The Sniper Elite series has been gathering pace ever since Rebellion unleashed it back in 2005, with each new installment building upon what made the previous game fun to play. Fast forward 12 years and Rebellion have thrust the latest installment upon us, Sniper Elite 4.
Once again, Sniper Elite 4 follows the adventures of franchise hero Karl Fairburne, an agent of the Office of Strategic Services and a skilled sniper. After being deployed in Africa in the last game, Karl’s skill set is required in Italy where he is tasked with helping out the Partisans, the local resistance movement; as well as helping the Allies take out the odd Nazi installment. The story isn’t that exciting, and it plays out like many of the previous games. But this isn’t what we come to this game for. It at least does a decent enough job of linking the eight missions together and moving the game forward. One thing that does stand out is the voice acting, and not in a good way. Karl sounds generic and gruff, with little personality, and most of the supporting cast sounds like they’re phoning it in. Luckily, most of my time was spent playing, not watching; and with most missions taking more than an hour, the few minutes of cutscenes in between is more than tolerable.
Although Sniper Elite doesn’t have the following of other high-profile shooters, it does have a loyal fan base; one that revels in the franchise’s signature X-Ray Killcam, which turns a simple shot into a slow motion bone crunching, blood splattering, ball busting glory kill. One that I never, ever grew tired of. There is something about those kills that remains satisfying from the first shot, to the last. That’s not to say that the sniper rifle is the only tool in Karl’s arsenal. Along with his trusty rifle, Karl also carries several other pieces of equipment at his disposal; tripwires, landmines, a secondary weapon and sidearm, explosive satchels and even rocks and a whistle. All of these will help him survive in the large maps that make up the core of the game. Unlike the previous games, Sniper Elite 4 takes more of an open world approach, as opposed to the more linear missions of the previous games. It’s not totally open world, but each map is over three times the size of those in Sniper Elite 3, and the game pushes players to tackle each mission as they see fit, feeling a little like Hitman, which is not a bad thing.
Each mission has a couple of core objectives, one that must be completed in order to progress through the story. But they also have several side missions to take on. These include taking out high priority targets, collecting vital intel and disabling Nazi war assets. They are not essential, but completing them will earn extra XP, which in turn, will open up new weapons and equipment for future use. Also, collecting certain pieces of intel can also make life easier by tagging Nazi troops on the map, something that can be incredibly useful. There’s loads of collectibles scattered about every map, and it’s almost impossible to get them all on the first playthrough (at least without a walkthrough). Playing a second time round is encouraged to 100% each mission. There are also challenges involved with each mission, ones that the game doesn’t inform players about on that first playthrough. Completing those mission specific challenges will also need to be beaten for those that are completionists. Before continuing it is worth mentioning that I did encounter the odd bug here and there during my playthrough. These mainly consisted of randomly dropping through concrete ledges and visual glitches when the X-ray cam activated, nothing game breaking, but enough to warrant a mention here.
As the sizes of the maps increase, so does the threat of the Nazi soldiers; they are littered everywhere, either they’re on patrol, at random checkpoints or swarming mission critical areas. This means that Karl’s binoculars are an indispensable tool in a successful mission attempt. Running around the map without doing reconnaissance first will only result in getting spotted, which results in a troop of soldiers honing in on Karl’s position. Instead, whipping out the binoculars and spending some quality time scouting the area first will yield a greater chance of mission success. The game allows players to tag multiple enemies with the binoculars, along with potential environmental hazards such as explosive barrels and jerry cans (yes, they are red), flimsy beams and crane joints that will drop their load when shot. These will all help in dispatching the bad guys with minimal fuss.
Unfortunately, not every well laid plan will go like clockwork, and when that happens, players will have to think on their feet. This will often result in having to swap out the sniper rifle for something that works better in close combat. Luckily, the general gunplay on offer here has been tightened up significantly from Sniper Elite 3. Instead of feeling like more of an afterthought, using all of the other types of weapons feels solid and enjoyable. There were several times when I got caught out and started a firefight, but instead of feeling like a chore with poor controls, it instead felt like an exciting break from the normal sniper based action. It could easily hold its own against the type of gunplay most find in most third-person shooters.
You may think that shooting from a distance would mean that you are relatively safe, but that’s far from the reality. As such, making a silent shot will keep Karl alive for longer. Suppressed ammo is at a premium, at least until it is unlocked later in the game, but that isn’t the only way to mask the gunfire. Overhead planes will allow shots to be unheard, as do generators that can be found dotted around the area. On the easier difficulty levels, there is an on-screen visual indicator as to when the shots will be masked, but ramp up the difficulty and players are on their own to make those judgments. The difficulty settings on offer also means that Sniper Elite 4 is accessible to everyone, but challenging to those that want it to be; with the easier options allowing for anyone to point and shoot, and the harder settings meaning that things like the visual indicators are removed and that the player will have to take into consideration things like wind, distance and gravity.
Along with the single player campaign, Sniper Elite 4 also includes both multiplayer and cooperative modes. The Co-op mode adds a second player to join in for the campaign missions, as well as a survival based mode and an Overwatch made that has one player sniping and another player spotting. Multiplayer offers a wide range of game types, including Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, as well as sniper specific modes like Distance King. There are also modes for control based gameplay and maps that are split in two cannot be crossed; meaning that only the best snipers will prevail, Unfortunately Sniper Elite isn’t known for its multiplayer and as such the servers aren’t exactly teeming with life and it may take a while to get any kind of match going. But the co-op missions are fun, and if you have a friend with a copy of the game, it’s a great way to expand its life.
There may not be anything ground-breaking on offer with Sniper Elite 4, but that’s not to say this game isn’t worth your time. It builds on the previous games in a way that feels subtle and natural, and Rebellion’s experience with the franchise means that whether you have been with the series from day one, or are just discovering it for the first time, you will be in for one hell of a treat.