release CA and give us the Tacklmacain antidote, which was made from CA's blood. CA has Tacklmacain resistance due to genetic manipulation done on her by the CIA. That's also why she has Claire's memories.

Give it up, Harry. You're neck-deep in Resident Evil shit. You can't hope to make sense of it.

It's time for action!

GO!

Wait, Harry! That's a cliff! Oh well.

The ultimate Mafia boss has kidnapped CA!

I don't have any margin for error! A single mistake, and I'll... have to repeat the level until I hit him. Just like every other level.

This is the maximum zoom. Tense stuff.

But he just stands there. He doesn't slowly walk towards the car. He barely moves at all. Still, I'm pleasantly surprised that I've not once in three playthroughs accidentally exploded CA like a pumpkin.

In the alternate ending, you have to shoot this guy as he escapes on foot without a hostage. It's a lot harder because he takes a random zig-zag path.

I feel really sorry for CA. She never asked for this.

BUT THEN.

It's a helicopter carrying the corrupt Senator Belini! He was behind everything! Wait WHAT?

This guy hasn't been mentioned at all up to this point! He's just appeared out of NOWHERE!

The helicopter stays more-or-less still. I should have missed my shot as I aimed way over his head... but then the helicopter bobbed into position and made his head catch the bullet perfectly. Hooray, everybody's safe.

"So. What do I fight for? Who was Stanley? Who was Gabriel?"

"Is this all just a bad dream? If so, then what awaits at the end of the nightmare?"

That's it. you've seen the whole game. Eight levels (counting the first three as separate levels is a stretch). One shot each. You can win most of them in under a minute. I haven't missed out any menu, map or story sequences. If you took the cutscenes out, you'd spend less time playing The Sniper 2 than you would plugging in the console.

I don't dislike the game at all. The controls work; I can shoot people. From the instant I saw that intro, I knew the game was going to be a laugh. I dislike that I paid money for it. And I dislike that I was mislead into buying it. I thought I was buying something serious.

In The Sniper 2, Bestmedia set the bar low and nailed it there. They've gone to extreme lengths to make it look and sound like they've spent as little effort as they can. I suppose they might've wanted a consistent look with the PS1 version (for whatever demented reason), or maybe they just really like TV movies in Japan.

Here's how I believe The Sniper 2 came about. Once upon a time, there was a series of budget games for the PlayStation in Japan called the Simple series (Wikipedia link). Many of the Simple games were straightforward implementations of basic game concepts, named The 'concept'. For example: The Mahjong, The Chess, The Gun Shooting, The Dungeon RPG and, of course, The Sniper. If any of these games had noticeable plot or graphical flair, it was whatever they could be bothered to chuck together at the last minute.

Through administrative error or just plain whacked-out judgement, they decided to select The Sniper as one of the games to be continued as the series was advanced to the PS2. It's just a shame that The Sniper 2 happens to be a cool sounding name for a game. At least now I know better.

9 comments:

  1. So, I've been working on an LP for The Sniper 2 on Something Awful. I've hit a bit of a snag in trying to unlock the alternate final stages (the ones that require an A+ rank on Stage 10) and I was hoping you could explain just what in hell I'm supposed to do to unlock them.

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    1. Hey there! I don't know when or how exactly I became an authority on this piece of crap game, but I'll help you out however I can.

      mecha-neko's Guide To The Sniper 2

      The Sniper 2 has New Game+, so after you complete the game make sure to save! When you have a completed file, you can see the different story branches in the Safe House option that appears on the menu. The Safe House tells you exactly what you need to do to reach each scene. It's a bit like Star Fox 64: you need to get good ratings on levels to get the 'good' path (left), and bad ratings will get you the 'bad' path (right). Once you've seen a scene in the Story mode, it'll light up in the Safe House. Once you've lit up all the Story Mode scenes... you'll get an entire extra game! This will all be very familiar if you've played Tech Romancer on the Dreamcast. (Once you've unlocked this, you can't play Story mode on that file any more I think, so make multiple saves.)

      How the scoring works in The Sniper 2 is very vague. Through trial and error (and over an hour trying to get my knackered old PS2 to read the blue CD the game comes on), I've come up with the following conclusions: Your Grading is persistent from level to level. It starts at A and if you do well in a level, it will go up, and if you do badly in a level it will go down. If you complete a level and your grade doesn't move in the direction you want, reload your save and try again. The grades go: AAA, AA, A, B, C, with + and - in between.

      The following things make your grade go up: Shooting people in the face and chest.

      The following things make your grade go down: Shooting people in the back or arms (legs isn't a kill), wasting bullets (e.g. the limo level A Running Man, and the security camera level System Panic).

