“Sniper Elite 4” isn't a shooter for everyone, nor does it try to be. Instead, the players who will get the most out of Rebellion Development's latest entry in the “Sniper Elite” series are those that are willing to wait for the perfect moment to send one bullet flying, the accuracy of which can be the difference between completing or failing a mission. I had the privilege of playing “Sniper Elite 4” for review and can say this entry in the franchise is the most engaging yet.
Killing Nazis in a World War II setting is one of gaming's oldest plots. So many games have been made taking us from one end of the world to the other killing either realistic Nazis or Super-Nazis from an alternate history that it's hard to come up with an original schtick. This game doesn't even try to go that route. You're put in the boots of Karl Fairburne, an Office of Strategic Services operative who is the star of the series. “Sniper Elite 4” is a prequel to “Sniper Elite,” and “Sniper Elite V2,” which is a remake of the first “Sniper Elite,” and it is a sequel to “Sniper Elite III.”
This time around Karl heads to 1943 Italy to investigate German activity and weapons manufacturing. The story takes a backseat to the action and doesn't try to get in the way of your eight mission tour. Gameplay is the attraction of the game, and Rebellion has done a wonderful job of making sure it remains front and center. The lower difficulty levels have their challenges and are backed with plenty of fun, but the real attraction for “Sniper Elite” starts at the difficulty level of Sniper Elite or Hard.
The aspect that sets “Sniper Elite 4” apart from other World War II shooters is the way it handles the act of sniping. Lower difficulties behave much like “Battlefield's” sniping, with little or no bullet drop. However, on higher difficulties, you have to contend with a realistic ballistics model that adds bullet drop, wind resistance. This emphasis on perfection makes each shot a nail-biter and adds a tremendous amount of tension to what is a mundane action in other shooters.
One of the best things about this game is its full throttle approach to the brutality of war. By default, most long-range sniper shots, and kills by mines or traps are shown in a dramatic killcam complete with X-rays of broken bones, torn flesh, and shredded organs. Additionally, the gameplay itself is no holds barred with one of your options to take out enemies being the booby trapping of bodies. You can use a mine and rig a body to explode when jostled, so when an enemy sees his downed buddy and proceeds to check out what's going on, as soon as he touches it, he gets hot fragmented steel ejected very graphically into him. War is hell, and “Sniper Elite 4” doesn't attempt to sanitize the experience.
The missions themselves typically have two sets of objectives. The primary objectives must be completed to end the level, while the optional objectives will give you experience bonuses and more cool things to do. How you execute each mission is much the same regardless of its goals, though. You'll spend a lot of times hidden in high places or foliage looking through your binoculars and observing your surroundings.
The need to observe your surroundings is where you find out if the game is for you or not. There are plenty of people who would find this gameplay boring, especially since when you do spot enemies and opportunities to wreak havoc on them, many times you just can't take them. “Sniper Elite 4” is all about risk analysis. "Is this shot safe enough to take, or is it less risky to try and sneak past that guard," and other questions of the sort are constantly at the forefront of the experience.
The level design is such that you can't gain too much advantage from your ability to take out foes at a distance. Inevitably there is usually something blocking your view, or that tower you found is in the wrong place to look down upon the town full of Nazis you'd love to kill. While this works to keep the challenge intact, it led me to feel artificially boxed in and took a lot of the illusion of choice away.
BETTER WITH FRIENDS
A friend can join you in the campaign mode, which makes the experience a lot different. Now instead of being a lone wolf, you can have a friend spot for you, or split up and keep the enemy's attention divided between two sources of fire. The experience is the same as when you play campaign single-player, so you have the same freedom of movement and action in co-op. Another co-op option is the Survival mode, which behaves as a sort of Horde mode. You and up to four friends are tasked with surviving 12 waves of enemies and allows for classic “Sniper Elite” gameplay without the bother of having to go to the enemies yourself. The player-versus-player multiplayer leaves a bit to be desired, though, as it's just not that fun to fight another sniper in a game that emphasizes scouting, patience, and perfect marksmanship.
“Sniper Elite 4” offers more of the same great gameplay that its predecessors were known for while tightening it up for the current generation. Rebellion has crafted a sniper simulator that, while not for everyone, has the complexity and polish to be one of the best shooters of 2017. There's a ton of great titles coming out in early 2017 that are garnering a lot of attention, and unfortunately, this game might get lost in the mix. If you're a fan of shooters or World War II do yourself a favor and make sure you get your hands on a copy of “Sniper Elite 4,” you won't regret it.
ESRB rating: M
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