The fourth installment in the Sniper Elite series delivers serious long-range thrills.
In many ways, Sniper Elite 4 is all about the perfection that comes from constant iteration. Your approach will always be the same: scout fascist troops with your binoculars, look for high-value targets, stand near equipment like generators to dampen the roar of your Springfield and cut down the enemy one-by-one, without alerting the others.
At first, your kills may be sloppy, and soldiers will dive into cover making your advance difficult. As you learn enemy paths and perfect environmental exploration, you’ll be able to ghost through entire missions undetected.
The idea of long-range stealth seems rather unusual outside of the Sniper Elite series. When the shooter landscape is dominated by fast-action and break-neck speed, the slow and methodical tactics Sniper Elite demands can sometimes be daunting.
As you’d expect, the same genre-defining sniping mechanics are in full force in Sniper Elite 4. The ballistics, the bullet drop and even wind for those bold enough to turn up the difficulty will keep players on their toes. Those disgusting but satisfying X-ray shots that have become synonymous with the series are still around and they all play out in stunning displays of violence. There are also close quarters neck breaks and stabbings use the X-ray, so if gore’s your thing, Rebellion has you covered.
As long-time protagonist and OSS agent Karl Fairburne, players will find they’ve been thrust into war-torn Italy as a scrappy resistance struggles against the immense fascist presence that patrols the entire country. As a lone wolf, you’ll find that Karl works for the resistance but only as long as their goals match that of the Allies. While the overarching narrative of stopping the Nazis from acquiring a super weapon feels a bit played out, there are a couple of characters who keep the story afloat.
Somewhat surprisingly, developer Rebellion has put quite a bit of work into making Fairburne more compelling. In previous installments, the character followed orders and seemed void of any deeper thought. In Sniper Elite 4, though, Fairburne smirks, rolls his eyes and talks politics in ways that make him less of a caricature. Rebellion does all this without losing the suave, no-bullshit character he’s always been, and for the first time, I actually felt connected to Fairburne.
While close-quarters combat and sniping keep entertaining until the credits roll, not everything stays fresh in the campaign. There are conveniently placed generators throughout levels that frankly make some engagements far too simple. In the games eight campaign missions, it seemed as though there were three or more generators scattered about that made it all too easy to fall back into the same routine of spotting, killing the secluded fascists one-by-one and push up. At a certain point, I felt like I had nailed the game’s mechanics and iterating on them became redundant.
Throughout the marketing of Sniper Elite 4, the developers have boasted about new climbing traversal to take advantage of the game’s verticality. I found the idea of Assassin’s Creed-like traversal to be a pretty generous overstatement. It’s not as if you can climb any building and use it as a vantage point; rather you have to keep your eyes peeled for objects like pipes, chains and brightly painted wood when they’re available. Climbing is only available when the developers say so – that’s not a bad thing – it’s just something that surprised me when I sunk my teeth into the game.
Although I’m not sure it has the longest run time for me personally with just eight campaign missions, Sniper Elite 4 has some of the most memorable levels in series history. In fact, to fully explore a level and accomplish all main objectives and a handful of collectibles, I found it took anywhere from one-to-two hours to complete each mission. Level design is one of the things that make Sniper Elite 4 feel like a full-fledged sequel and less of an expansion thanks to levels of detail and impressive map sizes. In addition to sheer distance, there’s also a greater sense of verticality that opens up new sightlines. While these often work in your favor, they can also leave Fairburne exposed.
If spotted, there are a few options: Fall back and hide, keep taking pop-shots at the rushing enemies or push further into the fray with your machine gun. In addition to weaponry, Rebellion also loads Fairburne up with plenty of tools and traps that make all three of these options viable. What you’ll quickly learn is that while going guns blazing with your Thompson may be the fastest, it will also put Fairburne at significant risk. The developers might give you the tools to play like Rambo, but the approach will likely leave you dead.
Fortunately, dying is no big deal in Sniper Elite 4. Thanks to an auto-save system that backlogs three auto-saves at a time, you can quickly reload to a few different points before things went awry. Additionally, the game has manual save options that make rewinding to a precise moment simple. Saves are instant and load times are quick – often no more than a few seconds – which is a good thing because part of Sniper Elite is making a mistake and learning how to avoid it in the future. I found myself reloading a save far more in this game that I would in stealth titles like Dishonored. Even if I cleared an area of all enemies, I found myself reloading a save so I could do it even better. Sniper Elite 4 will reward you if you’re willing put forward the time in mastering engagements.
Sniper Elite 4 is hands down the best entry in the series and should be the definitive benchmark for all future stealth shooters. At moments, the game stumbles when tactics start to get old-hat, but the game doesn’t stick around longer than its welcome. Environments are varied and killing fascists in new and gruesome ways is downright cathartic.
Practice makes perfect, and it seems the Sniper Elite series is damn near it in its fourth installment.
Sniper Elite 4 was reviewed on a Xbox One press copy courtesy of Rebellion and Wonacott PR.
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