Sniper Elite 5 Review

Does Karl's Tour De France hit the mark?

by J.R. Waugh
Sniper Elite 5 Review

Sniper Elite has been around since 2005, but as a franchise didn’t truly leave its mark until a decade ago with the release of its remake, Sniper Elite V2.  The series has impressed critics with its more tactical approach to third-person shooter action in a WWII setting, and incredibly saturated time period for shooter games, and from V2 onward, its use of the famous x-ray camera to showcase every gory detail when you get a sniper kill. As a series, it rewards careful, methodical play, instead of rushing from cover to cover and outlasting your opponents via attrition.  17 years later, the formula is still very much alive but has grown and been polished since then.  Read on for our review of Sniper Elite 5.

What Kind of Game is Sniper Elite 5?

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Sniper Elite 5, much like its predecessors, is a third-person shooter with stealth mechanics, placing you on a large map in each campaign mission in which you can take different routes to complete your objectives.  While there are more obvious objectives like killing targets undetected, there are some such as sabotage of equipment which requires a bit more recon and planning and can be carried out in several ways.  The campaign features 8 full missions with an open map as well as a short finale mission, somewhere between Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid V in terms of explorable area.

The shooting action, especially the sniper play, is the most uniquely recognizable feature of this franchise, with the glorious x-ray camera making its return yet again.  While it doesn’t have the same sheer volume of blood and gore some shooters may have in the traditional sense, the slow-mo and view of Nazi viscera being torn up by bullets make you feel pretty immersed and leaves little to the imagination.  You can forego the stealth element, and you’ll even see that reflected in your post-mission score.  In addition to avoiding detection, you’ll be rewarded for taking a non-lethal route, either by leaving enemies unconscious (non-lethal takedowns or ammo) or by outright avoiding the action whenever possible.

Alongside the campaign, Sniper Elite 5 features returning co-op missions, multiplayer, a Survival Mode with up to 4 player slots, and a new mechanic, Axis Invasion, enabling players to sabotage fellow snipers online in their campaign playthroughs.  The adversarial multiplayer modes include Free-For-All, Team Match, Squad Match, No Cross (players must fight only at long distances), and Scoring.  Co-op extends to campaigns with Axis Invasion enabled, meaning invading players might have multiple targets to hunt down.

Karl’s Tour De France

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Karl Fairburne returns in this 5th installment as the franchise’s maverick deadeye protagonist.  After the North African theater and Italian campaign exploits of the 3rd and 4th games, Karl finds himself joining the Allied efforts leading up to and after Operation Overlord, D-Day.  His strategic mission includes assisting the French Resistance by taking down Nazi targets, weapons, and defenses while unveiling the nefarious Project Kraken.  During all these exploits, he makes a personal mission for himself too, to take down Abelard Möller, Kraken’s orchestrator.

The plot surrounding Project Kraken adds some fascinating insight into the choice of putting Karl in France for this game, which is a better excuse than simply adding a few new maps.  Karl helping allies storm the beaches of Normandy would have been too predictable, instead this focuses on the notion of “what if the Nazis prepared a deadly counterattack response to D-Day?”  However, while playing through the game, the various plot elements, gameplay mechanics, and characters certainly ring a few bells, touching upon numerous tropes and WWII/stealth shooter hallmarks.  The result is a pastiche across multiple shooter subgenres, with just enough unique elements to help this title stand out among the rest.

War, on Your Terms

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Part of Sniper Elite 5’s charms, and that shared by other games in the franchise, is putting you on a sandbox-style map rendered with WWII trappings, and letting you dictate what happens next.  The enemy doesn’t know your presence, and you can choose just how much of an impression you’ll leave on the patrolling Nazi opponents in any given mission.  You can choose dangerous sniper shootouts while making use of the environment and line of sight to keep the enemy guessing where the fire is coming from; you can play methodically, taking down enemies quietly at close range to not make a noise or raise alarms.  Either way, this makes you a master of your destiny and just how intense you want the experience to be.

This sort of stealth and exploration isn’t wholly new, being present in many games over the years, most notably Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell.  The sneaking missions and open maps are fairly present in both franchises and helped them respectively define the genre, whereas Sniper Elite builds upon their legacy while adding gory, realistic sniper play.  Additionally, if you encounter enemy bases, you’ll notice alarm panels that can be used by the enemy if alerted to your presence, signaling for more reinforcements, which adds a bit of Far Cry into the mix.  If you get into a firefight in Survivor mode, which is not unlike a tower defense, the enemy AI will close in on you, and change up their tactics, like in Halo.

