Sniper Elite 4
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