Sniper Elite 4
Rebellion guns for a new era of excellence
PC, PS4, Xbox One
While the new Battlezone is set to break new ground for Rebellion as the studio strikes out into VR territory, Sniper Elite 4 may yet prove to be the UK studio’s most progressive project. Sure, it’s unlikely to revolutionise the thirdperson shooter, but it represents Rebellion’s biggest enterprise to date: now entirely self-funded and freed from publisher influence, the company is attempting to reposition its niche shooter for the mainstream, and in doing so transform its reputation, too.
“For quite a lot of our years we’ve been work for hire, which has its highs and its lows,” Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley tells us. “At its worst you have to just put something together over a short period of time and get it out the best you can, and you’re kind of damned if you do and damned if you don’t, but at least you keep people employed. You might also get to work on some brilliant brands, and get really big budgets if you’re lucky enough. It’s usually other people in control, though, and often you get other people making creative and gameplay decisions in spite of your suggestions. But now we’ve transitioned to working for ourselves, and that means that there isn’t anybody else apart from us making the creative decisions or business decisions.”
Rebellion has extricated itself from this rigmarole by stockpiling the profit it’s made on previous games, and now has no venture capitalists or banks to answer to. But it does have over 200 employees across its Oxford and Liverpool studios – 120 of whom have spent the past two years working on Sniper
Elite 4 – so there is more riding on the game’s success than ever before. The series is in rude health, at least, having celebrated its tenth anniversary last year and coincidentally cleared sales of ten million copies.
Further shackles that Rebellion is keen to cast aside are Sniper Elite 3’ s links to the previous console generation. “The game was conceived to come out when PlayStation 4 and Xbox One had been launched, but they weren’t huge in the marketplace yet and PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 were still really important,” Kingsley notes. “What we did on next-gen consoles was somewhat controlled by what we could do on the old-gen formats, and obviously we didn’t have enough funds to do completely different versions. On
Sniper Elite 4, we’ve used our own engine fully, we’re entirely self-funding it – 505 isn’t the publisher any more, we are. It’s just us making it, and because there are no last-gen restrictions this time, the designers, artists and coders have been able to say, ‘Right, the gloves are off now’.”
The resulting game bears clear evidence of this redoubled effort, boasting densely detailed, sprawling open-world maps, ramped-up enemy AI, and overhauled controls and abilities that ensure everything feels more polished. The studio is well aware of criticisms levelled at previous games in the series, and is using its carefully planned budget to address them.
“It’s a fairly big budget from our perspective – we’re talking millions of pounds, but not tens of millions. So we’re competing in the worldwide marketplace with a game that probably costs a fifth of what some of the biggest games out there cost to make, but I think will probably sell as well. So I’m very proud of what the team has done. We’ve built on the successes of
Sniper Elite 3, and we’ve listened to the feedback of the fans and journalists’ constructive criticisms. If somebody just says that the game’s shit then there’s not a lot we can do about that, but if somebody says, ‘I didn’t really understand the AI,’ or, ‘Collision was a bit ropey,’ those are all legitimate things we can look at and address. So that’s what we’ve tried to do: we’ve redesigned the AI from the ground up, and tried to improve how we communicate what the AI is doing to the player. If a soldier is panicking, they sound like they’re panicking, and they say they’re panicking. So the player is completely comfortable and says, ‘Oh, they’re panicking,’ rather than going, ‘Why is the AI doing stupid things?’”
“It’s just us making it this time, and there are no last-gen restrictions. The gloves are off”
Rebellion CEO and cofounder Jason Kingsley