The bullet roars from my rifle, screaming through the air on its way to its target. The camera tracks the bullet as it soars before it strikes its destination, tearing through muscle, bone and then what I can only assume to be spaghetti before exiting the back of the skull. It’s these moments that have pulled the Sniper Elite franchise to the forefront of tactical shooters, and since its relaunch with Sniper Elite V2 in 2012, the franchise has evolved to be much more than just a slow motion kill simulator. Sniper Elite 4 changes up more than any other Sniper Elite game before, and, despite its faults, is easily the best game Rebellion has delivered in the franchise.
Sniper Elite 4 wastes no time getting you into the action, dropping you into the shoes of the gravelly-voiced army man, U.S Lieutenant Karl Fairburne, in the Nazi-infested South of Italy in 1943. If you’ve played a Sniper Elite game before, you’ll get a very familiar sense as soon as you begin to play, but you’ll quickly realise the game has a lot more to offer than its predecessors. Sniper Elite 4 possesses a revamped style of campaign missions, scraping the more linear mission types in favour for a Metal Gear Solid 5 or Hitman-styled inspired open world setting. Each mission is huge (the smallest stage is three times larger than the biggest level in Sniper Elite 3), and offer up a wide variety of directions and tactics to complete your objectives, which vary from simple kills, sabotage and intel collection. It’s here where Rebellion hit the sweet spot for Sniper Elite 4, creating a much more tactical and authentic experience as a sniper behind enemy lines.
A huge array of pathing options are at your disposal at any given time, and never are you shoehorned into one way of doing anything in Sniper Elite 4. You are simply dropped in with your trusty sniper rifle, gear and a set of objectives to complete marked out on a map. The way you do it is up to you. If you have the patience and a methodical mind for killing, you’ll take glee in the fact that you will be able to traverse around, under and through most of the levels — meaning you can plan out the perfect assassination whatever your playstyle may be. Ruins and vantage points are strategically strewn throughout mission areas, as are booby-trappable generators and vehicles, making the hunt for Nazis all the more enjoyable.
Movement, compared to former games, has also been improved. Karl can climb most building and cliffs you can see, and never once did I fight with the controls or find myself sticking to ledges or cover when I didn’t want to. When I did, however, it felt natural and precise — which is needed, as any mistake in movement can result in what feels like the entire third Reich coming down on you.
Another reason you’re going to want to explore these well-designed levels is, of course, to gather collectables, and unlike many games of recent memory, some of these items are, in fact, useful. Besides intel and letters to home (which are really sad when read), you’ll sometimes come across duty rosters. Duty rosters will inform you of where guards are stationed and when, so they’ll be automatically highlighted without being sighted in your binoculars. This comes immensely handy in later missions, which have larger buildings with out-of-sight guards everywhere that, when startled, will fill you with bullets.
I myself have a distinct lack of patience, so I often opted for the louder approaches, which work some of the time, but rarely panned out for me on harder difficulties. What difficulty mode you’re playing will directly change how AI will act and how bullet ballistics will function. Unlike Sniper Elite 3, there isn’t a fragile noise metre that frustratingly makes every movement noticeable by the enemy; instead, any loud action will garner immediate attention, often by many enemy troops, pointing out your current location. Luckily, Sniper Elite 4 sometimes offers up environmental factors that can be used to your advantage, like shrubbery to hide in or loud noises like overpassing planes or cannon fire to mask your rifle shots.
On the easier modes, your shots are reasonably painless to place, even at large distances. This isn’t the case on harder modes, which will have you factor in distance, bullet velocity and even the wind. Though more challenging, these well thought-out and timed shots are the most gratifying, and cater a more genuine sniper feel.
With the current political climate, killing Nazis is very satisfying, and this wouldn’t be a Sniper Elite review if I didn’t mention the franchise’s trademark slow-motion X-ray kill cams. They’re back and are more or less the exact same as the last game, but they haven’t lost their satisfying touch. The slow-motion bullet cam makes every well-placed shot an event; all sum up in a brutal finish that leave you with a sadistic grin on your face. If these kills couldn’t get better, shooting explosive barrels will result in the ultra-satisfying visuals of shrapnel and fire tearing through the internal organs of those Nazi foes.
As much good as the new game offers, bad aspects still remain with Sniper Elite 4 — none more than the story, which is downright forgettable. Opening with a rushed cut-scene, you’re told the Nazis are yet AGAIN designing a secret weapon, one that could potentially win them the war. This probably sounds familiar; that’s because it’s literally the same story as Sniper Elite 3. Besides this, the campaign is full of forgettable characters, uninspired cut-scenes and awful (but sometimes comedic) dialogue. The funniest, most cringe-worthy line is said after the Karl kills a Nazi Radio Operator: “Over and out, my friend. Over and out.” I had trouble telling if tell if this Stallone-level cheesy dialogue was intentional or not, but it did add a layer of humour to the rough and sometimes asshole-ish personality of Karl.
Visually, Sniper Elite 4 is nothing to write home about compared to other third-person shooters on the market, but it’s still undoubtedly the series’ best looking game. Where exactly Sniper Elite 4 moves forward in the visual department, however, is in its varied and fully-realised campaign maps, each of which are unique and fleshed-out. My personal favourite of these was the third stage in an Italian forest. Beams of sun burst through the foliage as the sun went down, and I was filled with a sense of badassery as I snuck through the tall trees looking for my next victim. Each of these 8 campaign areas also require different approaches — some catering towards more melee stealth kills, others more long-range sniping. Now, of course, you can play how you like, but taking on each location in a particular fashion feels fresh and is a vast improvement on vaguely familiar areas that play exactly the same time and time again.
Sniper Elite 4 can also be tackled with a buddy, with all 8 story missions available to play in co-operative mode. This again opens up a whole new way to tackle each scenario, and results in some moments that the single-player experience otherwise would miss out on. Be an eagle eye watching over your mate through the sights on your scope as he slits some Nazi throats, or perhaps play a more passive and assisting role, spotting out targets for your partner to pop off at a distance. Whatever it may be, Sniper Elite 4 provides the avenue and tools to execute your unique style of play.
The game does have other multiplayer modes such as Control, which drops long-range sniping combat for a more up-close-and-personal experience as players fight for an ever-moving control point. Opposite to this are the other multiplayer modes, which maintain the emphasis on long-range marksmanship and less frantic movement. Nailing another player online — or better yet, a friend — from across the map is an amazing feeling, but doesn’t maintain the same gravity as the gameplay in the story mode. There is also a Survival mode that pits you and several other players against waves of increasingly stronger German soldiers. Playing this mode made me feel like I was playing out the final scene in Saving Private Ryan, locating a high spot to pick off enemies whilst the remainder of my team took other positions. The players who will love this mode the most, however, are the ones who love more than just sniping — the ones who love to create traps with explosives, lulling in the enemy and taking them out without firing a single bullet. Don’t get too comfortable in this mode, though, as later waves have tanks and mortar strikes; staying in once spot can become very dangerous once you are zeroed in.
Sniper Elite 4 is a further thought-out, smarter tactical shooter that delivers a more advanced experience than previous years’ titles. Despite its overused plot and cringe-comedic dialogue, Sniper Elite 4 offers up a custom experience that is full of climatic sniper kills and open-world fun. This franchise hasn’t shaken all its faults, but it’s definitely gained more than a few positives, and is sure to leave snipers everywhere excited for what’s next.