The world’s foremost socially distancing testicle surgeon is back to ensure there will never be any Nazi offspring. Yes, it’s Sniper Elite 5, a double-A series that has, over the years, somehow managed to sneak its way into my heart. Although they may be janky, there’s a charm and sense of fun to the Sniper Elite series that makes it hugely endearing. And having absorbed even more of the Hitman vibe, Sniper Elite 5 is, in many ways, the best one yet. But there are a few badly aimed shots, too. So grab a rifle, zero in the scope, take a deep breath and….grab a cup of coffee. And put the rifle back down, you’ll take someone’s testicles out with that thing. Yeesh.
Once again Karl Fairbourne, the German-born turned Ally sniper, is back to deliver some X-ray gore and decimate the German ranks during World War 2. This time the Nazis are working on a super-secret project codenamed Kraken and Karl needs to find out what they’re up to and eliminate a variety of targets along the way – preferably from several hundred metres away. He’s the John Wick of World War 2, the only dude who can actually get things done, after all.
The Sniper Elite games have never been what you might call story-driven and that fact remains true for the fifth entry. Tom Clarke-Hill still has an excellent voice and delivers a solid performance as Karl Fairbourne, but the character continues to be a one-note gruff guy even after five games. The rest of the cast is much less impressive and are not aided by the stiff facial animations and bland writing. This is basic videogame scripting, and quite honestly, that’s okay. I don’t play Sniper Elite for the story and neither do the franchise’s many fans. We’re here to snipe some Nazis and mess about in the levels, and the plot provides solid excuses for adventuring into u-boat pens, beaches and towns.
Speaking of which, Sniper Elite 5’s levels are huge affairs that span multiple main objectives that can be tackled in almost any order and several optional goals, too. On average each of the levels took me around 60-90 minutes each, equalling around 10-15 hours of playtime for the eight included levels, although the eighth mission doesn’t really count as it lasts just a few minutes. Of course, I was taking my time, ticking off every objective and messing around a little, which is exactly how Sniper Elite 5 should be played. It’s a lot of fun to sneak around, stab some guards, hide behind corners, lay down mines to decimate a truck and engage in a few shootouts. There’s a playfulness to the series that I love, and the levels do a good job of providing lots of room to indulge that playfulness.
However, I do think it’s fair to say that with these almost Hitman influences creeping in, Sniper Elite 5 sometimes tries to veer away from the sniping action it has been built upon. This is most notable in a mission named Spy Academy. As you step onto the level you’re given a beautiful view of Beaumont Saint-Denis, and from your vantage point, there are numerous opportunities to add ventilation to some Nazi skulls. There are even a few circling planes that create the perfect sound to mask your shots if you have the patience to wait for them. Once you get into the city proper, though, the close-quarters makes chances to deliver long-range shots few and far between. This means relying more heavily on the stealth mechanics to sneak past guards or stab ’em in the heart, and while they’re certainly serviceable they’re also rather basic and not terribly exciting. Amble up behind a guard, stab ’em in the heart and drag their corpse off to a handy body-sized box. It’s fun, it really is. But it’s not as developed as in other games nor as creative.
There are a couple more examples of this throughout the campaign where chunks of the map emphasise basic stealth more than I think the series has before. For some people, this might be disappointing, although I do believe there’s a fair argument to be made that forcing players into tighter environments keeps things fresh. The sniping is awesome, sure, but it’s nice to stretch your legs and lure a few idiots into the long grass to meet their demise.
Somewhere between games, Karl has been taking lessons from Agent 47 r something because now he can climb up things like hanging vines and drainpipes, making him a more mobile killer. Between this and the fact that you can occasionally get a tad creative with kills, like dropping a chandelier on a target or poisoning a cup, there’s a Hitman 3 vibe to the experience, albeit nowhere near as good. Still, it’s a feeling I appreciate, hardly surprising given my sheer adoration of the modern Hitman titles.
