The Sniper Elite series has always been the antithesis to other war shooters, rewarding patience and timing over a fast trigger finger. The fourth installment doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does give it a shiny new hubcap, building on an already competent game and making improvements wherever it can.
The backdrop for this bloody affair is Italy in 1943 and the uprising of the resistance, making for a welcome change of style from the usual brown and dull locales of war games. The coastal towns and rural locations are gorgeous, both graphically and stylistically and there’s plenty to see on the huge maps. The scale of the terrain is one of the first things you’ll notice.
It is sprawling and filled with optional objectives, more so than before. While you can just head straight for the main mission in an area and bludgeon your way to victory in fairly quick time, there’s also the option to tick off the numerous other tasks, the scope of which means that each stage can take hours to finish if you’re up for a methodical approach.
With any stealth game, mobility is key, and Sniper Elite 4 both gives and takes away in equal measure. On the one hand, your character has more moves at his disposal than ever before, and while it’s no Assassin’s Creed, you are able to scale buildings...to a degree. You’re heavily reliant on carefully placed pipes and poles, and can’t shimmy your way up everything you see. It’s also not uncommon to be unable to vault a three foot high fence in some areas. Previous Sniper Elite games have been slightly clunky when it comes to movement, and it’s reassuring to see this addressed to a certain extent.
One bug bear about the stealth is that sneaking up on an enemy to deliver a close counter kill is made tricky by the fact that when crouching, you move about as quickly as a newborn sloth. This can lead to the soldier you were studiously tailing turning around and catching you squatting five feet away, which is just awkward for everyone involved. Thankfully, when everything goes south, reload times are refreshingly quick, and you’re soon back in the action.
While a bullet to the bonce is the most direct way to play through the game, you’re not restricted to it. Throughout the maps are opportunities to set up ‘accidental kills’, very similar to Hitman’s approach. They might lack the sheer creativity of the bald assassin, but they do offer players another way to take out those pesky Nazis, and it’s always satisfying when you squish an unsuspecting soldier with a perilously hanging crate.
You can also get a bit devious with the cadavers of your enemies too if you’re that way inclined, by booby trapping previous victims with explosives to take out anyone who comes to investigate.
Another way to change up your play style is to introduce another player. As with the previous game, you can play through the entire campaign in co-op, which adds another layer of strategy. You’re able to make more of distractions, and confuse the enemy with a bit of coordination. There’s also a multiplayer mode, but the concept of a player versus player match feels slightly at odds with a game that encourages meticulous and patient gameplay.
If you relish a challenge, then harder difficulties do their best to accurately recreate the sniping experience, and you’ll have to account for wind direction and gravity when making your shots. A custom difficulty gives you the option to change any settings at any point, so you can find the ultimate sweet spot for how you want to play.
The series is infamous for its X-ray bullet-cam, which rewards players for good shots by slowing everything down and showing the moment of impact as your hit lands, and the resulting effect on the victim’s internal organs. Intestines are torn, brains perforated, eyes pop, and yes, once again, testicles explosions are back. Maybe it’s immature, but there’s something mesmerising about watching a Nazi’s scrotum get destroyed from 200 yards. Just me then? For the squeamish, this can be turned off.
The Sniper Elite series might have started off as a one-trick pony (albeit it a pretty good one), but the studio has changed just enough with each iteration to keep the game fresh. Sniper Elite 4 introduces more new ideas than ever before, making it the most in-depth and rewarding game so far.