Home Editorial Balance Polycount Madness Week – Day 3: The Sniper

Being tall makes it easier for the Sniper to touch the skill ceiling.

Snipin’s a tough job, mate. Bloody Spies are always rootin’ to slice ya in the back, yer whole soddin’ team’s a bunch of hapless ingrates, and it just so happens that everyone hates the air your breathe.

How does one create viable unlocks for the Sniper? It’s a bit tough, since “viable” is largely contingent upon whether you’re a casual Sniping enthusiast or a die-hard headshotting pro. If you’re in the latter category, odds are you have a very narrow margin when it comes to unlock viability.

So, when the Sniper receives new toys, it’s not particularly surprising that they’re universally hated by “pro” Snipers.

The problem is this: “professionals” have standards. And those standards were met by the Sniper Rifle, SMG/Jarate, and Kukri a long time ago. People who are adept at turning enemy heads into brain pudding have no interest in new weapons, as almost every gimmick imaginable has the potential to lower the skill ceiling.

I wouldn’t be surprised if pro Snipers demanded Valve create a new type of rifle that does 10x damage on no-scope Eyeshots.

These players can’t be pleased, so Valve doesn’t try. They already have their ideal weapons.

And, if you’re a pro, odds are you hate the Polycount Sniper update more than you already hate lower-tier Snipers. As for everyone else? Well…

Just look at how many people on your team are running around in crocodile skin.

Darwin’s Danger Shield

Half-Life 2: Episode 3 was put on indefinite suspension when Valve headquarters was struck by lightning, famine, and 12 meteors in one evening.

I don’t know why this shield is named “Darwin’s” anything. Is this Valve’s attempt to bring God’s wrath upon them? Is that what you want, Valve?

Regardless of the developer’s anti-Christian beliefs, it’s hard to argue the pros and cons of such a simple item. Granting the wearer +25 HP (+20%) seems like a reasonable bonus, but most of the time it simply isn’t worth the tradeoff.

Think about the most common causes of death for your average Sniper:

  • backstabbed by a Spy
  • headshot/charged bodyshot by enemy Sniper
  • juggled/killed by 2 Soldier rockets
  • strafed by Scout, killed in 2 shots

The reality is that in most of these scenarios, having 25 more HP doesn’t do much.

You still die to backstabs, headshots, and charged bodyshots. You are still 2-shotted by most other weapons. Really, +25 HP just gives you a little more breathing room in the face of long-range splash, but the Sniper was already pretty well positioned to deal with this.

And, just by using DDS, you give up two much better options.*  Both the SMG and Jarate offer the Sniper good emergency buttons for when he gets caught fighting at mid-close range. Meanwhile, Darwin’s Danger shield just lets you run from enemy fire 20% longer (you live for 3 seconds instead of 2.5 ).

I recommend every Sniper worth his piss sticks with being a glass cannon, just as nature intended.

Besides, would you really want to use an item that specifically calls down the wrath of God on you?

The Bushwacka

There’s only one thing to say about the Bushwacka: If you’re using Jarate, it’s good. If you’re not, it’s bad.

While Valve may have attempted to connive you into believing the Bushwacka and the Sydney Sleeper have some kind of synergy, don’t be fooled.

The Sydney Sleeper is for long-range fighting. The Bushwacka is for short-range fighting. The Sydney Sleeper requires a ~50% charge to apply Jarate. Charged shots at close range = your death.

The odds that, in any given life, you will hit an opponent with a charged Sydney Sleeper shot then attack that same foe in melee range, are exceedingly low. You’d have better luck firing random charged shots into open space and hitting a cloaked Spy.** The odds that, in a given life, you will hit an opponent with Jarate and be able to finish them off with a critical hit is very high, by comparison.

In summary, if you’re using Jarate, there’s no reason to not use the Bushwacka.
If you’re not using Jarate, don’t use the Bushwacka.

The Sydney Sleeper

Ah, I saved the best lulziest for last. See, the Sydney Sleeper has divided the Sniper “community” (I use this term as loosely as possible) by singular merit of its rewarding bodyshots over headshots.

Remember the ultra-competitive days of Counter-Strike? When the most pro weapon was the AWP sniper rifle? While many guns like the AK-47 required the user to become an expert in instant headshots, the best players always used the AWP as soon as it was available. This was despite because of its ability to 1-hit kill with any bodyshot.

Do you know why competitive players didn’t whine, and actually favored the less precision-minded weapon?

The same reason nobody goes for headshots in real life.

Ask any NRA member worth his salt if, when the government comes to steal his wife, he’ll be aiming for the head or the chest. 9 out of 10 will say “chest,” since it’s an easier tactical target. The 10th guy? He’ll be holed up in an underground bunker with a 30 year supply of baked beans.

More pew-pew, less this-this.

