Sniper Elite 4 review
While social media debates the ethics of punching Nazis, Sniper Elite 4 continues to consider how best to perforate their spleens.
Sniper Elite 4 marks Rebellion’s fourth round for their World War II marksman, and it doesn’t lose sight of the series’ slow motion hook: showing the internal damage of bullet strikes, with bones, arteries and organs included.
The gore remains untouched in this sequel, delivering a gruesome splatter fest alongside a sometimes tense stand-off between a lone American soldier and hundreds from the ranks of Nazi Germany. Sniper Elite 4’s campaign is filled with potential high points and anxious moments deep in enemy territory. But it’s also often soured by inconsistencies, AI that swings between the idiotic and superhuman, and shock that loses its value.
Karl Fairburne’s latest stint as Sniper Elite’s protagonist drops him onto the Italian front, an unusually bright, beautiful setting despite being crowded with the German presence. The Italian theater might bring a new look to Sniper Elite, but Fairburne’s mission is familiar. Sniper Elite 4 is a third-person stealth shooter where distance shots matter, staying hidden is critical to survival, and overcompensating gore is fitting for pre-release trailers if not the game itself. Sniper Elite doesn’t always play by its rules either.
A gruff impersonator of Metal Gear’s Solid Snake (in both voice and tactics), Fairburne is cast as a 1940s American superhero. From hundreds of yards, his impeccable rifle aim splinters an eye socket. His close combat melee strikes explode livers and with one arm, he can snap the spine of those opponents unaware of his presence — assuming reaching close enough distance is possible.
Hours can pass in Sniper Elite 4 just staring down a scope, adjusting aim, and hoping for a free shot at opposition forces. Stages come designed with opportunities. A sizable artillery gun firing in the distance might mask the sound of a rifle shot. Cranes hold up heavy debris, and with a precise shot, those bundles of metal can be dropped on a soldier below. Fuel canisters (of course) come ready to explode.
Sniper Elite 4 is a more accessible game than its predecessors. On lower difficulties, Fairburne’s a nigh invincible powerhouse. SMGs and assault rifles (along with a large health bar) can easily fix a sniping mistake when enemies start rushing toward your position.
Those seeking a tension-driven battle of stealth and wits can go higher where Sniper Elite demands a keen expertise to navigate maps (their scale growing alongside the sequels) and find kill opportunities. Involved aiming requires adjustments for elevation, gravity, and distance. This increases the possibility of a missed shot and in turn, a likely chance to alert guards. When it works, being forced to consider each trigger pull without the safety nets of lower difficulties invokes a thrilling scenario and shows tremendous promise. Each miss can mean death when Nazis discover your position, even when frequent checkpoints lessen the fear. Fairburne’s strikes against the Nazi elite are still satisfying, and the thrill of eliminating their forces in a video game hasn’t waned.
But through eight campaign levels total, the cracks show. Blind, oblivious or improbably smart AI create an inconsistent play environment. Sniper Elite 4 establishes its rules and doesn’t follow through. Unpredictability has a place to thrive and draw tension, although rarely in how opposition forces detect Fairburne. Either nearby Nazis detect him when he drops from a ladder or they don’t. They hear his gunshot or they don’t. They see him sprinting or they don’t. Any moment-to-moment planning is based on guesswork and chance.
Given the widened maps (scattered with primary and secondary objectives), certain tasks seemed nearly impossible to perform cleanly. In a late-game stage taking place within the heart of a Nazi factory, blowing up Panzer tanks alerted no one deeper in the facility. Outdoors, trying the same tactics alerts guards in a substantial radius – maybe, anyway. Although the tools for the job remain (including anachronistic binoculars which can permanently mark each trooper’s placement), their usefulness can rapidly change with the circumstances.
Even when alerted, the average Nazi intellect gives Sniper Elite 4 a tiresome sameness. After spotting Fairburne, guards run forward toward cover, duck and repeatedly poke their heads out until a bullet stops the action. Or, they attempt to change position, only to be impeded by a rock or tree they cannot sidestep.
The main hook, that perverse, commercialized violence (particularly in such numbers), can’t sustain Sniper Elite 4 either. Seeing a skull rupture, brain jiggle, and fragments of each scatter with bullet impact rapidly turns repetitive. Larger scaled stage design only means more enemies and more of this one-off gimmick.
Sniper Elite 4’s violence couples with a disinterested narrative concerning Italian rebels, the mafia and a German plot to create sci-fi super missiles. Brief pre-mission dialogue scenes fail to establish a single remarkable character, and the use of a female freedom fighter solely as late game emotional bait kills credibility.
A rudimentary progression system doles out weapons and upgrades, purchased with a painfully slow distribution of currency. Short of collecting every item and consistently landing distance shots for maximum end-level XP bonuses, the entire 10-15 hour campaign (or longer depending on difficulty/patience) may dole out four to five weapons or boosts. Higher-end DLC exclusive rifles become alluring during the grind.
Upgrade qualms aside, Sniper Elite 4 comes built for replay value. While not open-world in the traditional sense, the expansive stages offer a multitude of attack opportunities. Variety in their design is a high point for the series. Close quarter towns block easy sight lines, and open fields mean troops can readily spot your position when making an error.
This all goes double for campaign co-op, the scenarios increasing their complexity and the possibility of errors. If there’s value in Sniper Elite’s waning appeal, it’s here where the mastery of combined tactics is required for success even if the same quirks get in the way.