The Sniper Elite series is the epitome of a sleeper hit. It’s the John Wick of the gaming industry. Since September 2005, Rebellion Developments have been serving up punters with unparalleled marksman mayhem – their trademark ballistic hijinks satisfying gamers worldwide with four well-received outings.
Game Name: Sniper Elite 4
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC
Publisher(s): Rebellion Developments
Developer(s): Rebellion Developments
Genre(s): Tactical Shooter/Stealth
Release Date: 14.2.2017
Price: £44.99 / $59.99
Reviewed on: Xbox One (review copy provided by publisher)
Yet for my money, it’s a franchise that has always remained on the fringes of gaming society. Where Call of Duty is an out-and-out shooter and Hitman is one of the most recognized stealth series out there, the combination of those two mechanics seems to have relegated Sniper Elite to the second-tier of gaming’s elite. So like a bullet whizzing its way out of a Karabiner 93 and into the cranium of an unsuspecting Nazi, will Sniper Elite 4 fire Rebellion into success?
Narratively speaking, Sniper Elite 4 doesn’t really have one. Or at least not one that’s worth writing home about – unless you’re able to play the bonus Hitler-centric mission ‘Target Fuhrer’, made available to pre-ordering customers. The game takes place shortly after the events of Sniper Elite 3; it’s 1943 and Officer Karl Fairburne is ditching the sub-Saharan vistas of North Africa for the beautiful seascapes of the Italian coastline. Equipped with an arsenal of rifles, submachine guns, pistols, assault rifles and knives – Karl’s mission is simple: kill all Nazis and have fun while doing it.
It’s here where the game really excels, each weapon beautifully realised in intricate and attentive detail. While a game named ‘Sniper Elite’ does exactly what it says on the tin, it’s the alternative takedowns and assassinations that I found just as thrilling as the sniping segments. Most weapons have more than one mode to try, usually with deliciously violent consequences (hanging off vast ledges and timing knife-attacks perfectly on unsuspecting enemies is a personal highlight). Over my time with the main campaign I found Sniper Elite 4 rewarded weapon-wheel experimentation, although that’s definitely not the game’s main party trick.
The real piece de resistance is the iconic hyper-violent longshots that the series has become renowned for – and that Black Mirror & Gameswipe creator Charlie Brooker has regularly gushed about in his Guardian column. After adjusting your aim for distance and wind factors, your ballistic will vault off into the ether – mainlining straight into your target’s cranium/heart/testicles with a satisfying, almost fetishistic, crunch and splattering. Nazi-sniping brings nothing new to the gaming table but when it’s presented in such a stylistic and lovingly gruesome way, it’s hard not to find Sniper Elite’s repetitive gimmick highly addictive.
It’s not just the act of killing that’s thrilling, graphically the game is vastly superior to its predecessor in every single way. I was surprised how much the environments shone in the dazzling Italian lighting, the polished character models and beautiful kill-shots flowing lag-free throughout the 8-mission runtime. In this current climate of AAA games, Sniper Elite 4 stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Battlefield 1 and Infinite Warfare, high praise indeed for a game that’s developed and published by the same team.
Missions are extremely large with a fresh sandbox-based approach being implemented this time around. At the start of each mission, you’re given a series of objectives (several side-missions are also included to bulk up the playtime) and a set of guns – the route you take to complete everything is entirely up to yourself. If you play the game properly, rather than opting to select the easiest difficulty and run-n’-gun your way through like a snipey superhero, you’ll find missions can take hours to complete. Environments are dense and littered with enemies – you’ll need to use your binoculars to tag them from various lookouts, towers and nests. Quite often I found I didn’t do enough recon and kept finding myself a few Nazi’s short of a full house. When they’re alerted and surrounding you, your best option is to find a safe place to hide where you can re-formulate a plan of attack – then blow their brains out.
I also highly enjoyed Rebellion’s implementation of several new stealth options, some of which I’ve not encountered in games before. Aside from the usual assassinate/hide the body mechanics, you can use the relentless fire of an artillery cannon or parts of the environment to your advantage; if you think something noisy is going to muffle the sound of your fire, use it. While the new AI has been touted as being the best of the series so far, it is generally unpredictable and to me, has the feel of an indie game. I’ve read that some critics find Fairburne’s sound detection pure guesswork, sometimes enemies will hear him, sometimes they won’t. I did encounter that frequently throughout my play through, but I thought nothing more of it – it’s purely a game showing the limitations that our current technology affords it. I’m sure if we get a Sniper Elite 5, those issues will be addressed.
For replay value, the game comes bundled with a co-operative campaign and several online modes. There’s lots of fun to be had with the online play, with the traditional team deathmatches and capture the flag’s providing sheer unmitigated therapy for the talented hardcore marksmen out there. I held my own in most of the online matches I tried, although this is a game that’s clearly dominated by a certain level of player.
One section that didn’t feel particularly engaging was the Survival/Horde mode. Here, your sniping ability is generally thrown out the window in favour of all-out warfare with increasingly difficult swarms of Nazis. They will later arrive in tanks with heavy artillery, meaning the chance of causing silent damage with a sniper rifle is non-existent. Also, the cooperative mode feels shoe-horned in there, as sniping is a fairly solitary and independent experience – adding an extra pair of hands to the equation is just a recipe for more inaccuracies and accidents. This is the sort of thing that worked well on a last-generation console, not necessarily required here.
They say a sniper is a coward, someone that hides away taking shots at faceless enemies. Here, the enemy is clear as day – and with an entire arsenal of fun World War 2-inspired weaponry at your disposal, the fun didn’t ever wane for me. With some entertaining online play and a bullet-cam gimmick that never ceases to pump me up – Sniper Elite 4 oozes nothing but cool.
*This copy f Sniper Elite 4 was provided to us by Rebellion Developments for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
Landing the perfect snipe on someone in a moving vehicle from miles away, locating a crane hovering ominously above a busy area of Nazi’s at a dangerous stage in your mission – these are all scenarios that you play a game like Sniper Elite 4.
There are no shortcomings in its presentation, visuals or much of its online play – but a dull narrative, some questionable AI and unnecessary cooperative play makes this a game for fans first, general gamers second.