Throughout the entirety of my 30 hours with Sniper Elite 4’s campaign I had a grin the size of a Chesire cat. It’s not often a long running game series realises it’s potential in such a confident manner, but with the latest entry of master sniper Karl Fairburne’s secret exploits overseas, Rebellion Studios have nailed it.
“Packed with detail and a ridiculous labyrinthine set of pathways, infiltration points and escape routes.”
Previous entries of Sniper Elite have always been well received whilst never quite hitting that top tier status, be it the narrower focus of the environments or the slightly too predictable AI behaviours, or even just a tendency to be able to “shoot your way out” of any situation. The latter point jarring somewhat with what being a sniper is all about.
Then in steps Sniper Elite 4, completely built from the ground up for the latest console generation and PC hardware, everything, and I do mean everything, has been overhauled and reworked. It all just clicks in a way that had eluded previous games.
Environments no longer have that small, claustrophobic feeling. Here they are vast, open and downright massive. Packed with detail and a ridiculous labyrinthine set of pathways, infiltration points and escape routes. Further more, each of the 10 missions (11 if you add in the bonus Target Furher mission) are meticulous, diverse and extremely beautiful. Whether it be the sun soaked Bitanti Village, the dense forest of Regilino Viaduct or a tense moonlit infiltration to Lorino Dockyard, each map feels like a devilishly brutal puzzle to be solved, navigated and ultimately toyed with.
Here is where Sniper Elite 4 steps out of the shadow of “just another 3rd-person shooter” and genuinely joins the ranks Hitman and Metal Gear Sold V: The Phantom Pain. These titles allow you to assess any given situation, formulate a plan and execute it in a multitude of ways, the gamer mostly only limited by their own creativity. Of course it can and often will frequently go tits up in glorious fashion resulting in a frantic panic to make your escape, regroup and come up with a better plan against an AI that is now on high alert and have switched up their patrol patterns.
An example of how just how crafty they can be happened during a lengthy 3 hour playthrough on mission 3’s Regilino Viaduct. I had found the perfect sniper spot with good visibility of the area and my gun shots masked by the deafening BOOM of the Nazis anti-air artillery in the distance. There I was quietly picking off unsuspecting soldiers when I got a bit too cocky and shot him in the hip instead of the grenade on his belt. Yes you can shoot the grenades on their belts and it is as wonderful as it sounds!
What happened next was completely unexpected.
Surrounding soldiers started to piece together where my shots must have been coming from and decided to try a pincer movement, closing in from either side. Meanwhile the poor sod I left bleeding out on the battlefield was surely a gonner. Then to my amazement, a fellow soldier who was patrolling alongside him just a few moments prior, bolted out from cover, picked Gerry up on the field and carried him off to the side where he administered some field dressings to patch up his buddy!
This level of dynamic behaviour feeds in to everything in Sniper Elite 4 and allows you to create you own moments and stories.
Movement of our master sniper has been refined considerably, whilst not nearly as slick as Big Boss, it all feels smoother, more responsive and a wider variety of gory takedowns than ever before. One of the defining features in the Sniper series has always been the X-Ray kill camera. Here there has not only been multiple new layers of detail added for the brain matter, blood vessels and muscle tissue as they all go pop from a high calibre bullet, but Rebellion have expanded them to some brutally wince worthy hand-to-hand takedowns too.
Punch a guy in the chest and you’ll see his rib cage crack and organs shake and burst from the trauma. Each one worthy of a Mortal Kombat fatality.
Environmental kills can also be performed in some unexpected ways. The game wants you to experiment and have fun. Everything you do gives you XP that feeds in to a simple skill tree. Now don’t go thinking this has some hefty RPG elements to it because it doesn’t. All you get is 2 branching paths where you pick a perk every 5 levels. It’s simple and is just there to enhance your core skill set which I liked.
There are also a ridiculous amount of weapon unlocks, challenges and collectibles to find throughout each map. If aiming for the perfect kill wasn’t enough to keep you coming back then the completionist in you will be giddy at how much there is to find here. Whilst each main mission objective could be finished in about 1 hour, if you factor in the main side objectives and the aforementioned collectibles, you can easily spend over 3 hrs on each map.
Speaking of those side objectives these are the best part of the campaign narrative and really should not be missed out under any circumstance. Before each mission begins, Karl has the option to chat to some fellow resistance fighters, be it Jack Weaver, British OSS intelligence officer, Signor Dinelli respresenting a vested interest for the Mafiosa, or Sofia De Rocco AKA The Angel, leader of the Italian resistance. Chatting to each before your mission will give you a list of optional objectives.
“…dynamic behaviour feeds in to everything in Sniper Elite 4 and allows you to create your own moments and stories.”
This reminds me a lot of how Goldeneye and Perfect Dark on the N64 handled their difficulty level system. By increasing the difficulty it added additional objectives to complete. It was a revelation back in the 90’s and it’s great to see represented here.
More over they are well thought out and extremely interesting, ranging from destroying a suite of Nazis code breaking machines, immobilising a supply convoy for the resistance to scoop up or intercept some key research documents.
The whole thing is also playable cooperatively with 2 players adding yet another dynamic to everything and a first for the series. It also happens to be one of the best co-op games currently available.
Outside of the campaign there are a bevy of familiar yet interesting multiplayer modes:
- Deathmatch – Everyone is a target in this free-for-all mode
- Team Deathmatch – Work together to kill the opposition any way you can
- Team Distance King – Kill your enemy from as far away as possible
- Distance King – Free-for-all mode where kill distance counts
- No Cross – Team Deathmatch with a twist. Teams are separated by an impossible No Man’s Land
- Control – Teams compete to maintain control of each radio drop until it is captured
- Survival – Battle waves of enemies in special areans with up to 3 team-mates
- Overwatch – Asymmetrical sniper and spotter missions
Overall Sniper Elite 4 is not only exceptional value for money but gives us the true realisation that this series has been building toward. Expanding everything that was great from previous games, 2017’s first great shooter should be lined up in your sights to be taken home as a trophy.