The Sniper Elite series has always been a special kind of shooter for players and fans. Over the years it has adapted well to keep up with other shooters but has resisted going to far from its core gameplay and World War II setting. Now on Valentines Day, the fourth installment will make the biggest changes yet as Sniper Elite continues to evolve. For me it is a series that has always done just enough to keep my interest though I have had some niggles about certain features which had stopped it becoming my go to shooter experience. Happy to say that Sniper Elite 4 has finally ticked all the right boxes and then some…
Sniper Elite 4 picks up the action right after events in the last game, with hero Sniper Karl Fairburne tasked with helping the Italian Resistance fight back against the Fascist forces. To do this Karl will be sent on missions with a main objective but will also be given side objectives by other characters along the way at the start of each mission adding even more to accomplish in each mission. By doing so each mission can take anywhere from 90 minutes to over two hours to complete, and I was captivated and loved every one of those minutes.
The first big change in Sniper Elite 4 is the size of the playing area, which is now three times larger than in previous games. Rebellion has moved to a true sandbox environment now with multiple routes and methods to reach and complete each objective in the missions. There is a real freedom of choice for the player in how they tackle both the assigned objectives and in how they complete them, but the focus on using all the skills of a Sniper has never felt more important and as such, each mission will push the player to stay in the shadows and use stealth tactics to order to keep Karl from being caught in a situation where he will have to shoot his way out, something that left me rather cold in the previous games.
To achieve this, the player will need to take their time and scout an area before moving forward. Now you would think the most important item in a Sniper’s arsenal would be his rifle, but for me and especially in this game, the most vital and used bit of kit for Karl is his trusty binoculars, and boy do they come in handy. By using the binoculars the player can get a long range look at the objectives and playing area but the most valuable use is in tagging enemies and tactical targets such as enemy vehicles, ammo caches and fuel barrels. By tagging an enemy you will learn their rank, what weapons they have and a nice little bio about that soldier just to give them a little back story. Enemies will be shown on the mini map but by tagging them you will also see their markers on the screen so you will always know their whereabouts and after being tagged, the direction they are facing will also be shown, adding a much needed method of planning an approach into that area.
The variation in environments has benefited so much from the move to a larger sandbox design. For one mission you could be sniping across long open countryside during the day or moving through an Italian coastal town before being challenged with tackling a harbour at night. Each mission will encourage the player to embrace the skills a sniper must use, moving stealthily and remaining unseen. The environments will provide different options for the player to choose and will reward patience and planning. Taking the time to use the binoculars to scan the area ahead to tag enemies and study their patrol paths is crucial to all the missions just as studying the map will be to plot a path to the many objectives that will need to be completed in order to finish the mission. Learning to use shadows and foliage to hide in will help the player remain unseen and each location will have a way of sneaking to it rather then an obvious direct approach. But Rebellion has not made it too easy for players as the AI of the enemy has also been reworked, making them far more alert and suspicious should the player make a mistake and be spotted either by being caught in the line of sight of an enemy or by making enough noise to raise an alert. Once alerted all soldiers in that area will become suspicious and will investigate any possible spotting or sound and conduct a search. It is a welcome challenge to have an enemy capable of punishing a player for a mistake and gives each mission objective a real tension to get things right.
This has been the most satisfying Sniper Elite title for me, giving me a real satisfaction when completing campaign missions. I was able to use tactics and strategy on each mission rather than simply going in guns blazing with little consequence. I relished the need to wait patiently to take the right shot with my sniper rifle, often taking minutes to track an enemy and wait for the sound of a plane or gun placement to fire in order to mask my shot and therefore remain undetected. Watching the enemy scatter after a successful shot was exhilarating, to see them scared and confused meant I had done my job correctly. Using distractions such as taking out an enemy vehicle or causing an explosion in order to guide the enemy to a specific area in order to get more kills or to move to a new position is just how I would imagine a real Sniper would choose to use their skills. My tactics would change depending on the objective and environment, relying on my suppressed Welrod pistol when the action needed an up close and personal approach. This game simply offers so much in every single mission that replaying each one to try different things is a natural thing for a player to want to do.
The infamous X-Ray killshot cam is back but thankfully has been refined so that it is not triggered by every shot taken, something that bugged me in previous games. Now each time it does activate to show the trajectory of the sniper round as it decimates an organ in the enemy’s body has a real impact instead of glorifying the kill. It has also been added to physical take-downs and kills involving shrapnel from explosions making it even more perfect for taking a cheeky video clip with the DVR. The XP earned from kills will help level up the player and the weapons they are using, with each earning a bonus feature the more you use the weapon to and how you use it to get kills will have players trying out different load-outs, all of which can be tailored to how the player prefers with new weapons becoming available to buy with money earned from completing missions.
The entire campaign can be played in co-op with a friend, or you can tackle survival modes fighting against waves of enemies. Multiplayer takes traditional game modes and gives them the Sniper Elite treatment with a free for all deathmatch, team deathmatch and control modes. Distance King Mode is a twist on the deathmatch mode type where it remains free for all but the length of shots is what counts with the longest shot taking the winners podium. The online adds a welcome element and compliments the solo campaign side to give the most complete Sniper Elite game yet in the series.
Sniper Elite 4 accomplishes so many things and it does them all brilliantly. The campaign missions have real depth and challenge to each one with the story told through dialogue from the main characters but more so from the characters and enemy conversations heard via the binoculars in the mission. The Italian setting provides a rich look at World War II in 1943, in contrast to the South African setting of the last game. By focusing on Italy the game is able to offer more than just shooting Nazis, it shows how the country was affected by the war, how crucial the resistance was to the allied forces but also takes a look at Fascism as a movement and in a world that is currently so divided in views and its treatment of others, to go back and see how little the world has changed since WWII is rather alarming.
This game is a vast improvement for the series, and each time I completed a mission I wanted to go back and tackle it again to improve my performance and to try and complete the additional challenges that each one has on top of the main and side objectives. Sniper Elite 4 offers the most satisfying experience in the series for me, it keeps the best elements but has made the best leaps in improvements to give old fans and new players something to appreciate and sink their teeth into.
I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed this game, I hoped for great things but Rebellion has refreshed the core gameplay and enhanced them by adding new elements that offer an enticing and delicious challenge for players in each campaign mission. Definitely one game to tag with your binoculars and track all the way till it is in your hands.