Platforms: PC, Xbox One and PS4
Reviewed On: PC
Review code supplied free of charge by the publisher.
Sniper Elite III was a wonderfully pleasant surprise for me. Having never played the prior two games I leapt into the series and was soon shooting Nazis in the testicles with terrifying accuracy. It was rough around the edges, yet somehow incredibly good fun. I’ve been rather looking forward to this sequel, then. Aside from decimating more groins, what does Sniper Elite 4 have to offer?
Once again we step into the well-used boots of Karl Fairbourne, the gruffest man to ever gruff his way across World War II as he gets himself involved with the partisans and even the mob, all while doing the bidding on his superiors when it comes to taking down high-value targets, be they of the fleshy kind or the big gun kind. He’s a generic action hero, but his bad-ass voice and no-nonsense attitude help to hide that fact. The story itself, though, is utterly mundane stuff that’s supported by a few forgettable characters, several of which just appear without any real explanation. The voice acting is frankly terrible, especially a couple of the attempts at an Italian accent that gets butchered so badly that the entire nation of Italy will probably get a chill down their spine every time the characters speak.
The biggest and most notable improvement here are the levels which are easily two or three times as big as Sniper Elite 3’s largest examples and cover quite a few varied settings, from a giant bridge holding up a huge railway gun and the surrounding countryside to picturesque villages overshadowed by fortifications. Just on the standard difficulty you can easily spend an hour or more on these levels. More importantly than the size these areas, for the most part, feel well-designed. There are lots of places to explore in the name of finding that perfect place to hunker down with your rifle and make sweet, sweet love to it. I mean, shoot a lot of Nazi scum. Yeah. There’s a pleasing amount of verticality, too, which is always good news when you’re playing as somebody naturally dispositioned toward finding the high ground and using it to scope out the surrounding area with a pair of binoculars that can magically tag foes.
Yes, unsurprisingly in a game named Sniper Elite sniping is the main focus and it is bloody satisfying. The game provides a good range of assist options for people who want a more relaxed time, letting you switch off inconveniences like wind and gravity and providing a handy reticle that will show you exactly where your bullet will land. In a wonderful touch you can even select if silencers eliminate sound completely like in most games or if they simply reduce the noise like in real life. But the true beauty of the game lies in taking the assists off and patiently learning to land your shots by zeroing in the scope, accounting for bullet velocity and compensating for the wind. Nailing a long-distance kill without any assists is a gratifying feeling, especially when it’s against an enemy sniper who thinks he is safe up in his little perch or when you manage to thread a bullet through a tiny gap straight into an eyeball.
The game likes to reward your work, too, with the series’ trademark killcam which provides a gory x-ray view of your target as the bullet rips through their skull and brains or decimates their lungs or even annihilates their testicles. It’s bloody, horrible stuff and can get old after a while…unless you’re me. I never seem to get tired of watching a bullet bursting an eyeball, smashing through bone or eviscerating several internal organs which have now become mostly outside organs.
With that said the designers have perhaps gone a bit far. Buoyed by the popularity of the killcam they’ve gone and added even more killcams for some stealth takedowns so that you can watch a knife enter a brain and for other things like your explosive traps blowing people up, resulting in a wonderful moment of slow-mow glory where shrapnel turns them into pulp. Thankfully you can turn these off if you feel like you’re spending too much time watching people’s skin, muscles, sinews and bones getting shredded like paper.
Like before you can use sounds to cover your gunfire, letting you snipe enemies without having to worry about them figuring out where you’re currently holed up. On some levels this may be planes passing overhead, or a giant gun firing, providing a few seconds for you to introduce someone to the joys of rapidly traveling metal. There’s always the slightly amusing Sniper Elite tactic of kicking a nearby generator so that it starts sputtering and puttering, providing perfect cover for the loud crack of a sniper rifle without having to patiently wait for that airplane to come around again. The other option, as mentioned earlier, is to swap over to suppressed rifle rounds, but this has the drawback of cutting down muzzle velocity considerably and thus cutting down the range you can effectively kill. Still, it’s nice to have an option for stealth sniping that doesn’t involve having to find a handy generator which also comes with a major drawback.
Backing up your skills with a sniper rifle are an array of mines to leave dotted around the landscape. Thus my typical playstyle was to scout out a promising sniping location, stealth kill everybody, set up some traps as a backup and then proceeding to gun everybody down like a lunatic. Happy days. They’re also handy for dealing with occasional pesky tank that gets in the way. Since enemies will attempt to assault your position it’s quite easy to lure them into an explosive ambush, and then watch as they freak out because their mate got himself blown so high into the air that the passing planes thought he was an enemy fighter.
With these bigger levels the game feels even more like a playground, albeit with obviously limited scope: you aren’t stealing cars or taking on barmy side-missions. Still, there’s room to just play around by luring enemies into traps or trying to make tricky shots. Much of my time with the game was spent patiently wiping out everybody in the level.