While the levels are almost all well designed with multiple routes, getting around them can be troublesome despite Karl’s newfound tricks. Invisible walls are a frequent thing to quite literally run into and the rules about what you and cannot climb over appear to be made up on the spot. You can run up to a wall and find it unclimbable, only to move 5ft along and be able to mantle it. The cover system can be just as finicky about what you can hide behind, too, and Karl has a nasty habit of getting caught in the scenery so that he can’t move for a second or two. On their own, these things wouldn’t be too bad, but when you put them together it can lead to some annoying moments where Karl won’t climb a ladder, won’t take cover properly, won’t vault through a window because you’re 1cm too far left and bangs his knees on a wall that looks jumpable but apparently isn’t. Get your shit together, Karl, you’re supposed to be a pro.
But let’s get to the whole point of this series: sniping. It’s as entertaining and satisfying as ever to shoulder a rifle, pick a target and unleash long-rain pain As nerdy as it sounds I love finding a nice viewpoint, going prone and slowly cataloguing every enemy in sight with the binoculars before patiently gunning them all down with perfectly placed bullets. Or if I’m feeling evil, a few kneecap shots so that the anguished cries of pain draw out further victims. Plenty of options mean you can set up the sniping to your own preferences, whether that means the bullet going exactly where the crosshairs are aimed, or having to account for bullet drop and wind. It’s awesome that everyone can get a good experience and the satisfaction of a same-day delivery package to the head.
Killing shots are once again rewarded with the series’ trademark gloriously grisly X-ray shots of bullets piercing flesh, decimating organs and ripping through skulls. Like always you can turn these off or even just adjust the frequency, advisable if you do a lot of sniping, but I still find them hugely entertaining to watch. They provide a moment to revel in my unparalleled skills with a sniper rifle, or more precisely, to revel in my use of the Empty Lung button for a handy-dandy on-screen “aim here, dumbass” assist.
I did find the ease with which suppressors could be found to take away some planning and strategy, though. In the early levels, obvious sniping spots will often yield a suppressed rifle you can use, and later you can equip a suppressor to your weapons, although unlike other games suppressors don’t magically make guns completely silent, which I appreciate. On top of that, there are subsonic bullets to be found for every weapon, making you even stealthier at the cost of some damage. With that said, you can opt to ignore these and continue being a more careful sniper who has to clear out the surrounding area before taking a shot, lest every nearby soldier comes running.
If they do come running you’ll be witness to an AI that is somehow both smart and utterly idiotic at the same time, despite Rebellion’s claims that they’ve significantly improved it since Sniper Elite 4. On the one hand, they’re actually quite aggressive and will push forward and even surround if when possible, and they’re reasonably effective at hunting for you. But on the other hand, they’ll also stare intently at walls, mill around like little lost zombies and helpfully queue to climb up ladders one at a time so that you can politely stab them at the top. Basically, the Nazis are an inconsistent bunch of villains who bounce from being quite effective to being dumber than Hitler’s moustache.
There’s a decent new weapon customisation system where you can unlock new barrels, scopes, stocks and more by interacting with handy workbenches scattered around the maps. It’s fun to tinker with guns, but it seems to have come at a cost, namely the loss of numerous weapons and several gadgets. Trip mines? Gone. Instead, we now have a selection of non-lethal options like Shu Mines, wooden bullets and being able to knock guards out instead of just stabbing them in the neck like a normal, sane person. I think I get the idea here: many of the German soldiers were conscripts shoved into war, and tagging them with the binos gives you a quick description of who they are, often presenting little details that make them more human. Like Dishonored, you could play through the game as some sort of Judge and Executioner, quietly weighing the sins of your targets before casting judgement upon them in the form of a bullet through the testicles. But at the same time, having a non-lethal option in a game where you shoot Nazis kind of feels like going to Mcdonald’s and having a salad. I mean, sure, you can, but why would you? It’s McDonalds.
It’s hard to say if this is a better game than Sniper Elite 4. There are a couple of improvements and a few good additions, but there are also rough edges – which I’ll have more to talk about later – and the basic feel of the gameplay isn’t much different. The biggest thing, in my mind, are the new levels which are almost all great to mess around in and nicely varied. Whether you prefer to focus on the long-range sniping or like to be more aggressive, the game feels great, and I think there is plenty of reason to go back and replay levels.