Enhancing the freedom to do what you want on any given map, Sniper Elite 5 provides lots of collectibles and secondary objectives worth experience points, or even unlocking additional weapons which might fit your given playstyle better.  There are assassination targets given throughout the mission which scratch the sniper itch and provide enough of a fun factor between them to keep things fresh.  Particularly memorable moments in this include gathering intel on a V2 rocket facility or leaving a rat-shaped bomb for a high-value target who has a penchant for shooting rodents.  The game is very rewarding to players who come back and explore other areas or play with different methods.

Adding to this freedom, you’re able to customize your weapons and loadout such as grenades, thrown items, as well as attachments for all three of the guns you can carry.  You can unlock more by exploring the game, completing secondary objectives and kill challenges, and finding secrets like additional workbenches at which you can change your loadouts in session.

While this game contains elements from other franchises, and the same can certainly be said about those titles, it does have enough elements to stand out.  The x-ray camera is still fresh, and plays excellently on the next-gen hardware, giving you a full, high frame-rate view of Nazi muscular, circulatory, and skeletal systems as you take out one of their eyes.  No other game quite gives as much morbid satisfaction and simultaneous cringing when you shoot a man in the testicles.  On top of that, the new gimmick debuted by this game, Axis Invasion, flips the formula on its head, isolating the player in a way that previously should have felt like a great idea.

An Exciting New Mode

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Axis Invasion is just the sort of refinement on the formula which helps Sniper Elite stand on its own among shooters even further.  Essentially, it lets people join other players’ campaign sessions, but as an enemy sniper, essentially the invasion formula from the Souls games.  If you’re playing the campaign and have this option turned on (just in the campaign menu at the bottom of the options, can be toggled on or off) you’ll be rewarded bonus EXP for defeating invading snipers and completing the mission.  If you’re an invader, you gain points toward unlockables including cosmetics and other weapons for your invader avatar.

The invasion in session turns the experience on its head.  Unlike other Sniper Elite games where you could reasonably expect to go about at your own pace and carefully clear your way to the objective, now you’re being hunted.  Additionally, when invaded (as signaled by a red banner that appears on the screen and stays on the top-left corner) you’ll be able to use an otherwise unavailable feature on the map, contacting the enemy under the guise of a German officer on the phone and learning the invader’s position, or the player’s.  And when the invader is a skilled sniper, the session can end mercilessly quickly, or devolve into carnage as Karl fires and misses the invader, alerting other nearby soldiers in the process.

However, if you’re a player who is not into the experience of the potential stress this entails, simply turn it off.  It can be infuriating when you’re carefully sneaking through a heavily fortified series of bunkers or ducking between vehicle patrols, and suddenly another player invades, sending you spiraling into a panic and forcing some bad decisions.  But this is also exactly how it can be exhilarating if you allow it.

The Visuals

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Sniper Elite 5 can yield some truly breathtaking sights, deploying a massive variety of assets in the environment as well as vehicles and weapons you can encounter or use.  Particularly breathtaking areas include the majestic architecture showcased in the Beaumont-Saint-Denis map, and the marvelous French countryside rendered complete with apple groves, lavender fields, and plenty of tall grass providing cover.  Enemy vehicles look convincing and real, and weapons are satisfyingly designed.

Where the game loses its grip on the beautiful visuals is the character models, which feels like a bit of a letdown, especially with how much potential is shown by the rest of the game world.  The character models at points feel at best like they resemble the intersection of 7th and 8th generation games, which is unfortunate as we’re approaching a decade past that point.  Keep in mind, however, that under the surface, the many enemy character models you’ll encounter are loaded with vital weak spots under the hood, and everything looks so good when you have the x-ray cam on.

Visual effects including particles and explosions are fairly strong in this game, including convincing water and fog.  Seeing a speeding bullet’s rifling as it hurtles toward a doomed soldier is breathtaking, and detonating explosives next to the classic red oil drum results in violent, earth-shaking chain reactions on an unsuspecting armored vehicle is solid fun.  Finally, moments like the final mission’s sniper play, or any long-distance spotting and sniping, are made possible with some well-deployed draw-distance, letting you take in all of the flowery countryside or war-torn rubble before you take your shot.  In a word, magnifique.

The Sound

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Sniper Elite 5 makes good use of sound, providing it as an asset for the players to mask their noise, which is a common feature shared among the other games in the franchise.  Planes flying overhead, or general sounds of war being waged, allow you the perfect noise pollution to take a shot from cover with impunity, leaving the surviving enemies none the wiser.  The sounds of air raid sirens wailing, echoing through the rubble in St. Nazaire, are haunting and very appropriate.

The music of the game is intended to be appropriate and has moments where it does and doesn’t hit the mark, tonally.  The game is meant to convey a war-torn, occupied France whose hope is just barely being rekindled by aid from Allied forces.  This is certainly captured in the oddly somber tones including the accordion, a popular instrument in French culture despite also having its origins in Germany.  The tone is lost, however, in moments like the 4th mission, in which the woodwinds and strings render almost comical suspense, like if Home Alone had its cast carrying around Gewehr 43’s.