At some point you’ll probably have to put the sniper rifle away and either attempt stealth or engage enemies with an assault rifle, at which point it becomes clear that there’s still plenty of work to be done to the Sniper Elite formula. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just…meh. There’s a finicky cover system where you simply sidle up to a wall and then pop out to take shots, but too often it doesn’t work as intended, leaving you to fiddle for a few seconds to get Karl properly into cover. Most of the weapons don’t feel very satisfying to use, either, especially in comparison to the meaty sniper rifles, although even those don’t quite get as far into the low-end as you might like. And as for stealth it’s pretty basic fare with an insta-kill takedown. The only thing you need to watch for is that moving too quickly attracts attention, however a quick crouched sprint into an enemy before hitting the takedown is easy abused because no soldier seems able to block your melee assault, even when they see you coming. Still, sneaking through an area can be quite good fun.
Underpinning everything is the enemy A.I. which doesn’t feel like it has gotten much improvement over its Sniper Elite III counterpart. It’s a mixed bag of quality to say the least. The triangulation system still works great, for example, so that if you fire your rifle enemies will be alerted but won’t immediately pinpoint your location, however the closer you are when the shot is taken the quicker they can work out where you’re currently hiding unless you move between shots. They’re smart enough to hunker down and concentrate fire on your location, or at least what they believe to be your location, and depending on how the aggression level is set (it’s changeable) they’ll push up and try to flush you out reasonably effective. Quite a few times I was surprised by enemies who had come up behind me using a different route. There are even a few enemy types that can call in an artillery strike or that can whistle or even call in reinforcements, so taking those out is a priority. Commanders are a great example as squads behave different with them around, and killing the commander can really mess them up. However, for all the good things the A.I. does it is prone to some rather daft mistakes such as running around in the open, or in one instance climbing out of a window into the open only to jog over to the next window and clamber back into the very same building. Upon running into you they also tend to freeze, almost doing a comical double take so that you have a leisurely amount of time to deliver a headshot or run up and stab them. Indeed, they just aren’t good enough at leaping upon an advantage, providing far too much opportunity for the player to sidle away or gun them down even when they should clearly be able to get the upper hand.
Still, there’s a solid selection of difficulty modifiers which the developers need to be praised for.
You can also tackle the campaign in co-op with the aid of a chum, or at least somebody who is your chum up to the point where they clumsily alert the entire German army to your presence. Nothing much really changes in terms of enemy layout, makeup or quantity which means things become a bit easier, but it is a lot of fun to run around with a friend nailing synchronized shots.
There’s multiplayer, too, which comes in the form of a co-operative wave mode which is essentially horde with sniper rifles. It’s quite generic but again surprisingly good fun with a group of good people. You can play the mode solo as well, if you like. Then there’s 6v6 multiplayer across a few different modes, and despite the danger of sounding like a broken record it’s actually quite fun as well. While new singleplayer content is hidden behind a season pass the developer has promised that all multiplayer additions will be free in order to keep the community together.
Moving on to the technical stuff we do see some nice improvements over Sniper Elite 3. The lighting, for example, can be rather nice and the sizable environments give rise to some lovely vistas. It is, however, one of those games that looks great so long as you don’t begin to look too closely at stuff. Do so and you’ll note that there is a lot of poor texture work and that faces look a lot like someone covered them in vaseline, so bereft are they of detail. With that said the environments do have an air of authenticity to them which I really liked.
On the performance front the developers kindly provide a range of graphical options, and on my system maintaining 60FPS at 1440P with everything bar anti-aliasing ramped up was possible. However, I did run into quite a few strange moments where the game would turn into a stuttering mess, sometimes for up to ten minutes. In most cases I managed to simply wait it out, patiently trying to move my character away from the area which seemed to be causing the problem. On one level, though, it became so bad I had to restart the entire area to escape it. This problem occurred during a couple of brief cutscenes and stealth kills, too.
There were a few glitches as well. I somehow managed to tag enemies through walls a couple of times, and another few times a massive amount of soldiers suddenly became magically tagged. Enemies sometimes got stuck in scenery, won’t notice you when they should
Ultimately Sniper Elite 4 feels a lot like Sniper Elite 3.5. The developers have clearly chosen to refine and develop their existing formula rather than making any large leaps or attempting anything huge and exciting. It’s the safe approach, one that has become the standard for the triple-A industry. This makes it a much harder proposition as a full-price game if you already happen to own Sniper Elite 3. With that said, it is a lot of fun. When I reviewed Sniper Elite III I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed the experience, and with its bigger levels and small tweaks here and there Sniper Elite 4 is undeniably a better, more satisfying game. The series still has far to go, but you won’t be caring about that when you nail a spectacular headshot from across the map without a single assist.