      Your time doesn't seem to affect your grade that much on a lot of levels. On levels where the target doesn't face you and you only have one bullet, time might be more of a factor. Then again on most levels, the time is quite tight.

      Your zoom level doesn't seem to affect the grade either, so don't try to be a smartalec. Neither does the number of restarts you take. It is possible that having your target centred in your scope but hesistating lowers your grade, but I can't say for sure.

      To get the best grade, shoot people in the forehead as soon as you can. For the worst grade, let the time nearly run out and shoot people off-center in the back.

      For daft messages, try shooting C.A. in Stage 01 (she's on the left) or Abby in Stage 05 Left (she's meeting a dealer on a rooftop while you're in a window washing rig).

      You also get concept art by completing the Training Mode (and Training Mode EX)! My The Sniper 2 save has a fully lit up Story mode, fully lit up secret story mode and all Training completed except EX 9. I could upload it if you like.

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    2. Oh, please, do so! I've been trying to play this game for months but the emulator I'm using keeps crashing.
      Also, I can't find any videos with the cutscenes in YouTube.

      It would be much appreciated if you could upload them.

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  2. I found this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNgkpEyoiMI and then got to your page from some googling. What extra bonus features are in stage 10? I don't think it's worth getting the game and then spamming save states to find out.

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    1. I spent a good long while getting out the PS2 and the DVD recorder fighting my way through the bonus stages to unlock the bonus features for ya, and then my video encoding software decided to be a punk at the last minute and all the videos came out distorted.

      (Un)luckily for us both, somebody has already uploaded the -exact- video I was going to upload myself.

      So, without further ado, here's the full extent of the bonus features of The Sniper 2:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIgRNcLEjPQ

      When you win the game, you unlock the Safe House, which shows a flowchart of all the possible stages in the game and how they link to one another. You'll either be put on the left or right lane depending on your grade, a bit like Starfox 64.

      Once you've completed a stage across multiple New Game+es, it'll light up. Once you've lit up them all, you unlock...

      "The Aliens"!

      (This replaces the story mode on the main menu, so you have to load/create a new file if you want to play The Sniper 2 again. Though I doubt you'd want to do that, of course.)

      "The Aliens" is a new game mode with a new plot where you have to replay the old stages looking for 'The Alien' amongst the many human targets using your 'Alieo-scope'. At the maximum zoom level, the screen goes green and you can see that one of the people will be different looking. (They will have a dark-coloured face through the Alieo-scope. How you're supposed to detect aliens that are facing away from you is beyond me.)

      The final level of "The Aliens" is to shoot a tiny spinning obscured target with a single bullet, which is entirely cribbed from the main game, which is really disappointing.

      Once you complete all ten stages of "The Aliens" you get...

      Coloured Concept Art!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIgRNcLEjPQ#t=11m00s

      It's Harry C. Spencer, former firefighter! It's C.A.! It's Abby! It's Gabriel!

      And you also get a hint that if you complete all of the Training levels, you get the Sub-Mode Training levels. And if you complete all of those, you get more Concept art!

      The Sub-Mode Training levels put you against dozens of moving Mafisoi targets in large city levels. They love to walk fast in routes, hiding behind buildings, or standing in very out of the reach places. I can only get 34/38 on the last level because of that (and the guy who made this video had the same trouble). But luckily for us, he used an infinite time cheat and unlocked the final bonus!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIgRNcLEjPQ#t=33m51s

      Uncoloured Concept Art!

      It's Harry C. Spencer, former firefighter! Again! It's C.A.! Again! It's (etc.)

      And with that, humanity can finally be done with The Sniper 2 for all time.

      Hope that helps ya! :3

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    2. Wow, that extra mode looked really fun! If only they'd integrated it into the main game and kept the story canonical while having more than one or two lousy targets per mission. Any hopes of a The Sniper 3 I think are long gone by now, and the mafioso can have their final resting place in Area 51.

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  3. Another game that feels the need to stick intro and ending credits after almost every fight is Asura's Wrath. Not much of a game actually, couple of crappy "just keep smashing two buttons" -fights between lenghty cinematics riddled with mostly voluntary QTEs (One plot critical one was to get Asura drunk enough so he would stare the servant girl's breasts and get whaked in the head).

    Still, I liked it for the comicaly over the top cinematic experience. Take a shot every time something catastrophic happens that would cause the end of the world in any other story.

    But the fact that it has to constantly pause the game to show you spoilers of what is going to happen in next, as if it was a TV serial with episodes lasting only five or ten minutes, was very annoying.

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