The Sniper Elite series, coincidentally, is a franchise that I’ve never really dabbled too much into. I’ve reviewed the lamentable Sniper Elite V2 in the past (the ill-fated Wii U port to be exact) and while I saw potential in the franchise and the ideas it brought to the table there was something missing. Now, Sniper Elite 4 is here, and while it moves the tense action to the sunny coasts of Italy, it’s also the first game developed solely for the current generation of consoles which I find incredibly interesting.
What isn’t interesting about Sniper Elite 4 is its storyline, which hasn’t really changed that much since I played Sniper Elite V2 back in 2013. You play as OSS agent Karl Fairburne, who is assigned to work with the local resistance to fight against the fascist forces during the events of World War 2. The story, rife with stereotypes and tired war conventions, works as a nice window dressing to the action but is otherwise hard to really care about. Gruff, deep voiced American man fights against Nazis in Europe. That’s it.But there’s a lot more to Sniper Elite 4 than its rather pedestrian story. A typical third person shooter at heart, you are thrown into a level and given a set of objectives to complete. Karl can take cover, line up the perfect shot and utilise the environment to set up the perfect hiding spot, sniping spot or both.
The levels are well-designed and are more open than ever, presumably thanks to the games ditching the previous generation. Similarly, the levels are also designed with a sense of verticality to allow Karl to climb higher than in previous games. The level design is genuinely well executed – giving players opportunities to approach missions stealthily or go in guns blazing.As you’d expect, the major focus of Sniper Elite 4 is sniping, and the mechanics are executed in a very competent way. The attention to detail here is unparalleled, with the game using realistic physics to influence the way your bullets will travel. Such a system sounds like it might be so realistic that it’s not fun, but Sniper Elite 4 provides a bevy of customisation options so that series purists can play it more like a simulator while others can play it like a standard shooter with an emphasis on sniping. The flexibility to customise your experience is an awesome way to appeal to a more diverse audience without dumbing down the core gameplay.
Another great expanded feature is the now signature X-Ray Killcams. When you pull off a rather impressive shot, Sniper Elite will follow the bullet from barrel to body and show it’s point of impact inside your victim’s body. Bones will shatter, lungs will deflate, stomachs will leak and hearts will break. It’s a great little system that makes you feel even more powerful after pulling off that perfect shot.To further improve the experience, Sniper Elite 4 carries these effects over to both melee attacks and explosive shrapnel attacks. It’s both hilarious and disgusting to shoot someone’s testicles, watch them explode, and then watch the bullet travel through the enemy and hit a barrel, only to watch the shrapnel splay them inside and out shortly thereafter. It’s the moment to moment displays like this that made me keep coming back to Sniper Elite 4.
But the most surprising aspect of Sniper Elite 4 is just how viable non-Sniper combat methods are. Karl is outfitted with all kinds of explosives, ballistics and even semi-automatic weapons that he can rely upon should an enemy be too close or sniping not be viable. These weapons have a great sense of weight and feel to them and they’re incredibly fun to run around with, and were equally just as relied upon in my playthrough as the sniper rifles.Sniper Elite 4’s most impressive improvement is just how open the design and missions have become since the last two games. Levels aren’t linear and feel like bigger, more sprawling locales. There’s multiple objectives to complete in each level, some compulsory, and some optional – but all take advantage of the tools that the player can work with. You can take out a vehicle by laying trip mines, or simply snipe the driver from further away. The choice is yours – or if it’s an optional objective you can skip it all together.
But while I really enjoyed this much more open ended approach to mission design, I found that Sniper Elite 4 got a little bit too repetitive at times. Missions were interesting but ultimately quite samey from a design perspective, with many environments even looking similar level to level. But while the design was quite repetitive, the game feels unevenly paced. Some missions took me up to two or three hours to finish while others took less than an hour.There’s also some other weird little issues that I noticed in my playthrough, which quite frankly felt a little bit outdated. I sniped a group of enemies from across a lake and then went to run through the water to save time looting their bodies. But I couldn’t. Water was an absolute no-go rife with invisible walls. Similarly, there’s hardly any (if any) doors in the game that are functional. Everywhere you need to go is modelled open and that’s it. It feels a bit low budget at times especially in contrast to the wide-open environments outdoors but doesn’t hurt the experience too much. It just feels strange today.
The single player campaign, while lengthy but repetitive, is bolstered by a solid suite of multiplayer options. The competitive multiplayer is great, offering the same slow-but-tense action that the campaign does in its sporadic sniper battles across a variety of modes. I was only able to get five or so matches total, but what I played was very enjoyable albeit it’s doubtful that it will have major staying power. In addition to this, co-operative play is available for the campaign and works rather well. It’s great to see both multiplayer options included where most modern games commonly eschew one or the other.From a presentation standpoint, Sniper Elite 4 is of a varying quality. I played the game in its entirety on a PlayStation 4 Pro, and while it wasn’t a perfect 60 frames per second always, Sniper Elite 4 ran at a very impressive framerate for a game that could easily get by being just 30 frames per second. While the draw distances are fantastic, there are some things that take a hit to get such a smooth framerate – namely the quality of the character models and some of the environmental assets. I’ve always been a gameplay over visuals guy myself, but Sniper Elite 4 might just put some people off with it’s fair visual quality.
Sniper Elite 4 is a vast improvement over Sniper Elite 2 and 3 in terms of scenario design and ambition, but there’s just something missing. The team at Rebellion have got the combat down. They’ve got the sniping mechanics down. They’ve even nailed the traversal mechanics – whether vertical or horizontal. But there’s a distinct lack of fantastical set pieces that stunt Sniper Elite 4 from reaching its true potential. Instead, we have some greatly designed, open missions; but ones that grow repetitive by the time the game ends. Issues with pacing and repetition aside, Sniper Elite 4 is still a competent experience, and one of the more authentic and true-to-life sniping simulators.