I’m starting to feel a little bit worried about my state of mind. You see, when I reviewed Sniper Elite 3 way back in 2014, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the German officer I accidentally castrated with .30 calibre bullet. This may have had something to do with the fact that I could see the bullet tear straight through his scrotal sack and then watch in horror as the poor man’s testicle exploded.
But after sneaking and sniping my way through its direct sequel, Sniper Elite 4, I feel as though I’ve gotten a taste for testicular manslaughter. Where once I winced, now I chuckle with glee as another SS officer crumbles to the ground after being castrated at 200 yards with a Lee Enfield Rifle.
OSS officer Karl Fairburne at it again, set directly after the events of Sniper Elite 3, Fairburne is sent to Southern Italy to help the local resistance, and destroy another prototype Nazi wunderwaffe (wonder weapon); a radio-controlled missile capable of taking out Allied ships from hundreds of miles away.
Sniper Elite has always subscribed to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy of sequel design and Sniper Elite 4 is no different. Aside from the obvious change in setting with North Africa’s sun-baked Savannas swapped for the idyllic vineyards and olive groves of Southern Italy, on the surface it’s difficult to see, on the surface at least what has changed.
The most significant changes are found under-the-hood, enemy AI has been reworked, with the easily tricked relocation system from previous games replaced by a new triangulation mechanic; Now if a player snipes from one position for too long, regardless of whether they mute their shots, the Nazis will eventually figure out where they are, descend on their position, and attempt to trap them with the preternatural abilities of a bloodhound.
This system is designed to be exploited, and it is in player’s best interests to do so, drawing enemies towards Karl’s position, picking them off with landmines and the occasional pot shot, or getting the drop on them using the game’s greatly improved traversal and stealth mechanics. Combined with huge intricately designed sandbox-style levels, filled with towers and tunnels to hide in, plenty of foliage to sneak through, and all manner of mechanical contraptions to sabotage, players are handed a toybox full of options that allow for multiple approaches to almost any situation.
From coastal fishing villages to humongous rural viaducts, Sniper Elite 4’s locales are the biggest in the series to date. Allowing keen snipers to pick off their prey from over 600 metres away with spectacularly grizzly results. Thanks to the kill cam, players can see the bullet fly in slow motion from rifle to brain stem via half a kilometre of rural Italian countryside in excruciating detail. Bringing with it a feeling of tension, satisfaction and immediacy that no other shooter even comes close to replicating. This is amplified further on the harder difficulties where bullet ballistics, wind and even gravity can effect where a shot eventually lands.
That being said, for what is essentially a stealth game, Sniper Elite 4 does have a horrible habit of packing each level to the rafters with guards. This is particularly noticeable in later levels, where, especially if things don’t go to plan and they call in reinforcements, it’s possible to wipe out whole platoons of troops with relative ease.
Though, admittedly, murdering half of the Third Reich is a lot of fun, attempting to fight the Axis head on for any great length of time inevitably ends with Fairburne’s demise at the hands of half a dozen angry Nazis with MP5s and very itchy trigger fingers. To succeed then, it is vital to slip by foes unnoticed, using the environment to sneak past, and the sounds of overhead planes and malfunctioning machinery to mask the sound of sniper rifle fire. Successfully taking out an officer surrounded by their entourage from several hundred meters with no one noticing, never fails to feel like an achievement, and even if that carefully constructed plan does go completely up the swany, players are given the means to successfully make a quick exit and fight another day if they need to. Even if it does have a horrible habit of autosaving when this happens.
Along with their main target each mission also has optional objectives and targets to eliminate that net players bonus XP and other rewards. In a nice twist these are delivered during pre-mission briefing areas by NPCs that allow players to get your bearings before launching into the mission proper, and add a little more context to the killing, though the narrative isn’t anything that hasn’t been seen in the series previously, in fact – the basic premise is almost identical to Sniper Elite 3, just with a different setting.
Levels are also peppered with all manner of collectibles that would almost make you think that this was a Ubisoft game. Each mini sandbox is littered with letters, documents, and other superfluous trinkets to collect, as well as stone eagles to shoot.
Kills are scored depending on the difficulty of the shot and where it lands, the better the shot, the more XP the player earns, which rewards them with better equipment. While completing Wolfenstein: The New Order style ‘weapon mastery challenges’ unlock upgrades for existing kit. These systems encourage players to be creative, find the best vantage points and take the time to land solid shots, while adding an extra secret layer of challenge to proceedings.
There’s plenty for players to sink their teeth into after their first playthrough too, Including the ability to play through the entire campaign with a friend in co-op.
There is also a robust multiplayer mode, which includes a whole a suite of competitive options. While we haven’t played much of this mode, gamers looking for something a little bit more tactical than the usual run and gun found in most online shooters should give it a whirl, what’s more Rebellion are doing the decent thing and adding more content for free over time too.
The Idyllic Italian Setting, humongous mini sand-boxes with a wealth of tactical options and numerous under- the-hood improvements combine to make Sniper Elite 4 the best entry in the series. Fans of the series may know exactly what to expect, but in the case of Sniper Elite, more of the same is no bad thing at all.