Sniper Elite 4 review – hitting the bullseye
The home-grown Second World War shooter takes another shot at being the best sniper game on consoles and PC.
Considering how disliked they tend to be in competitive games, it’s surprising just how popular being a sniper is when it comes to single-player games. What’s also odd is that although neither Sniper Elite nor Sniper: Ghost Warrior (which also has a sequel due this year) have ever had a particularly warm critical reception they’ve both been hugely successful in the UK sales charts. Sniper Elite was always the better of the pair, but was held back only by low tech graphics and artificial intelligence. But those problems are now greatly diminished in this new sequel.
Second World War games have fallen out of fashion in recent years, but on the scale of historical accuracy Sniper Elite has always been on the Boy’s Own end of the spectrum. The games are all about the guiltless pleasures of killing Nazis in as messy a way as possible. This is literally highlighted by the franchise’s signature x-ray view, which much like Mortal Kombat shows the internal damage your attacks (now including melee and shrapnel) are doing to the internal organs, and family jewels, of your enemies.
Sniper Elite 4 is set in Italy during 1943, although your enemies are still mostly German. Teaming up with the Italian resistance (and the Mafia), you’re still playing as an American named Karl Fairburne – but that’s really all you need to know. As usual the plot is not important and it’s actually a relief to be able to just get on with things and tackle each mission in whatever way you please.
Despite its name, Sniper Elite has never just been about sniping, and as a third person action game there’s a strong stealth element and plenty of other weapons to use. But although it’s not necessarily a given (it’s surprising how many classic first person shooters don’t have particularly good gunplay) the sniping in Sniper Elite is top draw.
Whether it’s realistic or not we don’t know, but it feels exactly as you would want it to. The game instructs you to hold your breath by holding a button, and to account for wind direction and gravity over long distances, and although we’re not sure how much difference this really makes on the lower difficulties it creates the perfect illusion of being a crack shot.
We assume the quality of the sniping is what’s been carrying the series for all these years but in Sniper Elite 4 the rest of the game is no longer dragging it down quite so much. It’s not that there’s ever been any great design flaw, but simply that Sniper Elite has always been more ambitious than its modest budget allows. In particular, its low tech, glitchy, graphics and artificial intelligence have always made the stealth extremely frustrating. But Sniper Elite 4 shows clear improvement on that count.
Enemies now react to your presence, or suspected presence, a lot more logically and will actively conduct searches if they find a dead body (unless it’s an officer, in which case morale will drop and they may even retreat). Ideally though, you’ll not only get to the corpse first to hide or booby trap it, but also to search it for clues as to enemy routines and positions.
Despite the wider range of options at your disposal, including ordinary machineguns and a simple cover system, Sniper Elite 4 is still a stealth game at heart, and encourages you to take your time staking out positions and working out an escape route if things go wrong. But as well as the enemy being more competent so too is your character, with a much improved movement system that allows him to climb and crawl around the map in a much more efficient manner.
The artificial intelligence still won’t be beating any chess grandmasters but it’s no longer so actively bad as to ruin the experience. Likewise, the graphics aren’t going to be giving Naughty Dog pause (paws?) for thought but they get the job done and are less prone to bugs. And besides it’s not the detail of the graphics that’s important but the size of the levels, which are greatly increased over the earlier, linear, games. This allows much more freedom in how you approach each goal and turns Sniper Elite 4 into the true sandbox game it always threatened to be.
Although it is primarily a single-player game there’s also a number of multiplayer options. Although the attempts to create a more traditional competitive mode is as awkward and unsatisfying as you’d expect. The modes where you’re trying to out sharpshot your friends are better, but it’s the Horde style four-player co-op mode that’s most entertaining.
Appropriate to the setting, there’s a pleasing old school feel to Sniper Elite 4, as the designers push their limited tech to make a game far bigger and more complex than it has any right to be. There are still a lot of rough edges, but this hits far closer to the target than either its predecessors or its rivals.
Sniper Elite 4
In Short: A significant improvement on previous entries, with better stealth and AI making the sport of Nazi-hunting more enjoyable than ever.
Pros: The sniping and x-ray view are great fun, and the larger maps greatly increase the amount of freedom. Much improved movement systems and some enjoyable multiplayer options.
Cons: Still fairly low tech in all areas, with the artificial intelligence still not being entirely reliable. Throwaway storyline and so-so cover-based combat.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Release Date: 14th February 2017
Age Rating: 16
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