SOE sniper extraordinaire Karl Fairburne is back for yet another mission behind enemy lines, and with another Axis plot to foil in Sniper Elite 5. From Africa, through Italy, Karl now has to sneak behind enemy lines in occupied France in the run up to the D-Day landings, unravelling Operation Kraken as he goes.
Sniper Elite 5 really feels like Sniper Elite 4 in a lot of ways, which is exactly what you’d expect and probably want. Sniper Elite 4 took a big step forward to more freeform sandbox levels where you could approach objectives from pretty much any angle, and this sequel builds on that.
The levels here feel absolutely vast. The opening mission has you infiltrate German fortifications and defences set up around a coastal town, the map sprawling inland to a huge artillery gun, trench networks and radar installations. Then there’s the grounds surrounding what was once an idyllic chateaux, a mountainside town that’s an absolute maze to navigate, with more sprawling locations through the game’s nine missions.
The levels are fantastic to explore, whether you choose to take out as many German guards as you can along the way, opt to slink past them silently, or mix the two approaches. As before, you can stay with an up close and personal approach, employing a silenced pistol as your mainstay, or search for vantage points and create noise distractions to cover your long-range sniper shots. Come the end of a level – always after well over an hour of play – and you’ll be given an analysis of your playstyle, which is neat to see, even if you chose to ‘save scum’ a bit to stay stealthy.
There’s much deeper weapon customisation available through Sniper Elite 5 to let you lean into a certain approach. The base loadout package has been changed with the series mainstay Welrod replaced with an M1911 with a silencer, but you can swap back to the Welrod if you prefer. Beyond that, all of the weapons can be stripped down and have everything replaced, from muzzle attachments to stocks, receivers, scopes and sights. You need to unlock the further options by finding workbenches within levels, which also give you a handy opportunity to swap out your weapons mid-level. There’s also customised weapons you can find within levels – picked up from enemies, at sniper spots or within locked armouries – though these have just a single magazine of ammo to use.
Sniper Elite 5 feels like its lifted some pages from the books of Hitman’s World of Assassination trilogy. This includes unlocking new level starting points by finding and lighting bonfires, picking up a crowbar or bolt cutter to interact with certain things, and there’s now a slew of non-lethal options, whether it’s melee knockouts – this helps avoid the grim sound of air escaping a dead soldier’s lungs – or using amusing “non-lethal” wooden bullets. Yes, they’re really a WW2 thing, but I doubt their billing as being non-lethal. Oh, there’s also a Gears of War-style active reload system to master.
All of the missions in the game now have secondary objectives that crop up as you play. As you head into a level you have a main objective and a Kill List target with an optional bonus goal of trying to kill them in a particular way, like shooting out a chandelier to drop on their head. Along the way, you’ll potentially hear or pick up some intel that opens up additional objectives, to secure some rare artefacts, open up a safe, blow up some AA gun emplacements, and the like. That’s all in addition to the menagerie of collectables and intel to snag as well.
While it’s borrowed a few ideas and quirks, Sniper Elite 5 isn’t suddenly a WW2 Hitman copycat. It’s certainly a stablemate for that style of meticulous stealth and slow approach play, and you do have many ways to complete objectives, but it can feel a bit prescribed at times how there’s always the crowbar, bolt cutter or satchel charge you need nearby. It’s also nowhere near as daft with disguises and you’re always in hostile territory and on alert.
Unfortunately, that’s also one of Sniper Elite 5’s weaknesses. The enemy AI is now more alert to spotting nearby motion in tall grass or hearing “silenced” weapons, which do all still emit a detectable sound within a certain radius, but they still feel rather one dimensional and simplistic in how they investigate a sound or alert. You can feel the edges of their programmed awareness, which is necessary so for a stealth game to remain enjoyable, but when it comes alongside often seeing them switching between actions and behaviours, I wish they felt a bit more natural.
The campaign narrative is also lacking a bit of refinement. The campy WW2 subterfuge is fun – I love how fearful the game’s antagonist is as Karl unravels Operation Kraken around him – but outside of Karl’s familiar gruff persona, the cutscenes reveal some wooden performances and dated character and facial animation. It’s a cross-gen game, so hopefully a sixth game can take another step forward here.
The one foe you’ll never hear a peep out of? The Axis Invader that can attack you in the optional online Invasion mode. Now, as has been seen in a few games over the years, you can invade another player’s campaign playthrough and try to hunt them down as a German sniper. As Karl, you now have access to a series of telephones around the map which you can call to pinpoint the location of the enemy, marking them out and giving you a clue as to their whereabouts, while the German can boost the alertness of AI soldiers, booby trap the phones, or use them to mark Karl (at the cost of also marking yourself).
It’s a fun little diversion, though the hunt can be long and slow as the German sniper. You need to keep moving and closing in on suspected locations, but eventually you’ll give in and use the phones. The handful of encounters I’ve had came from someone going loud and getting caught, letting me then come at them in the mix. Then again, I’ve also stepped into a fully completed level, emptied of the AI allies by a cunning player looking to boost their stats. Even if it goes wrong, the allied player is then provided the option of a rematch or to switch off Invasions after death, so you can get back to your campaign play undisturbed.
Alongside the campaign (which can also be played in co-op) is a 12-wave horde mode and the suite of multiplayer that’s typically found in Sniper Elite games. ‘No Cross’ is still the mainstay of Sniper Elite multiplayer, with teams of snipers on either side of a map, but there’s also the more direct team deathmatch from Sniper Elite 4. You either love it, or will take this game as a single player and co-op campaign.