Disclaimer: Sniper Elite 4 was provided to by a PR company for the purposes of a review upon my request. This will not affect the review in any way, and is being explained for the purposes of transparency with our audience.
Before starting this review, I think it is important to point out that this is my first visit to the series so my opinions will be based on the game alone rather than a comparison with earlier titles. There are also some graphic screenshots throughout the review so reader discretion is advised.
Sniper Elite 4 is a direct sequel to the previous entry of the series and follows Karl Fairburne across Italy in 1943. He is an agent of the Office of Strategic Services and has been tasked with aiding the Italian resistance to fight against Fascists in the midst of World War 2. SE4 doesn’t really give much else in the story department, after having finished the game I can barely remember what happened but the gameplay more than makes up for the shallow story.
SE is a third person tactical shooter with emphasis being on stealth and careful planning as opposed to run-and-gun gameplay of other games in this genre. Each of the 8 missions start with a briefing and several optional side quests given to the player by NPC’s before players pick a loadout and items. Once the mission parameters have been given, you are dropped onto a relatively large map and left to complete the mission how you choose. You can run in all guns blazing using an SMG and a pistol or carefully scope out your mission using binoculars, picking off targets in a stealthier manner. The latter method is arguably the most fun and where SE4 really shines.
Onto the game play, there is only one way to describe it; SE4 is a lot of fun. For those like me who have never played the series before, the stand out feature is the kill cam which is activated when you snipe a target from a long way off. The camera will enter a cinematic mode in which the bullet is followed from the barrel of the rifle to the entry point on the target. The camera then enters an X-Ray mode giving an extremely graphic portrayal of the damage the bullet has done to the unsuspecting soldier. These effects range from watching jaw bones and skulls shatter to seeing a bullet rip apart internal organs such as the heart, the intestines or another *ahem* more private area. As macabre as it sounds, this is incredibly satisfying to watch, especially if you have fired the shot from over 200 metres away. The X-ray mode also kicks in when the target is hit by shrapnel from various explosives or hit with a melee attack. The levels also feature environmental kills such as shooting a fastening to drop equipment on enemies.
Most of the missions in SE4 involve killing a certain soldier, usually an officer of some description, or destroying vehicles or equipment to help the resistance. There isn’t much more to the game than that apart from the usual array of collectibles but in all honesty, it doesn’t really need it. The thrill of the game is finding the perfect vantage point, marking all the enemies in the area and picking them off one by one without alerting the other guards. The game has an alert system similar to other stealth titles: shoot an unsuppressed gun and you will go to yellow, with all guards being alert and looking for you, fire again or get spotted and you will go to red with all guards entering full alert. A welcome twist is the triangulation system which means the longer you spend in one place, the more likely the enemies are to work out your coordinates. This means no matter how good you think your vantage point is, one slip up can mean you are spotted and must find a new place to camp out. To fire without being noticed, players can make use of noises to cover the shot. The noise can be one the player makes themselves, such as sabotaging a generator, or waiting for a plane to fly overhead. This adds a new element I have not seen in other games and adds another layer to the stealth. Unfortunately, the AI ranges from incredibly shrewd to utterly stupid which can lead to some inconsistent planning. Sometimes you can shoot an enemy and alert the whole camp and other times you can shoot a soldier that is stood right next to a comrade and he won’t notice. The alerts themselves are often questionable but more on this later.
The difficulty levels make SE4 truly accessible for a range of skill levels. Easy mode means there are no bullet ballistics at all, wherever the crosshairs are aimed. That is where the bullet will hit. As the difficulty increases, this changes, meaning players must make adjustments for the distance they are away from the target, taking gravity and elevation into account. Help is at hand however for those who are not great at aiming, while looking down the sight, players can empty their lungs which will slow down time for a short while and assist the player with an extra crosshair that will turn red when you have a kill-shot. The main issue I found with the lower difficulty settings is that the autosave kicks in basically after every kill. You also have access to the last 3 saves which spans the last couple of minutes of gameplay. The problem with this is, dying feels like it has no consequence. If you are killed or get spotted, you can just load one of the prior checkpoints and start over. I found that I had fallen into the habit of missing a shot or getting seen, hitting start and reloading until it went perfectly. This took the skill out of the game as I could play the same part over and over until I was satisfied with it.
The graphics of SE4 are gorgeous. Each of the maps has a different style from bright Italian islands to dusky dockyards and rich green forests, each one feels alive. Birds and planes soar overhead, dust motes dance in front of you and light pierces the trees casting ray across the landscape. The textures are impressive, even from a distance and the water effects are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. The maps do not have any sparse areas, each one is populated with caves or buildings to explore as well as all sorts of hiding places and short cuts. Another area I found impressive was the height and depth of the surroundings which I have yet to see demonstrated better. Levels have cliffs and towers as well as coves and caverns which give a huge amount of dimension, allowing for true freedom when it comes to planning your assault. The player is versatile allowing you to make the most of the terrain, you can jump, climb and shimmy to get to the desired location.
The online mode has a good mix of game modes to cater to all tastes. The standard fare is all here, deathmatch, team deathmatch and a capture the flag type mode with the addition of ‘distance king’ and ‘no cross’. The standard modes are true to the single player including the satisfying x-rays (albeit a much quicker version) and my experience was that players tended to favour sniping which resulted in a slower game than other shooting titles, which is not a bad thing. The game ran incredibly smoothly for me with no lag or slowdown and I waited a very short amount of times between games. The only issue I found with the standard mode was the maps are very large, which is necessary for a sniping game but I had a few matches in which I barely saw any other players. Where the multiplayer really shines in my opinion is the other 2 modes. In distance king, you can either play in a team or as a lone wolf and the aim is to get kills from a distance with the team (or player) with the furthest distance winning the game. My favourite mode was the ‘no cross’ match in which teams are either side of a map with a no-mans-land in the middle. This means that sniping is the only option and I found these some of the most enjoyable and tense matches I have had online in a long time.
SE4 is not without its flaws despite how much fun it is to play. The satisfying X-Ray kill-shots that start off so satisfying, quickly become repetitive and I found myself turning down the frequency of them in the settings. This is a shame as it is arguably the games biggest gimmick but it doesn’t dampen the fun too much. The alert system in my experience also seemed to be inconsistent. There were times when I had aa red alert with no visible enemies, meaning I was running around an empty area but for some reason be on full alert and other times, the AI would stop looking for me despite me being right in front of them. There were also times I would get a yellow alert, backtrack and hide waiting for the alert to disappear only for it not to, despite no guards seeing me for over ten minutes. Another gripe for me was the lack of visible injury on the enemies after they had been killed. The reason this vexes me is in a game where I can shoot a man and visibly see my bullet enter the body and explode his skull (or testicles) in an X-Ray only to walk over to the guard and see no visible injury, not even a bullet hole. This just seems needlessly inconsistent considering that gore is clearly not an issue with such visceral kill shots.
SE4 is not a deep game but it is a fun game. It doesn’t take itself too seriously which is refreshing in a sea of shooters that sometimes seem like they are trying to win the gaming equivalent an Oscar. Although it is a little on the short side, there are enough collectibles and side missions to go back to as well as just going back for fun.
Sniper Elite has a shallow story and little depth but it more than makes up or it with fun gameplay and a solid online mode.