I don’t think too many people will want to fight me if I say that Sniper Elite 4 is the best Sniper Elite. It was a game that saw Rebellion throw off the shackles of the PS3 and Xbox 360 for the first time, letting them take the stealth action and sniping of the previous games and drop it into the biggest, broadest levels yet, each a small sandbox where you can meticulously pick your own path between objectives, avoiding patrols or taking them out, getting up to the vantage point to land the perfect shot and then move onto the next.
Now, somehow, it’s out on Nintendo Switch, continuing Rebellion’s love-in with the handheld console. The port of Sniper Elite V2 Remastered made sense, as a game that was a good seven years old by that point, and even Sniper Elite 3’s cross-gen origins allowed users to feel confident that it would run well, though would likely find itself caught between the generations in terms of visuals and performance. Even Zombie Army Trilogy, with its muted and moody graphics, felt like a bit of a shoe in. Sniper Elite 4, though? Surely that’s a bridge too far.
Wait… it’s set in Italy? Well, I don’t have a good film reference for that…
If you’ve been paying attention to the plethora of “impossible” Nintendo Switch ports that we’ve seen over the years, you’ll know that with enough care and attention, there’s an awful lot that Nintendo’s plucky little hybrid can do.
From the off, Sniper Elite 4 is quite staggering, thanks to one of the most emblematic opening levels I can think of in video game history. San Celini Island feels like the testbed for everything that Rebellion wanted to do with this game, with a sprawling map that will take minutes to cross (if you’re taking care not to be caught by Nazis), and with five enemy officers as your prey, ambling about on patrol. It’s also by far the most colourful the series has been; coming from the war torn and thoroughly grey Berlin of V2 and the desert setting of 3, the greens, yellows and autumnal reds of the grass, bushes and trees make a wonderful change of pace, as do the distinctive pastel colours of the villas and towns, with several of the levels basking in the warm Italian sun.
Of course, the Switch makes some very familiar tradeoffs in squeezing that down to size. You’ll notice the shimmering visual noise of all the aliasing as you aim down your sniper scope, and feel a flatness to a lot of the foliage as you sneak around the world. It takes about 4 minutes before the opening level reveals how close to the camera shadow detail drops off, before ungraciously shifting from high detail shadows straight to something that could be dropped into a pixel art game. Still, there’s effects like screen space reflections for the sea, and it will gleefully slather your screen with depth of field blur for X-Ray killcams. Counting pixels, and I think that the game even tops out at 1080p when docked, albeit with low detail assets making it feel like a clear step down from the other consoles.
It also all performs very well, feeling practically locked to 30fps for me in handheld, and it taking a frame rate analysis tool to spot the rather slight frame pacing hiccups, and dips to the mid-20s when it’s all kicking off. It still feels absolutely responsive.
You lose none of the gameplay either. There’s one initial hiccup if coming to the game from other consoles, as the control scheme will feel jumbled by Nintendo’s chosen ‘ABXY’ button layout. The first time the game told me to press ‘A’ to jump across a gap, I instead pressed ‘B’ and dropped down to hang onto the ledge.
Get over that little hurdle though, and you can appreciate the game’s major expansion of the series’ gameplay. Sure, there’s sniping and sneaking with a silenced Welrod pistol, but there’s also using grenades, tripwire traps and mines, each of which now has additional alternate uses, like making sticky grenades. It really ties into the sandbox nature of the game’s campaign, letting you set traps, bait enemies, and just generally indulge in the types of tomfoolery that the stealth action genre allows for. You can do the whole lot in two player co-op as well.
The game also supports motion controlled aiming, though this isn’t particularly refined and hasn’t really been furthered since the first Sniper Elite port to Switch. It’s still off by default, and I found it to be rather sensitive even at the lowest settings. You might just want to be able to have a slight dash of after touch to go alongside your stick twiddling, but what’s here is more intense than that.
Sniper Elite 4 also comes with the most comprehensive suite of multiplayer options found in the series to date. There’s the aforementioned campaign co-op for two players, a wave-based Survival mode for up to four players, and then Competitive multiplayer for up to eight players – down from twelve on other platforms, which can make the maps feel even more open and empty. All of that supports quick play, or you can use a server browser to pick a particular match. On the day of launch, we’ve only seen one match on the go at any time, though this could pick up.
The multiplayer is a separate additional download from the Nintendo eShop, which lets the main install keep down to a fairly svelte 6.1GB. It’s only an addition 1.3GB, but does add a hurdle to the hopes of building a strong online player base. It’s also worth noting that, whereas Sniper Elite 3 Ultimate bundled in all of that game’s DLC, Sniper Elite 4 is just the base game, with the Target Führer, three-part Deathstorm campaign and various weapon packs available separately or in a season pass.