As much as I do love Sniper Elite 5, I do think the series could do with a refresh at this point. Ditching the World War 2 setting and heading to something like the Vietnam conflict could provide a lot of new material for the developers to work with. Or they could even move into some fictional black-ops stuff in a more modern setting.
Perhaps the most interesting and ballsy decision that Rebellion made is the new Invasion mode where you sign up to barge into someone else’s single-player game as an enemy sniper. Or you can choose to enable Invasions in your own campaign, provided you don’t mind people coming in with the singular aim of fucking up your entire day. The mode plays out as you’d expect with the invading player needing to eliminate the host before they complete the map’s objectives. Given how big the maps are that could potentially result in a lot of awkward running about, but Rebellion thought of that and so special phones strewn around the place can be used to pinpoint the enemy sniper’s location, although they can move from there and often will in order to ambush you. And finally, the invading player can order the AI to stay sharp, boosting their ability to spot the enemy.
Provided you can cope with the idea of a stranger barging into your stealthy Nazi murdering rampage then this new Invasion mode works very well. Knowing that a player has entered the game and is actively hunting you adds a lot of tension to the gameplay, especially if they know the map well and where all the objectives are located, since the Invading player doesn’t get them marked on their map. It pushes you to be more careful, too, since a trail of bodies or a bunch of alerted soldiers will make your presence obvious. On the other side of the scope, patiently hunting the host player down and then nailing a long-range shot through their cranium is immensely satisfying.
But if you would rather work with another sniper rather than against one, there’s always the co-op mode. Honestly, there’s not much to actually say about this because there are no co-op specific mechanics that force players to work together. But that doesn’t make it any less fun to mess about, troll the AI or pull off synchronised shots from across the map.
I played Sniper Elite 5 on an Xbox Series S where I found both the graphics and the performance to be a mixed bag. The game features some beautiful environments and it does seem like there’s been a small step up from Sniper Elite 4. Textures are a lot more detailed now and the lighting is more natural. Rebellion has used the five-year gap between Sniper Elite games well. With that said, still isn’t a triple-A title and it does have a sort of last-gen look to it, especially in terms of cutscenes.
The Series S has a couple of notable issues that combine to make one, much bigger issue. Firstly, the resolution typically sits at 1080p but it can drop depending on the circumstances. Secondly, whatever anti-aliasing method Rebellion opted for has resulted in a lot of shimmering in both foliage and around shadows, and extremely pixelated edges, giving the whole image a nasty look.
And the framerate is a little wonky, too. It never seems to hit 60fps and instead seems to hover in the 40-50 area, sometimes lower, with a lot of inconsistency. Naturally, this gets worse when there are a lot of enemies on-screen, explosions occurring and so on. As much as it surprises me to say this, aiming for a locked 30fps might have been the better choice for a smoother, consistent experience.
And finally, before we wrap this review up with a pretty bow and a bullet to the skull, we have to chat about the bugs and glitches, of which there are quite a few. The most common one that I encountered were enemies getting stuck in a loop where they would go from investigating to normal and back to investigating again, trapped in an endless cycle until I restarted the mission. I also wound up trapped in the scenery a couple of times and witnessed enemies also becoming stuck inside of walls. And speaking of which, I was spotted a handful of times through seemingly solid walls, making me seriously question if the Nazis really were tapping into supernatural powers like all those conspiracy theories suggest.
But even with its rough edges, I happily soaked up every minute of Sniper Elite 5 and find myself looking forward to the inevitable Sniper Elite 6. Messing about in these chunky levels, soaking up the views, skulking around corners and ventilating skulls – none of it has advanced considerably since Sniper Elite 4, yet it remains fun and satisfying. and that does make it tougher to rate. Personally, I love this game and could easily recommend it to most people, but more objectively it does have some issues and hasn’t added that much to the franchise outside of the fun new Invasion mode and a couple of gameplay tweaks that need more polish. In the end, I had a blast with Sniper Elite 5 and its inclusion on Game Pass makes these an easy recommendation if you have the service. If you don’t, it’s still worth buying if you’re a fan of the series. If you’re looking to jump into the franchise for the first time, maybe wait for a price drop or even think about getting Sniper Elite 4.