You know the drill: as a lone sniper you are dropped behind enemy lines, stalking the enemy while carefully making your way through the map to the objective without raising the alarm. Rebellion have mixed things up with Sniper Elite 4, with raising the alarm not being such a catastrophe, and huge, open world maps provide plenty of challenge and variety with multiple optional objectives.
Set immediately after the events of Sniper Elite 3, you are placed in the boots of Karl Fairburne, although you’d be forgiven in thinking he is B.J. Blazkowicz. Gritty ink sketches fill in the story of the war in 1943, while full colour cutscenes paint in the events of each chapter of the game. It looks great. Textures and lighting are all convincingly rendered and although Battlefield 1 shouldn’t be too worried, the detail and colour throughout the maps of Sniper Elite 4 should be commended.
The graphic x-ray kill cams that the series is renowned for return, but bring even more brutality. Melee takedowns are treated to the same bonecrunchingly brutal x-ray finesse, while slow motion explosive kills from a mine or a tripwire make for some satisfying x-ray kill cams. You can even delay the effects of these traps – instead of nailing the first soldier a trap can detonate taking out a whole squad. It’s gruesome, brutal and oh so satisfying.
The environment also plays a greater role in Sniper Elite 4. Vegetation and low walls provide excellent cover to stalk unsuspecting enemies, while ledges offer a great escape route should you need it. Often clambering up well-placed wooden poles allows access to hidden vantage points – but it was frustrating that not all buildings and drainpipes could be climbed, even though they looked perfectly suitable. Lighting also needs to be considered carefully. Keeping to the shadows and taking out lights can certainly give you the upper hand, although it’s a shame we weren’t treated to a Thief-esque warning system that details how ‘hidden’ you are.
Each map is expertly crafted, offering interesting layouts and plenty of variety, but not everything can be picked off from the safety of a tall tower. Going in all guns blazing was a sure fire way to get yourself killed in the previous games. In Sniper Elite 4 busting out the Thompson is often a far more viable option. There isn’t always a plane overhead or generator to sabotage in order to mask your gunfire, and with limited suppressed ammo there will be times when the enemy will triangulate your position. This is what makes the secondary weapon a great backup. No longer does being spotted feel like a failure. Often doing so can make for a better tactic than trying to ghost the whole mission.
If you do favour the life of a pure sniper, then the binoculars will be your best friend. They help locate enemy positions and highlight environmental takedown opportunities, but they also detail the rank, attitude and items each soldier is carrying – ideal if you want to collect all the hidden items in each area. Collecting the many letters and notes hidden will not only give you insight into the objectives of each map, but letters paint a more human element to the guy you just slaughtered. Notes from a loved one will make you feel an ounce of guilt over your merciless killing.
If you don’t have the patience for scouting then you needn’t worry. A minimap shows nearby soldiers – although it does make the game a little too easy – and while you might not want to ramp up the difficulty, which makes AI more ruthless and introduces other bullet dynamics, you can adjust the difficulty via a new custom mode. Yes, Sniper Elite has gone and done a Forza. You can pretty much adjust every individual element of the game to give you the perfect challenge. It’s brilliant, every game should offer this!
Once you’ve completed each of the eight campaign areas, a set of challenges is revealed, most of which are quite… challenging. Bringing a co-op partner along for the ride certainly makes for double the fun but also half the burden of trying to best these unique and dastardly challenges.
As great as Sniper Elite 4 is, common complaints still remain. The enemy AI has been overhauled – able to mount flanking attacks and work out where you’re hiding – but they are still pretty stupid on normal difficulty. Often I was able to run headlong into an enemy for an easy knife kill without them so much as uttering “ACTHUNG!”. At times you can really torment the AI and bait enemies by purposely leaving a dead body for them to find, leading them into a choke point or hidden trap.
As with the previous titles, at launch, there is a real lack of competitive and co-op survival maps (six and three) although future maps have been promised, releasing for all owners of the game. Deathmatch always seemed a little odd to me, so I’m glad to see the return of No Cross – a game of counter sniping – with two teams confined to their own area of the map. I also thoroughly enjoyed Control, which was an intense game of sniping, trapping and melee killing in equal measures as two teams via for control over a position on the map.
Sniper Elite has always excited me with its spectacularly brutal x-ray kill cams and stealthy sniping gameplay, but it’s also frustrated me when you get caught out. Sniper Elite 4 has put this problem to rest. While Sniping is the preferred option, if you need to go balls deep, guns blazing, it doesn’t play like you are trying to rectify a mistake. Each level was interesting with map layouts that offered different challenges that make you switch up your tactics, but above all else, it held my interest, something the previous titles failed to do.
With so much freedom to taunt and takedown your enemies while completing objectives in any way you see fit, it’s hard not to draw similarities with Metal Gear Solid V, minus the grandeur over-the-top storytelling and characters, but if you like MGS5 then you’ll thoroughly enjoy Rebellion’s fourth Sniper title.