Karl Fairburne’s out of Africa and into Italy to fight facism in Europe once again, and it’s Rebellion’s most accomplished entry in the Sniper Elite series yet. At its heart, it’s the same sniping game that fans of the series know and love – a slightly cheesy action stealth romp through WW2 – but having thrown off the shackles of supporting the last generation of console has allowed them to create something that feels all the more modern.
So yes, the core sniping is effectively the same as it was before. You sneak through levels, painstakingly avoiding or taking out enemies, propping yourself up in your chosen vantage point or sticking to cover, waiting for the ideal opportunity to strike. Depending on the difficulty level you choose – and you can even create a custom difficulty level – you’ll have to simply line up the crosshairs, or deal with bullet drop, also accommodate for wind, or do all of this without an ounce of slowdown when you have Karl take a steadying breath before firing.
It’s what’s wrapped around this core sniping gameplay that has been changed. Maps are much bigger for one thing, with primary and optional objectives that will take you all over them, but letting you really pick your own path to get there. They’re also rather gorgeous to behold, with the bright sunshine of the Mediterranean baking the islands, pastel coloured coastal towns and mountainous industrial installations of Italy.
Over time, Karl has evolved from a simple sniper who can wield a pistol or SMG if he absolutely has to, into a more well rounded character capable for a stealth action game. He’s picked up some new moves, like being able to drag enemy soldiers off ledges and hide in bushes, and secondary weapons feel a little bit tighter and more controlled than before as well. Almost everything in your inventory now has two modes, so TNT can be put on a timer, grenades wrapped in tape so they stick to surfaces, you can find suppressed ammo for the first time, and so on. You can even pull such horrendous tricks as booby trapping a corpse and then throwing it over a ledge for other soldiers to find. This can be a pretty gruesome game.
As before, diesel generators can be sabotaged, to provide a crude form of noise cover, while there’s an awful lot of cranes or balcony supports that can be shot at to fake an accident. They’re a very direct form of interactivity without some of the more subtle world building behind it, limiting the things Karl can climb up and funnelling some of the potential approaches to an objective. It’s still perhaps a step or two behind the best games in the genre and a little bit too on the nose, though there’s a definite charm and enjoyment to be found within that.
There’s a predictability to the AI and how they’ll hunt you down, even if they can surprise you with their visual and aural acuity at times. You’re effectively playing in an area filled with little sandboxes, where alerting soldiers in one area won’t necessarily make those a little further away from you raise their guard. Within that, it’s fun to draw them to one spot, possibly letting yourself be seen, before flanking, getting round behind and seizing the advantage. If it all goes wrong, you can obviously just go with the flow, but restarting the checkpoint takes seconds and can put you back just a few moment, with three recent quick saves to choose from if that’s not far back enough.
I leant on that ability a lot to skirt round some of the issues with the AI, though. Their sensitivity can feel particularly unfair at times, though getting caught is generally your fault as the player or down to the complexity of their patrols and the level design. Even on normal difficulty, they can feel freakishly prescient in figuring out that one of their number has died and exactly where they were when they did. There are other hang ups, most noticeable when on high alert, as if they don’t know what to do next.
It’s all just as gory and brutal as ever, but the X-ray kill cams have been taken further than ever before. By default, they’re incredibly frequent, feeling like almost every focussed kill elicits a view of the unfortunate soldier’s muscles and skeleton as they’re shattered by a bullet. Sniper Elite 4 also adds these for melee and shrapnel kills, but you can turn them down or off as the novelty wears thin.
Each level is preceded by a small briefing area, in which you can check in a handful of different people and pick up optional objectives for the mission ahead. It’s a clever way of adding layers to the game’s story, with some caricatured new characters able to bounce off the gruffly voiced, straightforward Karl. As he tries to halt the production of a new type of German missile, he also gets the chance to help and be helped by other groups like the partisans and the OSS.
The campaign can, just as before, be played solo or in two player co-op, opening up the door for silky tandem stealth takedowns, hilarious slip ups leading to all out warfare, and everything between. There’s then a pair of Overwatch missions, where one player is a sniper and the other an operative on the ground, with both levels showing a similar scale to the main campaign missions, and a pleasing amount for both players to do.
Alongside those returning modes, Survival pits up to four players against twelve waves of enemies on the three maps that have been adapted from the campaign. It’s a nice twist on horde mode, leading you to new command posts every three waves, pushing you to defend from new vantage points, spotting clusters of enemies coming from various directions, and occasionally having to deal with tanks and armoured vehicles. It can be tough, especially if you run out of ammo from not looting bodies, but there’s always the hope that one person can make it through to the end of a wave.
Of course, there’s also competitive multiplayer, with various forms of sniper deathmatch and team deathmatch that will be familiar to those who played previous games. They’re pretty standard and par for the course, but Rebellion are also mixing things up a bit. Control has you racing to capture and hold a radio station to call in artillery, and it cuts against the grain of traditional sniper play, with a much more frantic pace, to the point that your secondary weapon might be preferred. You’ll still want to be good with a sniper rifle, but it’s less essential here than in other modes, making things perhaps a bit more accessible for those who feel like dipping a toe in. Further maps and modes will also be coming for free after release, though deathmatches will always be the most popular modes here.
Sniper Elite 4 is easily the best in the series so far. It’s still the same methodical stealth game at its core, but Rebellion have added to that with more possibilities for the player, bigger and more open maps, and a handful of new modes.
Version tested: PlayStation 4 Pro