Sniper Elite 4 is the latest entry in Rebellion’s popular series of the same name. Set during the heart of World War II, players once again take control of Karl Fairburne an American OSS agent as well as the titular elite sniper. Working together with a band of Italian rebels, Fairburne works to try and free occupied Italy from the grasp of the Nazi’s as well as the country’s own fascist regime.
Sniper Elite is unlike any shooting game that I’ve played before. It feels like a mixture of Uncharted 4 and Metal Gear Solid 5; it’s vast and expansive levels are beautifully designed and certainly don’t lack in detail. Each mission is set in a different location which keeps it feeling fresh and new each and every time. From an island out at sea to a dark and tightly packed dockyard at midnight.
The opening mission acts as a tutorial of sorts. Introducing new players to the series and refreshing the memories of returning fans alike. It’s short and concise but in no ways ineffective. After a few important prompts players are free to tackle the mission how they see fit. Rush in all guns blazing or take it slow and stealthy. During my first playthrough, I attempted the former of the two options but I found this to be a mite difficult. After a few unceremonious deaths, I came to realise that brute force was not the way forward for me. I fared much better with the stealthy option.
This is where Sniper Elite 4, after a fashion, adapts to your play style. While it allows you to take command and play as you see fit, players who opt for a more stealthy and tactical approach are rewarded with easier missions; while players who rush head on in encounter far more enemies. The AI this time around is much better, soldiers will alert others when they sense something is amiss while if you take out their commander many of them will flee. On the other hand, if Karl is spotted by the enemy and his position is compromised, they’ll hunt him down in swarms.
Being spotted functions much like it does in the Assassin’s Creed series. If an enemy is suspicious of your general location a yellow half circle will be visible in front of that particular soldier, while if spotted it turns red. Successfully escaping the area without being seen further leaves a red shadow of sorts signalling your last location. This makes it easier to keep track of your own movements as well as the Nazi soldiers as they’re likely to inspect that area in hope of discovering the intruder.
That’s not to say that getting noticed is a great way to lure enemies to your position. During day time missions there is often a source of loud noise which you can use to mask your gunshots. Planes flying overhead or the firing of an anti-aircraft weapon. Pull the trigger at the right time and the enemy is left frantically searching their nearby area for the source of their colleague’s untimely demise. Night time missions I found played completely different to their daytime counterparts with more compact level designs and a bigger emphasis on stealth.
Night time missions completely change the dynamic of the game. Bright lights and campfires offer limited visibility both for the player as well as enemies. While nothing can be done with the campfires, lights, however, can be destroyed plunging the immediate area into shadows offering more places to hide and strike from. In addition, with little to no sounds to mask gun fire, you are forced to improvise and create your own distractions. This can be done a number of ways from rigging machinery to make a noise or by blowing up vehicles. Each method has its own advantage and comes with their own pros and cons.
Corpses are a great source of ammo and useful items and can be used to distract enemies by leaving them in strategic positions on the map. Likewise, if discovered prematurely they will also alert the Nazi’s to your presence. If an unsuspecting soldier happens across a deceased comrade he’ll sound the alarm. Enemies will hunt for you for a while but will eventually give up allowing you to continue your mission in stealth.
Being an elite sniper, it’s only natural for Karl to have an array of weaponry at his disposal. Rifles, handguns and machines guns are the norm; all of which can be upgraded or replaced by completing various in-game challenges. While there are a number of different weapons available I was disappointed to discover that a fair few of the better sniper rifles are locked behind a DLC wall. A tactic I’ve found to be increasingly more common as of late in many games.
Completing secondary missions might reward you with a new handgun while making 50 shoulder aimed kills might unlock a new scope for a particular rifle. Traps can be set with mines and trip wires while stick grenades can be stuck to vehicles to cause devastating damage. But all pale in comparison to the humble rock. My new tool of choice; when stuck in a bind a rock ca be thrown at vehicles, walls or just on the ground to lure enemy soldiers away from your position and making them vulnerable to a stealth kill with a knife.
Many modern games in the shooter genre suffer from an incredibly short main campaign; I’m happy to say that Sniper Elite 4 doesn’t fit this bill and offers a decent number of hours of gameplay that offers plenty of collectables as well as challenges giving it great replay value. There are ten main missions in the campaign, each with their own secondary missions as well as various challenges. Being the completionist that I am it took me on average an hour to an hour and a half to complete each one, due to me wanting to complete as many optional extras as I could.
Much like firing a rifle in reality, firing one in Sniper Elite is somewhat similar. To get a more accurate shot Karl must exhale to ensure his shot is steady and true. The game works on an ‘empty lungs’ mechanic, with a tap of the L1 button Karl exhales which puts you into a focus mode. Aiming like this increases an onscreen counter which represents Karl’s heart rate indicating how long before he needs to breathe again. Likewise, sprinting will also cause his heart rate to increase which forces players to think carefully before dashing from pillar to post. It’s harder to aim on-point when Karl is breathing heavily.
X-ray kills, which have become a staple of the Sniper Elite series, are not only fantastically detailed and gruesome to watch but also have had a minor upgrade. Taking out an enemy soldier with a full focus using a sniper rifle will activate the effect as normal but in addition to this so will melee kills, shrapnel kills and explosions. Time slows and a section of the character model is cut away to reveal bones, muscle and other various soft tissues giving you a grim view into what happens when a human body is penetrated by a foreign object travelling at high speeds. Eyes pop, lungs burst and bones shatter. As morbidly fascinating as it is, it also serves as a stark reminder to the grim realities of war and the injuries both sides would have received at the hands of real-life combatants such as Karl Fairburne.
In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed Sniper Elite 4. It’s easy to pick up and play if you’re already competent with other shooters but there is a slight learning curve when it comes to taking out the enemy. The level designs are stunning and practical while the x-ray kills are incredibly detailed. I really can’t find many negative points about the game, though having so many weapons locked behind a DLC wall is a disappointment. The enemy AI feels as if it has had an upgrade from the previous entries in the series and the German soldiers shout out orders and phrased in their native tongue. If you’re a fan of the series, or even if you’ve not played a Sniper Elite title before, I highly recommend the fourth outing as a worthwhile purchase.