Over ten years in, the Sniper Elite series continues to evolve, maintaining it’s intriguing WWII sniping gameplay and increasingly large maps and freedom of choice.
I remember Sniper Elite back at probably E3 2005 or maybe 2006, and a friend and I couch co-oped through the entire campaign on the original Xbox on what might have been the hardest difficulty. It took us a long time, but it was really enjoyable. Communicating and sharing in those awesome coordinated moments of disrupting the Nazi war machine was great, even with the game’s limitations at the time. We have yet to work our way through the other Sniper Elite games together, but even today, I would say the series is best played co-op. Unfortunately couch co-op or splitscreen has not been offered since I believe the very first game, but with Sniper Elite 4, you can still co-op the campaign together again over the internet.
Anyway, the first two games saw series protagonist Karl Fairburne crawling prone through drab, dark Berlin. More recently, Sniper Elite III was set deep into the deserts of the African campaign. It opened up the game world up quite a bit, offered more freedom to how players approached objectives, and offered a strikingly different visual appearance thanks to large deserts and less buildings and other view-distance limitations. Now with Sniper Elite 4, the game expands yet further — the maps are really massive. There may be less of them, about ten total, but they’re huge and easily consume the size of those seen in the previous games. The setting is also now Italy, with beachfront missions, vast country sides, and generally a much more colorful and interesting visual design. The technical state of the graphics looks a little bit dated and some of the animations are a little clumsy, but the art direction compensates for that very nicely. Furthermore, I have read that on a PS4 Pro, the game maintains a high frame rate, although in my own personal experience on a launch PS4, I don’t really have any complaints at all either.
Visually, Sniper Elite 4 is pleasant overall. The series infamous x-ray vision camera makes a return for better or worse, depending on your preference. At first boot, the game takes you through a brief first time setup sequence where you set your brightness and a few other options, including what level of violence you want to go with. Personally, I find the x-ray cam and the gore therein a bit tiresome and sort of goofy — call me old school, but I liked the original bullet cam and tremendously less overtly graphic kills that were used in the original game. It’s nice to have your shot ‘celebrated’ with an instant camera change over to the bullet’s path and for the audio volumes to drop out to really emphasize the moment, but I think the excessive gore gets tiresome and repetitive, despite having numerous hit boxes and animations available. Again, to each their own, and kudos to Rebellion for once again offering the option to the player to control how often this feature is utilized.
Moving on to more important elements of this release — the actual gameplay. Certainly for anyone that has played the series before, this is very familiar territory. If you haven’t, well, depending on the difficulty you’ve chosen, which does include custom toggles so that you can fine tune your own difficulty preferences, the game may require a steep learning curve. If I’m playing solo, I tend to play on Normal as opposed to the higher settings that demand much more stringent marksmanship due to more physics and ballistics being put into play. Were the game highly polished in all respects, including the AI, I might try this option solo, but as is, I save it for co-op and take a bit of a cynical approach that the game may not quite judge the accuracy consistently. That said, with the maps being so massive and now with more sub-objectives and even collectibles to hunt and scour for, missions take even longer. Depending on how good you are and how meticulous, these missions can take a few hours. Which is great on the one hand, but potentially exhausting on the other. I’m not a completionist so collectibles usually don’t mean much to me (the Uncharted series’ treasure are one very rare exception I make), but for others, this will add a good amount of time to their experience. Even just sticking to the main objectives, expect a good twelve hour campaign.
The campaign is enjoyable, best played in co-op in my opinion, but offers a pretty tepid story that is serviceable, but not memorable. Which, for anyone seriously interested in this game, is perfectly fine — you don’t play DOOM for the story, and Sniper Elite 4 is in that same vein. The WWII setting, the Nazis, that’s all just a mechanism to enable great sniping action. Of course, it’s not all about sniping. Stealth and dealing with plans gone awry is a reoccurring theme in the game, one that is handled better this time than other, particularly because the up close action in using your assault rifle is more refined and less cumbersome than before. Stealth play works, but really only to a point — this isn’t a true stealth game nor does it claim to be, but being able to use distractions from trusty rock-throws to whistles to sniping while planes fly overhead to cover your noise, that’s all here, and can work to your advantage. Plus, given the size of the maps, there are different regions, basically like their own autonomous systems, of enemies that are separate from the others. This reminded me of Ghost Recon: Wildlands that I played in January at an event — enemies in ‘camp A’ are separate from those in ‘camp B’ so to speak, in as far as you can go hog wild and make as much noise and destruction in one camp, but, you don’t have to worry about high alert being raised in other camps. This is nice, and a forgiving way to design a large scale mission, but I suppose it does go against what would be more realistic to actually happen. Of course, this is just a game afterall.
Sniper Elite 4 is forgiving in some other ways too, such as frequency checkpoints, which I really appreciate because it invites experimentation and encourages the player to nail that perfect shot or moment without much fuss if they have to reload a checkpoint and try again. I might not be a completionist, but sometimes, there is a particular way I like to see a scenario unfold, so having frequency checkpoints enables me to try areas over again without much penalty in terms of time lost (a big deal for me). The game is forgiving in other less admirable ways too, and that being with the sometimes disappointing AI. You will encounter AI that are overly capable or observant, but not as often as ones that are disappointingly inept. There is a balance overall to the point that the experience is far from broken, but, just as good sniping has been a stable of the series, so too has been questionable or inconsistent AI. I can appreciate that AI, perhaps especially in a mixed stealth/sniping/action game like this, is difficult to achieve, but this is an area that still needs polish to really bring the game to the next level. In addition to the campaign and being able to campaign in co-op, Sniper Elite 4 offers up a few other modes, including a Solo Survival Mode in which you must deal with waves of enemies. Competitive multiplayer modes, which I have admittedly spent little time in, involve a lot more ground fighting and automatic weapon fire than sniping, not a particular strong point of the game, but one that I will say fairs better than previous outings.
Planned DLC releases with new weapons, similar to Sniper Elite III, are on the horizon, which makes Sniper Elite 4 one possibly best waiting a bit on to purchase. During that time, we’re sure to see patches and extra polish like practically any other game released in the last several years, and an Ultimate Edition seems quite likely. But whether you dive in now or later, expect another solid entry into Rebellion’s long-running, compelling and often thrilling series.