Regardless, no matter how much the elitists want to believe that headshots are the only legitimate way to kill an enemy, all reason, realism, and competitive analysis indicates this mentality is completely idiotic. The strategy that should always be employed is the strategy that wins. And in many scenarios, a bodyshot is a winning stratetgy.

Especially when it coats your enemy in urine.

Of course, the best strategy is to have the option to go for the twitch-reflex headshot or the long-charged bodyshot. With the Sydney Sleeper, the former option is lost, but (nearly) all bodyshots are also debuffs on the enemy.

The result is simple:

  • If you are capable of consistently nailing headshots, stick with the Sniper Rifle.
  • If you can only consistently land bodyshots, use the Sydney Sleeper.***

Ultimately, the goal isn’t to compare e-peens with enemy Snipers; it’s to help your team by picking off important targets.

Worry first and foremost about putting bullets/darts/urine into your enemies.
Leave the forum rage to the people who don’t actually understand what competitive anything means.

Ol’ Snaggletooth

The merits of Ol’ Snaggletooth are infinite: as part of the complete Croc-o-Style set, you can’t be killed by headshots.


But, more seriously, this presents a conundrum. More skilled players can no longer headshot you. Of course, they have the same option as you do (charged bodyshot), but their bodyshots are worse, since they don’t come lined with piss.

While the argument can be made that hats shouldn’t grant non-cosmetic bonuses, I’ll submit a better short-term thesis:

Anyone wearing the full COS set is already gimped to hell.

A player wearing Darwin’s Danger Shield while sporting a Sydney Sleeper and a Bushwacka is, more than likely, terrible. Not only is this player terrible, he/she has no good close-to-mid range fighting options, and is of little threat to everyone on your team except you.

If someone is wearing this set and consistently kills you with charged bodyshots, the fact is you are bad. Sure, they have a slightly unfair crutch, but let’s face it: if charged bodyshots were so powerful, wouldn’t you already be using them instead of headshots?

I didn’t think so.

*The Razorback is never an option.
**Note: The probability of this event is approximately 1.6%. Interestingly enough, the probability that a person playing as a cloaked Spy will be randomly killed by a charged Sydney Sleeper shot is 98.4%. This is known as Spy Luck Inversion.
***If you can’t hit anything with anything, it’s time to whip out the rage-inducing Huntsman.

19 replies to this post
  1. Nice text. I specifically liked the second footnote. I so can relate to that ;-)
    I didn’t like the creationist part, though.

      • It implies that something that scientific work has undoubtedly shown can’t be true because it doesn’t say the same as an almost 2000 years old book. Therefore only mentioning the name Darwin, a genius scientist, is bad. I do not care for that.
        Maybe I’m taking this too seriously, though.

      • Haha, well I hope you understand that it was never meant to be serious. It’s about as serious as my constant apologetics to Artemis or my insinuations of murder.

      • Yes, I do understand that. I think that everything you do is awesome and I won’t stop reading/watching what you do in the near future because of this tidbit :-)

  2. I honestly just want to try out the Ol’ Snaggletooth so I can go to some sniper server and be invincible, but people there would probably be a good amount of snipers that already bought the pack. I would personally only wear the kit when theres a better sniper on the other team constantly killing me. I used the SS on goldrush defending and it was really good. I may not have killed everything in one hit, but I got lots of assists and helped enemies die that normally wouldn’t have if I was using the regular rifle.

  3. Actually, what the Sniper set bonus does is make any lethal headshot leave you at 1 HP contingent on having more HP than that when you’re hit. To use a Pokemon analogy, it’s like Endure rather than Protect.

  4. Goddamnit, Everything I see about this patch is usually crying fowl that “set bonuses are too powerful” or that “TF2-MMO is broken”. I agree WiNG, “moar pew pew, less Quail Quail”

    (Also, great writeup, it’s very well thought out and reminds me of early Sirlin articles when Cranky Kong narrated them.)

  5. I oughta disagree with you on this one WiNG. It doesn’t matter bodyshots are the more strategical kill with the AWP in CS. This is TF2. A game that’s hilarious and unlike most shooters favors balance in gameplay over realisim. The sydney sleeper is worse then the huntsman* in terms of skill required. (Zomg I went there D: ) My basic summary of the SS is a weapon that gives an excuse for bodyshots. Bodyshots are looked upon badly since of their ability to instantly kill 5 of the 9 classes by shooting a single bullet. For example a critical revolver shot isn’t even as powerful as a camping sniper. Every class can camp but only the sniper is rewarded so greatly for it.

    *The huntsman isn’t even designed to be a skillful weapon

    • This is all true but how does this make headshots any better?

      If anything, wouldn’t you want to know the enemy prepared for 5 seconds to kill you, rather than 0.1 seconds?

      • Being able to snap headshot implies a level of skill that the Sydney Sleeper simply doesn’t allow for, and there’s an unspoken respect for players who have been able to master something difficult. Charging a bodyshot is quite a few levels below snap headshots in terms of difficulty, hence the lesser respect offered to Sydney Sleepers.

