Five or six years ago it was inconceivable to think that the gaming fraternity would long for the days of muddy browns and natural greens, of rusty old weapons fashioned out a massive block of wood and a bit of metal. World War II and historical shooters had been done to death. The well was well and truly dry. But with the transition into a more frenetic and unrealistic sci-fi future, we’ve gotten away from why we liked these games in the first place. Staring your enemy cold in the eye before violently exploding their skull into a thousand fragments of bone and brain tissue was, and always will remain, supremely enjoyable. That dopamine hit and knowledge that you outsmarted your opponent is the single reason why shooters have been the most popular genre for years, even though they all fundamentally revolve around that same 1-2 seconds gameplay loop. In fact, with modern shooters, if you haven’t amassed 30 kills, an devastating arsenal of orbital weaponry, robots and a nuclear detonation then you’re not playing properly. But with the recent success and popularity of EA’s Battlefield 1, with Activision claiming Call of Duty is going back to its roots and with the release of Rebellion Developments’ Sniper Elite 4, it’s clear a sea change is happening. And it’s one about which I am absolutely delighted.
In the year where Call of Duty finally lost me after 8 years’ loyal service, Sniper Elite 4 is a welcome shot in the arm. As shooters got increasingly bonkers and ADHD-addled with kills every few seconds, and more bombastic shenanigans than Shaggy could ever muster, Sniper Elite 4 is a complete change of pace. Every shot is carefully measured, calculated and poured over before a single squeeze of the trigger unleashes just one single bullet, that travels beautifully across the map, zeroing in on a single target. It’s the complete antithesis to the direction shooter have taken over the last few years, which, given your own feelings to the current state of play will either put you off or delight you.
Of course the series’ own version of bullet time sees an emphatic return. A feature which - if you’re not familiar with it, well where have you been for the last eleven years? – is as brutally satisfying as ever. Kills from your sniper rifle over a certain distance are highlighted in the most wonderfully cinematic, slow-motion replays. Replays that track your bullet as it leaves the barrel of your gun, before effortless flying and spiralling through the air over hundreds of metres, eventually hitting the enemy as the camera zooms in to reveal their internal organs, and they meet their delicious demise in a bloody and devastating moment of brutal violence. It’s as fantastic as ever and is what the series is rightfully celebrated for. Though when triggered by your partner during a co-op session can sometimes remove you from the action slightly, as it interrupts whatever you were doing to so vividly and violently celebrate your partner’s accuracy and precision.
Even after witnessing the slow-motion spectacle of an eye or testicle shot on a hundred occasions I’m nowhere near close enough to the point where I want to disable this cinematic marvel.
Sniper Elite 4 offers plenty of variety across its various modes. The main campaign can be enjoyed solo or co-operatively, with the latter’s spotter-sniper combo proving to be a really compelling way to play the game. Sure, the plot is hackneyed and clichéd with some terribly stereotypical accents provoking plenty of eye-rolls, but it’s delivered with tongue firmly-in-cheek and actually fits with the game’s overall presentation. The new maps and missions are varied and interesting, and while 10 main level might seem limited, there’s plenty of longevity and depth. You’ll inevitably want to rinse each of them for collectables and side-missions as well as achievement hunting as you replay on higher difficulties as you become more proficient and adapt to the game’s systems. It’s also worth mentioning the fun achievements which are awarded for various different activities. My favourite being “Nucracker. Sweeet!” Which is awarded for incapacitating an enemy before finishing him off with a testicle shot.
The Overwatch mode from Sniper Elite 3 also sees a return and again sees one player taking on the role of lone sniper from up high, while the second is thrust into the thick of things at ground level and is tasked with acting as a spotter marking targets for his or her accomplice to pick off from a distance. With only the spotter having access to binoculars and a machine gun it’s a great dynamic that really encourages team work and communication.
There’re are also plenty of multiplayer modes to get your teeth stuck into. Distance King is particularly noteworthy with the winner of each 20-minute round determined not by how many kills a player gets, but instead by the overall combined distance travelled by the bullets that led to a kill. Finishing a game with 2 kills and 0 zero deaths, but with both over kills over 300m against someone else’s 10 kills from 10-50m is an extremely gratifying way to play the game and rewards a more careful and strategic approach to multiplayer. And 20 minutes seems to pass in no time.
Sniper Elite 4’s multiplayer is also akin to the world’s hardest game of where’s Wally. There’s something oddly calming but hugely enjoyable about scouring a map through your binoculars hidden in the foliage, looking for any of the other 9 enemy players who are doing exactly the same thing. Minutes will pass before you even see another person, but when you do eventually spot someone and tag them, there’s huge satisfaction from calmly lining them up in your rifle sights before filling your lungs, taking a deep breath and gently squeezing the trigger. It’s also a clever touch how upon killing an enemy, your position is revealed to them on the kill-cam replay, thus forcing you to move to a new position but therefore also put yourself at risk. Another example of intelligent game design is also how when you look through the scope of your rifle, ready to take aim at an enemy,the sun reflects off the glass causing a bright white glint to reveal your position to anyone that happens to be looking in your general direction. This all means that when you’re ready to fire a shot you have to be really ready and committed, because otherwise you’ll give yourself away. This risk versus reward is a neat little touch and really ramps up the tension.
Comparisons to Sniper Elite 3 are inevitable, and in all honesty there’s not a whole lot of difference between the two games other than an increase in scale and a slight refinement of some of the game mechanics and controls. This unfortunately means it’s still a little rough around the edges and clunky in all the ways you’ll remember. For example, on the weapon select screen sometimes weapon skins don’t load properly, while on more than one occasion I’ve been unable to navigate around the in-game map, while my co-op partner has had no problem. But yet in spite of these quirks and bugs, which should inevitably be corrected with a post-release patch, Sniper Elite 4 exudes charm and does what many have speculated to be impossible in this generation of games, and that’s be a fun and distracting B-tier genre game.
In conclusion if you in any way enjoyed Sniper Elite 3 then you know exactly what to expect from Sniper Elite 4. It’s a flawed gem of a game that gets more right than it gets wrong. Yes, the improvements to the previous game are only marginal, but with all new missions and locations and after a break of over 3 years it’s like seeing an old friend you haven’t seen for a while for a cosy pint in an old countryside pub. Plus, co-op gaming is always brilliant and this is no exception.