It’s easy for me to poke fun at the Sniper Elite series. It is, after all, predominantly known for over-the-top violence and the ability to shoot Nazis in their *ahem* testicles. And that’s still true as we head into the fourth Sniper Elite iteration—I saw plenty of exploding rib cages and skulls during my demo last week.
Sniper Elite 4 is a proper evolution though. While the series may never wholly shed its grindhouse B-movie feel, there’s an increasingly smart stealth game hidden underneath the fountains of blood and guts.
Technology is to thank. I’d actually forgotten, but Sniper Elite 3 was one of the last “cross-generation” games, better looking than its predecessor but still shackled by the limitations of the last console generation. And so while Sniper Elite 3 took some tiny steps forward, giving the player multiple paths to objectives and allowing for a bit more creativity, it still felt somewhat like a linear series of arenas.
Not so, here. Sniper Elite 4 is the fulfillment of its predecessor’s ambitions, more akin to the open-ended stealth of Far Cry, Metal Gear Solid V or Hitman. Which is not to say Sniper Elite 4 is on a level with those; its stealth systems are more simplistic, its AI soldiers a bit dumb at times, and its World War II setting and story nothing you haven’t seen before.
But Sniper Elite 4 feels like a proper sniping game. We played a single level of its Italian campaign, tasked with taking down a Nazi general and four other high-ranking officers on a sprawling island packed with isolated villages, military checkpoints, docks, and a large villa headquarters. It took me about an hour to complete, and I didn’t even bother taking down most of the enemy guards.
Best of all: You don’t have to. I think that’s what appeals to me most about Sniper Elite 4 so far. Skirting around fortified positions, sneaking up from the rear and shooting a single officer is just as legitimate a tactic as taking down every Nazi in sight. That’s a welcome change from Sniper Elite 3, which often packed maps full of choke-points to force the player into a confrontation.
The wide-open approach also allows you to take on objectives in any order you want. It’s clear that the mission’s canonical culmination is killing off the general, but due to the route I took across the island he was actually the second target I assassinated. I then mopped up, back through a village and a military checkpoint I’d bypassed earlier, eventually escaping by way of a secluded cliffside dock.
As I said, I don’t think the game’s as novel as some of its stealth contemporaries. Nor does it want to be. Hitman’s crowds, wacky disguises, and one-off weapons lend its missions more of a free-for-all sandbox feel, for instance. They give players a reason to return, to try out new routes. In Sniper Elite, your job is…well, sniping. That’s your ol’ faithful, and you won’t be sneaking into an enemy base disguised as an upscale chef. You get in position, you shoot a Nazi through his sensitive bits, you leave.
I’ll undoubtedly have more to say about Sniper Elite’s singleplayer when the game releases next month. The big question is whether I’ll play more of its multiplayer offerings.
It’s half-good. There’s a co-op Horde Mode spinoff here, fending off waves of Nazis in the company of three buddies. We played through two rounds of this and it’s solid, albeit familiar. There’s no big story hook or anything like with Call of Duty’s ongoing Zombies mode, but it’s pretty damn fun calling out targets and trying to pick them off before you’re overrun.
The best moment came maybe twenty minutes in to a run, when a tank threatened to wipe out our whole team. I managed to run up behind it and toss down TNT, but before we managed to blow it up I was shot and began “Bleeding Out”—basically stuck prone, with only a pistol.
And in Saving Private Ryan fashion I then shot my own TNT, blew up the tank, and won the round for our team. Pretty spectacular.
Less interesting, at least for me, is Sniper Elite 4’s player-versus-player. You know how the worst part of Battlefield is that everyone plays a sniper, sits a million miles back from the objective, and running in just means you’ll die of an unseen head wound? Now imagine an entire game built around that idea.
Yeah, I don’t know. Multiplayer in a slow sniper game isn’t the greatest, especially when it’s a point-capture mode that forces you to get in close and resort to Sniper Elite 4’s less accurate assault rifles and pistols.
I’d be happier (I think) with an Elimination-style mode which played more to the game’s sniping strengths, but even that seems like an odd fit. Sniper Elite just doesn’t seem like an obvious candidate for a thriving player-versus-player community, though maybe there’s a niche of sniping aficionados who’d find it fascinating. Hell, take all of the snipers out of Battlefield. I’d be happy with that.
Anyway, Sniper Elite 4 releases on February 14, so if you don’t have any hot Valentine’s plans perhaps you’d be happy shooting Nazis in the genitals. We’ll have a full review when the game gets closer. Count me as pleasantly surprised though—at least for the moment.
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Hayden writes about games for PCWorld and doubles as the resident Zork enthusiast.