Game review: Sniper Elite 4 –gory feast of Nazi killing doesn’t miss its target
The game’s famous killcams show in graphic detail the damage you do as you snipe and stab your way through endless Nazis in sun-soaked Italy
The act of shooting a gun – occasionally dull, frequently unsatisfying, universally overused – has become gaming’s primary interaction. Rather than using firearms as an emotional release or a tense show of force, games often feature the firing of a weapon as a formulaic means of earning progress; to fight your way from A to B to earn a new cutscene, a better weapon or a climactic boss.
Few games nowadays succeed in making the actual act of shooting the main reason to play. But Sniper Elite 4 (for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One) does a superb job of that. By putting you behind a scope, tracking your target from 300 metres away, the game creates a sniping experience that’s so good the rest of Sniper Elite 4 – a serviceable, visually impressive open-world shooter akin to Far Cry – feels generic in comparison.
The game’s unobtrusive, inoffensive plainness in some ways fits quite well into the humdrum second world war-era tale it tells. The deserts of Africa, seen in Sniper Elite 3, are replaced with the Mediterranean countryside of Italy, bringing a whole host of new environments to explore and kill within. You’ll infiltrate quaint Tuscan towns overrun with Nazis, vineyards overrun with Nazis, sun-soaked forest canyons overrun with Nazis, military docks overrun with Nazis, and monasteries perched atop hillsides overrun with, you guessed it, Nazis.
The good thing about Sniper Elite 4 is that you rarely have to think much more beyond “who do I have to shoot now”, but this works because the sniping is so darn moreish you don’t really want to be thinking too much beyond your next long-distance takedown. Your key objectives start and stay perfectly simple: locate this hidden intel, destroy this strategic position, or kill this high-ranking officer. These are all staples you’ll see several times throughout Sniper Elite 4’s campaign, but the game manages to find a good rhythm despite its uninspired objectives.
By allowing the free-form exploration of its large hub areas, you’re free to approach objectives however you want to. Developer Rebellion should certainly be commended for Sniper Elite 4’s rich environmental design. From hilltops to towns, every level offers myriad ways of approaching any given target, and the game’s open-ended nature allows you to traverse rooftops, mountain paths and other elevated vantage points for the upper hand against a group of soldiers.
Sniping is simple in practice: find a safe spot of cover, take aim, empty your lungs to steady your hand, then take the shot. It’s a plain but satisfying loop that you’ll happily repeat hundreds if not thousands of times throughout the game’s campaign. The improved AI, however, means there’s always more to consider than indiscriminately shooting from afar. You’ll need to be ready to move at a moment’s notice to stay unseen, utilising the new foliage cover mechanics to sneak through the undergrowth, or sticking to shadowy areas in nighttime missions to avoid being seen out in the open.
Sound is frequently the biggest consideration. Enemies will hear gunshots, triangulate your position and come looking for you, so it’s always best to wait for planes to pass overhead or your own loud distractions before taking a shot. Or, you could use one of your limited suppressed sniper rounds to take enemies out silently, but these are rare and should be saved for high-value targets that are often surrounded by many other goons. In some levels, these specialist rounds are not even available, so you’ll have to find other ways to avoid any trouble, and this goes a long way to diversifying what is a fairly standard formula between missions.
Whether you go loud or quiet, you’re guaranteed to witness the series’ infamous slow-motion killcams. These ultra-violent X-ray scenes depict, in glorious goriness, your enemy’s skull being blown apart, spines shattering, organs eviscerated into the bloody ether. It’d be overkill if it wasn’t so empowering to watch; you can’t help but revel in the viscera even after 10, 20, 50 different kills. Sniper Elite 4 doesn’t do much to improve these trademark scenes from its predecessor, but does add slow-mo melee and explosive kills.
When you inevitably do get seen, and you almost certainly will, Sniper Elite 4’s third-person action resorts to a more traditional affair. Pistols and machine guns feel fine to shoot, the cover mechanics work but push no boundaries, and the controls occasionally feel clunky and slow, especially when you try to loot corpses. But no matter what the game does, there’s never the same patient tension that you’ll find when scouting out a great vantage point, lining up a shot and sniping.
Sniper Elite 4 is a bloody, good-looking but generic second world war shooter that entertains but rarely surprises. It really is testament to the gruesome enjoyability of those hyper gory killcams that, even after four games, the game continues to be satisfying enough to warrant a look. Sniper Elite 4 doesn’t miss its target, then, but it plays things safe enough to guarantee the kill without any undue risks.