      • At the end of the day, your enemy is still dead and your kill count goes up by one. Who gives a shit?

  6. Oh and by NO means am I a “pro” sniper… I friggin suck usually. Also what I mean by the huntsman wasn’t designed with skill in mind was the fact that its rapid charge rate made it easy to spam and get lethal bodyshots. Any class shoots the body except the sniper does massive damage for doing the same thing ever other class does! AT ANY range too.

  7. Ohhh boy the sniper set…

    Well my ideas on this one… the set is a flawed reptilian disguise that if darwin was alive he would go “Son… aren’t you old enought to play with scales?”

    But seriously, even though I have none of the weapons so far, my brother has a few aswell as a friend of mine has the full set so i can give my opinions… and rage away cause I’m a huntsman sniper =D *-50 to all poster relations after this paragraph xD*

    The Bushwacka is awesome with jarate, not with the The Sydney Sleeper… true that… but considering I have the jarate masters headband, I won’t be able to contain myself when i have it with the sydney and bushwacka… and with my trusty jar based karaté and say…

    “I am the Pissanator… prepare to be shown who is the boss.”


    In all truth the set is FUN… FOR NOW. Cause most pro snipers are just to busy to headshot you that when they realize what they just did, they’ll be going down in a yellow blaze of dispair.. while raging that the set is so anti-pro.

    So, like you asy, when people realize that bodyshots are so much efficient, the set will become worthless in a while… I main medic as career and I can say that most times I die with a sniper, it’s with a well placed bodyshot more than a headshot… mainly because I’m always hopping around (cause you know… you’re fast for a reason and being in the move WILL save your life)… and people tend to forget that an overall well placed bodyshot can one-shot a medic, and save you much more time on other important targets, damage dosen’t lie and only soldiers, heavies and non-one eyed-braveheart wannabees will be able to survive that.

    So lesson of the day: Learn to use damage indicators… they actually teach stuff!

    And yeah.. considering that the sydney can PENETRATE targets on a full line when fully charged.. I can find myself falling like a fly most times while being behind my healing buddy… CURSE YOU YOU FLAWED MEAT SHIELDS.

    So dunno, if it’s related or a bug.. but valve might tweak it in a while considering all the rage it’s having… or not.

    Only time will tell… that after they finished up cleaning the floor after the flood and the locust problem in the basement…. really a bad choice of a name set valve…

    Cheers, keep up the good work ^^

  8. Hello my friends. Fail-sniper here failing with the Normal Sniper to do headshots, even better failure with the Huntsman (can’t even hit a barn door, seriously).
    Indeed Wing the Bushwacka is absolutely delicious with the jarate, and with the full set you denie that awesome combo, its normal that in a sniping position is rare to have just one lonely sniper, what i like to set up is 2 snipers in the same location and I be the most exposed target, provoking enemy snipers to headshot me and me loling like hard while full-charging pisshoting them, killing them, while the other mate has the Huntsman and the Jarate, making life hell for those who are in midrange. And if a poor soul gets close we kill them very swiftly with the Jarate, Bushwacka and Tribleman Shiv.
    Also its worth to mention that some spies actually mistake the abilities of the Darwin Shield for the Razorback and refrain from stabbing…

    Yes, the full set is gimped to hell and beyond, but it actually works well in pairs. But dear god is it funny to survive a headshot and then… being stabbed before killing the sniper…
    Peace Mates.
    The Fail-Sniper.

    • I will definitely say the new Sniper materials make Sniper teams a tad more interesting.

      And yes, it took me a few times to get used to thinking “it’s okay to stab a Sniper with a shield if it’s a croc shield”

  9. “The Sydney Sleeper is for long-range fighting. The Bushwacka is for short-range fighting. The Sydney Sleeper requires a ~50% charge to apply Jarate. Charged shots at close range = your death.”

    I don’t believe it requires of 50% charge to apply Jarate. I’ve noticed that, as the rifle charges, you see a blinking jarate icon to the right where the original lightning bolt “charge” for the original sniper rifle used to be. If the jarate icon is lit and you fire, it applies jarate. If it is not, even over 50% charge, it will not apply jarate. I’m not sure whether the icon stays on longer after 50%, or in other words, I don’t know if the blinking is consistent or reliant on the amount of charge you have. I know at 100%, you will always have jarate.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    And why haven’t you named your Huntsman for Artemis? She is the Goddess of the Hunt, known for her bow and arrows. Yes, spies hunt as well (although they are definitely not exactly protectors of virgins) and yes, the huntsman has no need for divine aid. But sacrifices must be made. Otherwise, I cannot call you a fellow worshiper. In fact, it would be my duty to hunt you down and pray that Artemis will judge you mercifully.


    • The jarate icon doesn’t do anything about the effect, it’s like the blinking icon with the sniper rifle, it’s just for…well, ask valve what for.
      even when it isn’t lit, the jarate will apply if you’re over 50% charge

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