The Sniper Elite series isn’t one that’s typically spoken about in the highest regard, as many look at the games as decent third-person shooters with a sniping twist. While that’s been true in many cases, each game has gradually gotten better and better as the developers tweak and improve upon the series’ core concepts. The stealth sniping gameplay mixed with the grotesque X-ray kill cams are what set it apart from the pack, and now with Sniper Elite 4 those elements have been fine-tuned even further.
Bigger and better is a formula that can ultimately harm a series, but with Sniper Elite it’s one that can only improve it. Scoping out a large area in search of enemies to stealthily pick off is its foundation, and as these areas expand that makes the gameplay all the more engrossing. It’s a great feeling to spot an enemy several hundred feet away, and then manage to pick that same enemy off without alerting anyone else in the area. The game’s 8 levels all feel expansive and reward thorough exploration on the player’s part, offering several methods to ultimately accomplish your mission.
While the game won’t be winning any awards for its graphical power, the visual design and setting make up for where it lacks in that department. The game is set in Italy during 1943, following immediately after the events of the previous game. You control Office of Strategic Services agent Karl Fairburne, who has been tasked with assisting the Italian resistance in a fight against the Fascists in World War II. The game does a terrific job of conveying the time and setting of Italy, with lush environments and architecture that isn’t seen often in these types of games.
Story has never been this series’ strong point, but Sniper Elite 4 does a better job with it than any of the previous games. You’ll meet several interesting characters throughout your battles against the nazis, and your interactions with some of them will actually open up side objectives in the following missions. You’ll start each level in a safe zone of sorts, and there will be several characters hanging around for you to interact with before initiating the actual mission that will unlock side objectives. It’s an interesting twist to the formula, and it gives a little more context to the otherwise basic side objectives. The story itself is nothing you haven’t seen before and the characters aren’t as fleshed out as they could be, but there’s enough there to at least have you rooting for the good guys and giving you a sense of purpose while tackling each mission’s objectives.
Sniper Elite 4’s expansive and open-ended stealth gameplay is terrific
The great thing about the side and main objectives is that they can be tackled in any order, giving you true freedom to explore a level at will. You may choose to maneuver the map in a way that allows you to complete all of the side objectives first, or neglect them entirely in favor of the main objectives. Side objectives can range from anything like destroying certain objects or killing a person of interest, and they’re worth spending the extra time on due to the solid gameplay that accompanies them. Sniper Elite 4’s open-ended stealth gameplay may not be on the same level as a game like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain in terms of expansiveness or polish, but it nevertheless results in an immersive experience.
A lot of that is thanks to the improvements that have been made to the gameplay across the board. Sniping gameplay is as solid as ever, but when you inevitably have to swap to your sidearms when you blow your cover it no longer feels like a chore to deal with enemies as it did previously. While pulling off a 400 foot lung shot that is made all the better by the ensuing X-ray kill cam is hard to beat, getting up close and personal feels better than ever. Close-quarters combat feels more fluid thanks to the improvements made to the machine gun and pistol, and keeps the gameplay rolling when sniping isn’t a viable option. The game also offers new traversal moves to allow you to better navigate the area’s structures with shimmies and leaps, and shrapnel and melee kills even get their own gratifying X-ray kill cams now.
Enemy AI has also received a big boost, with it being much more difficult to play them for fools this time around. If you run near enemies they will hear you and come check out the area thoroughly, and if you leave a dead body in plain sight then all enemies in the area will go on the defensive. A meter is displayed on the screen to show the enemy’s level of alertness, with yellow meaning they’re curious and red meaning they’re in panic mode. The game forces you to take things slowly to avoid setting the dozens of enemies in each area into panic mode, and silently making your way through what are essentially enemy mazes is tense and exciting.
The game offers other methods of taking out these enemies outside of direct combat, with there being several environmental hazards that you can use to your advantage. There are plenty of explosives and vehicles scattered around ready to explode near unsuspecting bystanders, and sabotaging equipment like cranes can be immensely satisfying if you manage to catch a batch of enemies in the resulting destruction. You can even booby trap the bodies of enemies you have already taken out, and when another enemy inevitably comes to check out what happened they are met with an explosive and rewarding demise.
Single player isn’t the only thing that Sniper Elite 4 has to offer, though this is where things take a turn to the south a little. Multiplayer is back and offers largely the same modes that were available in the previous game, but they never result in gameplay that’s all that interesting. Seeing as everyone’s a sniper, it leads to most players finding a spot and hiding there for several minutes as they wait for someone to pop their head up, with actual sniping action being very rare. There’s your traditional deathmatch and control modes that are ill-fitting for this type of game, but even modes that are more tailored to it like Distance King (team with most distance-per-kill wins) and No Cross (teams are separated by an impassable No Man’s Land to force sniping) aren’t all that exciting. The game’s at its best when you have dozens of targets patrolling an area that you learn the patterns of in order to take down effectively, and you just don’t get that in the multiplayer.
The game fares better when it comes to its co-op offerings, with the game allowing you to play through the campaign with a partner, take on hordes of enemies with up to 3 other people in Survival mode, or act as a sniping and spotting team in Overwatch mode. Playing cooperatively through the campaign works well enough and the Overwatch mode offers a nice split of gameplay duties between teammates, but Survival is easily the mode to beat here. Having you and your teammates get to the ideal sniping spots on the map and then calling out enemy locations to stop them from getting to your base is a lot of fun, and offers plenty of challenge to boot as more and more difficult enemies come charging in. They’re modes that the series has featured previously in some shape or form, but unlike the multiplayer modes they continue to offer worthwhile gameplay.
Sniper Elite 4 isn’t without its flaws, but it delivers a number of noteworthy improvements over previous games in the series to make it an engrossing experience. The gruesome X-ray kill cams still haven’t gotten old, and the more expansive and dense levels make the core gameplay all the more entertaining. It’s definitely the best in the series yet, and is worth checking out for longtime fans and newcomers alike.