The Sniper Elite franchise has successfully managed to create its own niche within the first-person shooter space over the past few years, offering an alternative to the ostentatious, Michael Bay-esque nature of contemporary titles such as Call of Duty and Battlefield. Whereas those games have made a name for themselves by flirting with Hollywood bombast and adrenaline-pumping set pieces, Sniper Elite plumps for methodical precision, where shattering skulls and landing meticulously-timed nut shots is the order of the day. And despite a few wrinkles here and there, it does a bloody good job of it, too.
As such, it’s no surprise to learn that this fourth iteration of the series is an extension of this well-oiled design philosophy, as PSU found out during our recent hands-on with Sniper Elite 4 at Rebellion HQ. Chiefly, we got a taste of the game’s first campaign level, which takes place in Nazi-occupied San Cellini, Italy, and sees us plonked in the muddy boots of grizzly hero Karl Fairburne as he surreptitiously stalks his primary target, Tobias Schmidt.
One thing that’s immediately noticeable is that Rebellion has shifted gears in terms of level design. Sniper Elite 4 is a bigger beast in this respect, with a splatter of pseudo-sandbox shenanigans to indulge in as you are left to your devices to follow any path you wish to accomplish your goals. In our case, it was to eliminate the aforementioned Schmidt, who is tucked away in a massive fort at the opposite end of the battlefield. While the beginning segment follows a more linear approach (which deftly highlighted the new melee & stealth X-Ray kills with the visceral charm you’d expect from the series), the main bulk of the chapter takes place in a large-scale environment.
This lends itself perfectly to Sniper Elite’s more methodical approach to gameplay, as you whip out your trusty scope and tag enemies throughout the map before plotting their inexorable and bloody deaths. Speaking of the red stuff, there’s copious amounts of claret to be shed as you zoom in on your target’s vital bits to make short work of enemy patrols, although you’ll have to be quick to hot-foot it out of dodge and relocate, as foes aren’t stupid and will immediately converge on the area your gunshot originated from. Unless, of course, you make use of the new silenced ammunition, which comes in rare supplies but is an absolute god send as you land gratifying, one-hit stealth kills from a safe location.
Needless to say, the open environments really help differentiate Sniper Elite 4 from its predecessors, with the action feeling overall much richer and more tactical for it. Optional kills, such as hunting down Nazi Generals, also expand things even more and there’s ample opportunity to explore the locations to scoop up hidden ammo caches, new weapons, and intel. From what we could tell from the hour or so we had with the first level, the core sniping mechanics are as solid as ever.
Elsewhere, Rebellion also gave us a taste of Sniper Elite 4 multiplayer, which comprised of a few skirmishes in Control. Here, two teams compete against each other and must capture radio positions while you defend it against the opposing team; the team with the highest score at the end, naturally, bags the match. The bread-and-butter gunplay lends itself well to the online side of things, and outside of sniping foes from afar there’s plenty of diversity to the various classes you can play as if camping isn’t your thing. In fact, frontline troops is the only way you’re going to win this, so getting your boots mucky by mixing it up with grenades, machine guns, and pistols is the order of the day.
After some tense shootouts, we dipped our toes in the co-op offering, Survival, where Sniper Elite 4 pits a team of gamers against waves of Nazi grunts, each one increasing in ferocity. Here, teamwork and communication is instrumental in surviving against the odds, with enemies doing a bang up job of pushing you back and forcing you into defensive positions. After dispatching each wave, we were given precious time to hoover up any extra ammo we could find, although your best bet is to capture command posts, which allow you to fully replenish your supplies. With this type of game, it pays to have everyone playing individual roles; having a sniper tucked away neatly popping off shots to thin the flock, so to speak, complemented the grunt work of our machine gun-toting squadmates up front.
Though brief, our time with Sniper Elite 4 made it clear that the added dollop of larger environments, improved AI, and all-around solid shooting ensure that Rebellion’s latest is poised to be the best entry to date. Sniper Elite 4 has set its sights on a February 14, 2017 release on PlayStation 4, PC, and Xbox One. Stay tuned to PSU for our review around that time.