Sniper Elite 4

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Re­bel­lion For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One Re­lease Out now

PC, PS4, Xbox One

The sec­ond op­tion you’re pre­sented with on start­ing Sniper Elite 4, just af­ter gamma ad­just­ment, is whether or not to use the se­ries’ now-in­fa­mous Kill Cam. Squea­mish play­ers can shield them­selves from the game’s un­flinch­ing de­pic­tion of frac­tur­ing bones, spi­ralling brain mat­ter and rup­tured tes­ti­cles even be­fore choos­ing to in­vert their Y axis, then, but to do so wouldn’t be in keep­ing with the game’s spirit of per­fec­tion­ism, and you would de­prive your­self of some of the most sat­is­fy­ing pay­offs in any videogame.

The Sniper Elite se­ries has al­ways been about pa­tient re­fine­ment, both in the sniper role­play fan­tasy it presents to play­ers and in the way Re­bel­lion can­didly ad­mits its rel­a­tive lack of re­sources but sol­diers on with in­cre­men­tal im­prove­ments in each in­stal­ment. And with Sniper Elite 4 the stu­dio has reached some­thing of a water­shed mo­ment – this is its most con­fi­dent, ap­peal­ing and gen­er­ous Sniper of­fer­ing to date, and while it doesn’t stray far from its pre­de­ces­sors’ tem­plate, it sees the se­ries fi­nally reach its full po­ten­tial. Play­ing a Sniper Elite game need no longer be a guilty plea­sure.

In fact, it’s a lit­tle dis­arm­ing to dis­cover how much the game re­minds us of re­cent en­tries in the Metal Gear Solid se­ries. The Phan­tom Pain is chan­nelled in each sprawl­ing open map, while en­e­mies are just about the right blend of per­sis­tent and cred­u­lous. And Guns Of The Pa­tri­ots comes to mind each time you find your­self in the mid­dle of an ac­tive war­zone, stick­ing to the shad­ows to shift the bal­ance in one side’s favour. You can even man­tle up onto ledges and clam­ber up drain­pipes to in­fil­trate build­ings; there’s some light plat­form­ing to be done here and there as you get about; and dan­gling out of sight wait­ing for some poor sap to walk into arm’s length is pos­i­tively en­cour­aged. Mov­ing about the world feels much more fluid than in pre­vi­ous Sniper games, even if pro­tag­o­nist Karl Fair­burne never quite feels like he has any real weight, and your op­tions for run­ning rings around your en­e­mies are ex­panded ten­fold with this mod­estly in­creased moveset.

But for all the ad­di­tional pol­ish, this still feels very much like a Sniper Elite game, los­ing none of the se­ries’ per­son­al­ity (though Fair­burne has none to mis­place – he’s the kind of dull, hy­per-ma­cho Amer­i­can hero who takes the edge off ev­ery Game Over screen by dint of be­ing en­tirely im­pos­si­ble to care about). The game’s World War II set­ting is beau­ti­fully ob­served, how­ever, and man­ages to blend his­tor­i­cal au­then­tic­ity with some rather smart level de­sign. And Re­bel­lion has en­sured that the game’s snip­ing me­chan­ics are deep with­out be­ing over­whelm­ing. You must care­fully con­sider your po­si­tion and avail­able cover – and you’ll want to keep mov­ing in or­der to avoid be­ing lo­cated. You need to be aware of the dis­tance to your tar­get, and zero your scope ac­cord­ingly, ad­just­ing the range to suit the shot. You can empty your lungs and lower your heart rate in or­der to steady your aim for dif­fi­cult shots. And you must be pa­tient. Slap the dif­fi­culty up to Au­then­tic (each set­ting of­fers a sur­pris­ingly big jump), and you’ll need to take into ac­count wind speed and di­rec­tion, point-of-im­pact shift, muzzle ve­loc­ity and re­al­is­tic ammo clips that see you lose any un­spent ammo when you reload. But on nor­mal dif­fi­culty, at least, Sniper Elite 4 doesn’t pun­ish you too harshly for er­rors of judge­ment or im­petu­ous­ness. Miss a shot or blow your cover, and it’s pos­si­ble to shoot your way out with a sidearm – though it won’t take many hits be­fore you go down. En­emy sol­diers are also pro­fi­cient when it comes to flank­ing and sur­round­ing you, and they’ll travel a sur­pris­ing dis­tance to in­ves­ti­gate noises, mean­ing that the route in you left clear be­hind you might not stay that way for long. In fact, the mo­ments when you can see no clear es­cape and must hun­ker down un­der fire with only a hand­ful of ammo clips and a cou­ple of stick grenades, ly­ing in wait for each op­por­tu­nity to aer­ate en­e­mies’ in­ter­nal or­gans as they grad­u­ally move closer to you, are some of the game’s most thrilling. Sniper Elite 4 is un­ex­pect­edly pli­able, happy for you to segue be­tween play styles and move in and out of cover as you see fit. Lit­tle touches – such as the way that lone en­e­mies will some­times turn tail and run, stum­bling in the process, when you rush them – un­der­score this new fo­cus on flex­i­bil­ity and en­cour­age you to ex­per­i­ment up close to your vic­tims as well as from 500 me­tres away.

That’s also roughly the dis­tance you’ll want to be from any of the main char­ac­ters when they’re de­liv­er­ing the game’s con­sis­tently ter­ri­ble, cliché-stuffed script. For­tu­nately, cutscenes are skip­pable, and Fair­burne’s in-game quips and com­ments are so gruff that they’re eas­ily lost amid the gun­fire and ex­plo­sions. There are big­ger is­sues, though. We’re not sure why we’re un­able to switch the cam­era be­tween shoul­ders when aim­ing, but it makes it con­sid­er­ably more dan­ger­ous to emerge from the right of any tar­get and feels oddly lim­it­ing in a game that so ex­u­ber­antly crows its com­mit­ment to free­dom of choice. And while there are var­ied and plen­ti­ful pri­mary and op­tional mis­sion ob­jec­tives to tackle on ev­ery map, they all boil down to shoot­ing or mak­ing things blow up. The clue is in the game’s ti­tle, of course, but it can still feel a lit­tle one-note if you tackle too much of the cam­paign in one sit­ting.

But none of this tar­nishes Re­bel­lion’s bright-eyed, big-hearted of­fer­ing. It’s cre­ated a gen­uinely good, if char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally scrappy, stealth game that rep­re­sents a new high-wa­ter mark for the se­ries. And while Sniper Elite 4 ab­sorbs lessons from genre ex­em­plars such as Metal Gear and Splin­ter Cell, it never for­gets its prove­nance – nor the many fans who’ve ded­i­cated them­selves to the se­ries – in the process.

It’s a lit­tle dis­arm­ing to dis­cover how much the game re­minds us of re­cent en­tries in the Metal Gear Solid se­ries

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