Version reviewed – Xbox One
When it comes to the shooter I’ve always enjoyed being something of a sneaky bastard. That player who hugs the edge of the map with a long range weapon, moving in steady, well-thought out steps waiting patiently for the opportunity to strike. This is in some part down to my utter ineptitude with a gun that fires more than one round a minute, but more due to a love of, well, being a downright sneaky bastard.
You can probably imagine then the rumblings of excitement and twitch of the trigger finger I felt when, Sniper Elite 4, dropped into my lap. Quite unexpectedly too, which is apt.
Now, having spent some time with the game tasting both the campaign, and the multiplayer, I can say with some certainty that Sniper Elite 4 is quite magnificent! This magnificence however, wasn’t instantly apparent. In fairness, during the first fifteen, twenty minutes or so, I thought it was good. Good, solid, sniping fare peppered with moments of visceral magic and intensity. And then I couldn’t stop playing.
My own gauge for a game’s magnificence is largely based upon the draw it holds for me. Not the looks or the gameplay, but more about how much I feel the need to go and play some more, and then some more still. Prior to getting hold of Sniper Elite 4 I had been happily wandering the lands of Skyrim with the setting on Novice, like some indestructible God believing nothing could tear me away. Since its arrival, I have only had eyes for Sniper. It really is that good.
The beauty of the game is many layered. There is the brilliant, and brutal, bullet tracking mechanic that shows particularly good shots tear through the muscle, bone and major arteries of the enemy, and honestly never gets old. The detail is stunning and the measure of damage is highlighted quite precisely.
In addition, when the action reaches intensity levels known locally as, “Oh shit, time to panic!”, that moment of bullet time following a great shot is a perfect antidote, allowing some semblance of being able to gather the thoughts. The next layer of wonderful comes in the missions themselves. There is no get to point A, now go to point B, and so on. Each level has main missions and side missions in play, and each can be approached however the player sees fit. What this results in is some serious time spent within each location carrying out the various tasks, be it, eliminate a high ranking officer, destroy some vital equipment, or simply unleash a bullet fest on the enemy troops. And it also means the maps are fairly expansive in nature offering numerous options for the player that tend to tip the scales towards either, the killing machine approach, or, the shadowy cautious approach. Although, most missions see elements of both approaches creep in as the levels play out.
The next layer of magic is in the tools of the sniping trade. Players have three weapons at their disposal; the rifle, the pistol, and the machine gun. Each can be swapped out during the mission, or upgraded in the main menus based upon your current ranking, and each comes into their own during the action. Most of the time I found the rifle to be the weapon of choice, I mean this is a Sniper game, however, when opportunity arises to leap from the undergrowth in a blaze of machine gun fire, it’s a moment to be savoured. Elsewhere there are gadgets of mass destruction such as, trip mines, land mines, satchel explosives, and rocks. Yep, good old rocks, ideal for enemy distraction. And we have the med packs and bandages to keep our bits in place for a little longer.
Using the sniper rifle itself is very much from the school of long distance video game shooting. There are differing levels of zoom, and the option to hold your breath for a steadier shot. In this game, holding breath changes the sight to a diamond that when it glows red signifies a good point to pull the trigger, sit back, and watch the mess of a sniper’s bullet impacting an unaware enemy head. Lovely.
Each mission in the single player campaign is varied enough that the game avoids too much repetition, and each manages to truly raise the tension to fantastic heights. The style of play reminded me of part Uncharted, part Splinter Cell, part Hitman, yet, despite similarities, Sniper Elite 4 is very much its own beast, and one that can comfortably stand shoulder to shoulder with them all.
The single player does have a couple of minor niggles such as the fact that enemies know exactly where a shot came from even when they have no idea you’re in the area, or that on occasion the AI is a little dopey, such as the moment roughly fifteen enemy soldiers took it in turn to come to the top of a run of steps and then in turn were mowed down by my machine gun, or that staying out of sight for a short time brings the place back to a level of calm despite the fact I had just massacred half a dozen guards from long range and their still twitching bodies were now being overlooked by the remaining troops. But, these are genuinely minor issues and none have actually impacted upon my enjoyment.
Alongside a superb campaign we have some multiplayer fun thrown in. It makes me happy to report that the online action is like a breath of fresh air in terms of shooters. Rather than the usual gung-ho action filling the battlefields of almost every other game of a similar nature, Sniper Elite 4 online is a massively tense and cautious affair. When you play in the knowledge that dotted around the map are a group of kill hungry snipers, it really changes the feel of the action. I’m sure it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I found the shift in pace of the online matches a real bonus and something I am keen to enjoy for as long as the lobbies stay full. The maps offer nice changes, both in scenery and lighting, and are big enough that sniping remains the main method of dispatching an enemy, yet tight enough that the matches don’t drag by without laying eyes on another player.
Graphically I would describe the game as solid. There isn’t much to get excited about other than the odd glimpse of a dipping sun through the trees, but everything looks good enough. The character models are perhaps a little last gen, and sometimes the animation is a tad off, but overall the game is well polished in the looks department, but in a workmanlike way rather than being anything special.
Overall though the way to judge this game is as a complete package, and on that score Sniper Elite 4 hits the target every time. I go back to gauging a game by the draw it has, and as I type this I’m already thinking about getting back to the action. Every small niggle becomes miniscule when compared to the actual joy of playing the game, and so with that in mind, I can only urge you to go out and get hold of a copy, because right now I’ve got itchy trigger finger that once again needs flexing.
Sniper Elite 4 is a brutal, brilliant and bloody slice of gaming brilliance. Part thinking player’s shooter, part panic ridden intense action, but wholly magnificent. Get this one in the cross hairs now!