The sound design in combat is rather satisfying, though.  Despite it already being well-established, the level of satisfaction players can feel from hearing the sound of their bullet leaving their rifle chamber, exploding, and heading toward the enemy, followed by the sounds of ichor being discharged, is macabre but sublime.  However, it can get old if overdone, so be sure to make use of the skip feature once you’ve shot out enough intestines.

The Issues

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Playing the game through on campaign can be a rough experience at times.  In the very first mission, it has been possible so far to find at least one enemy in some sandbags near the 3rd objective who, if you kill him, causes the game to crash.  This issue was even replicable, down to the same enemy.  Which can be troublesome when they’re in your way.

If you choose to join as an Axis Invader, there can be instances where your controller/keyboard & or mouse will be unresponsive for gameplay, despite you being fully able to access the pause menu, forcing you to leave the session you just entered.  If you’re invaded, there’s a small chance of you being unable to use your healing items or medkits upon being incapacitated, forcing you to bleed out and hand your opponent the victory, even if you were downed by an enemy AI.  The game has some crucial bugs that need fixing, but you can still play without encountering these.

The game makes use of contextual actions, namely opening containers or doors, but also actions like sabotaging equipment or planting satchel charges, and features multiple ways to do so, either with bombs, lockpicking, keys, etc.  The problem with this, however, is that the prompts are sometimes incredibly fickle to bring up, requiring you to position your character and camera differently to see different action options on the surface, which seems unnecessary.

There’s also often a delay between pressing corresponding buttons and carrying out the actions.  This can prove stressful or detrimental to play when you’re making yourself briefly vulnerable in the enemy trenches, placing charges on an AA gun, and being stuck waiting a few seconds for Karl to realize that’s his cue to lay down and arm the explosives.  These can take you out of the experience, despite the many things the game has to offer.

Finally, one issue about the game is its protagonist itself, Karl Fairburne.  Despite having interesting origins which he has played to his advantage in the past, Karl doesn’t have much to fall back upon as a character.  Born in Germany but of British-American heritage, he has used this as a way to infiltrate the enemy in the past, and this certainly adds depth to how his character blends in the case of this game, but from a storytelling and character development standpoint, he is not as compelling.  He’s more of a maverick, embodying the “Screw the Rules, I’m Doing What’s Right” trope quite literally in this game, and is more or less a generic tough guy who the supporting cast of characters lean on.

The other NPCs also serve no other purpose in the game other than providing intel and pretty much no help in combat, which makes Karl into more of a one-man army.  But he lacks Solid Snake or Sam Fisher’s wry charm, or tragic upbringing on the level of Master Chief to explain his behavior, making him into a generic shooter protagonist whose hook is that his aim is just really good and he doesn’t play by the operations playbook.

The Verdict

Sniper Elite 5 continues to refine and polish the formula solidified by V2 in 2012 and its addition of Axis Invasion is a welcome sight, pushing you into the shoes of your targets, under the watchful eye of a yet-to-be-seen sniper who has the benefit of cannon fodder as additional cover.  The photogrammetry showcased in the visuals makes up for the rough character models, while the x-ray camera views during kills remain the same level of macabre and crowd-pleasing.  The wheel isn’t being reinvented for stealth shooters in the case of this game but is a thoughtful infusion of elements from several genre-defining franchises resulting in a cocktail that’s fun, so long as it works.

The technical issues are glaring, and while it’s only occasional that you’ll brandish your weapon to only see floating attachments but no actual gun, or at-posing corpse, the bigger issues lie in the game’s stability.  Whether you’re an Axis Invader, or simply playing through the campaign, nothing quite takes the wind out of your sails like when you’ve fallen and literally can’t get up, because you’re suddenly unable to heal despite having the supplies.  But looking past this, you’ll see a dangerously replayable shooter with lots of collectibles, features, and cosmetics to unlock, while you master bullet drop and truly embrace how it feels to play as a sniper ready to take down countless foes.

This concludes our review of Sniper Elite 5!  Sniper Elite 5 comes out on May 26, 2022, for PC, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One, and Series X|S.  It will also feature as a day one release title on Game Pass, so if you’re a subscriber, definitely try this one out, at least for the chance to mess up somebody’s campaign playthrough as an invader.

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Sniper Elite 5

  • Score: 4 / 5
  • Available On: Xbox, PlayStation, PC
  • Published By: Rebellion
  • Developed By: Rebellion
  • Genre:
  • US Release Date: May 26th, 2022
  • Reviewed On: PlayStation 5
  • Quote: "The wheel isn’t being reinvented for stealth shooters in the case of this game but is a thoughtful infusion of elements from several genre-defining franchises resulting in a cocktail that’s fun, so long as it works."
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