Ever since Sniper Elite V2, the series has always had an interesting blend of schlocky gore and overly macho characters and tense, thoughtful sneaking. Finding the perfect spot to wait for the perfect moment to strike is rewarded in a colourful mess of bone, blood and tissue in a contrast that’s almost jarring, but oh-so satisfying.
Sniper Elite 4 not only keeps this tradition going, it brings it to a whole new level with what is easily the best entry in the entire series.
Taking place not long after Sniper Elite 3 (which, confusingly, takes place before Sniper Elite V2), 4 follows Karl Fairburne once more as he takes on the Nazis and their developmental war technology. Ditching the sandy setting of Africa, this time it’s off to Italy to help the local resistance and put a stop to a new and scary guided missile technology.
It’s a wonder I can even remember the story, because Sniper Elite’s never been about it beyond justifying the presence of Nazis to splat. SE4 makes good strides towards something worth following, though, with its multiple twists and unstable politics. None of the supporting characters are particularly likeable or multidimensional, but it’s still nice to have someone propping up the cardboard box that is Karl ‘Gravel-voiced American Hero’ Fairburne.
Nice to have someone propping up the cardboard box that is Karl ‘Gravel-voiced American Hero’ Fairburne
Much like previous instalments, the game’s all about sneaking and shooting your way to various primary objectives. They might be finding weaponry caches or kidnapping important members of the Nazi regime, but they can all be completed either quietly, disposing of bodies, using subsonic ammunition, and hiding in the shadows, or going in all guns blazing.
To help, Fairburne’s got his usual tools alongside his rifle such as trip mines, grenades, and rocks, all fitting nicely into either playstyle. This freedom works well, especially if you just go with the flow and improvise. Sometimes I’d hang back and clear my path, other times I’d get caught and just drop as many of them as possible during my crafty escape.
Bursting some Nazi bollocks with the shrapnel from a nearby exploding barrel is a delight
The famous X-ray kill cam has been expanded to include environmental, melee and explosive kills. If a particularly gnarly death occurs, the game will slow down, put on some fancy cinematic camera angles, and show the damage being done to the Nazi’s organs and bones. It’s squishy, gratuitously gory, and I absolutely love it. Bursting some Nazi bollocks with the shrapnel from a nearby exploding barrel is a delight.
Sniper Elite is one of the few examples of a game that has progressed from linear missions to a more open-ended structure to great effect. I thought the third game had large maps with plenty of hiding places, but Sniper Elite 4 blows it out of the water. According to Rebellion, the smallest map in Sniper Elite 4 is still three times bigger than one from the third game, and, while I can’t confirm or deny that empirically, it sure as heck feels like it.
Each level is mind-bogglingly large, full of different terrains to tackle and secrets to sift through. Two players could do the same mission and never tackle the targets the same way thanks to how massive they are. I’d played one of the missions previously at EGX 2016, and it took me a good half an hour this time around before I realised it was the same one thanks to me going in a different direction.
It helps that, especially compared to Sniper Elite 3’s arid landscapes and dusty airfields, Italy is impossibly detailed. Urban areas have multiple levels of verticality to attack from and stages loop around on themselves in fascinating ways. The game’s introduced more traversal abilities, such as shimmying across ledges, and the complexity of the level design facilitates that incredibly well. The visuals and the mechanics come together to make the best of both, which is a nice change from the previous instalments’ very ‘gamey’ level structures of obvious places to shoot and places to shoot from.
Urban areas have multiple levels of verticality to attack from
This scale is added to with generous helpings of optional objectives. Looking out and seeing all of the task icons can be almost overwhelming at times, but the well-designed map system lets you easily select which ones you want to tackle first. Maybe you need to take out a Nazi officer and find their plans, or you need to blow up gun encampments, or put a stop to a convoy of trucks. All in all, if you’re playing at a steady speed and trying to do everything, each well-crafted stage should take around an hour to complete. Maybe longer if you’re wanting to be completely stealthy.
Alongside these sprawling single player maps, Sniper Elite 4 has a generous offering of multiplayer modes too. The cooperative modes include the campaign missions with a pal, Survival (which is more Killing Floor-esque waves with a distinct end, rather than Left 4 Dead’s survive-until-you-die model), and Overwatch, an asymmetrical mode featuring one field agent and one sniper.
Survival is great, considering how bland that kind of mode can be in other games
Survival is great, considering how bland that kind of mode can be in other games. The sheer numbers of enemies being thrown at you encourages teamwork, and a moving defendable point that gives a score bonus means you won’t hole up in one area for the entire match.
Overwatch is the true star of the coop modes, though. Each level physically separates the sniper from the agent spotter, and they must work together to complete missions. The spotter can use their binoculars to tag targets, and can get up close and personal if need be, while the sniper has a wider view of the map to provide covering fire, trigger explosives and assist in a pinch. There was a real sense of cooperation with my partner, as we were both able to deal with threats the other could not. It’s a shame that there are only two levels for this mode available at the moment, because I had an absolute blast playing through them both.
On the competitive side, there are even more modes on offer. They range from your usual team deathmatches to more interesting modes, such as ‘No Cross’, which is a raw snipe-off. Teamwork is still encouraged here thanks to the binocular’s tagging ability, highlighting enemies others may be better equipped to take out. I have awful aim and still felt like a helpful member of my group.
Teamwork is still encouraged here
Competitive multiplayer is a bit of an issue for one reason and one reason only: player population. Even a day after launch, finding players for the mode you want can be a struggle. No Cross appears to dominate the player base, meaning anything more close range can be really difficult to find games for. I think this might be the problem with being too generous with the modes available, as the player base, which will probably already be small due to the series’ history as a predominantly single-player game, is being split across five or six modes. They’re all well-designed and fun to play, but it feels overeager on Rebellion’s part.
Sniper Elite 4 is far and away the best game in the series so far. Mind-bogglingly complex levels, improvements to the series’ storytelling, and some of the most fun cooperative play I’ve enjoyed in a long time make it both the essential Sniper Elite experience, and a grand ol’ time for anyone who fancies taking the hurt to a few Nazis.
Aim for the testicles.
A review code was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Platform: PC [Reviewed], PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release date: Out Now
- Sprawling, detailed levels.
- Fantastic multiplayer modes.
- Nazis exploding.
- Multiplayer population is small.
- Overwatch mode doesn’t have enough maps.
- Karl Fairburne is still one-dimensional.
The best in the series. Sniper Elite 4’s sprawling stages, satisfying sniping and great multiplayer offerings make it the high point of the series so far.