Since its inception in 2005, Rebellion’s Sniper Elite franchise has proven something of an antithesis to the Hollywood bombast found in contemporary shooters such as Call of Duty and Battlefield. Its winning combination of methodical, stealth-oriented sharpshooting fueled by visceral, testicle-busting and bone-shattering X-Ray kills gives it a distinct flavor not found in modern shooters, albeit at the expense of offering a weighty, emotional narrative to match its heart-pumping battles. Yet, with Sniper Elite 4, the series acutely demonstrates that it is not a brand willing to hide behind the Mortal Kombat-esque viscera; it’s a confident step forward, leveraging its strengths while taking an emphatic leap forward in terms of overall scope (no pun intended) that rises far above its predecessors.
Sniper Elite 4 reunites us with gruff series protagonist Karl Fairburne, this time travelling to the picturesque villages and countrysides of occupied Italy, 1943. Here, he knuckles down with the local resistance in an effort to liberate the region of the Nazi invaders and their supporters, although perhaps predictably, Fairburne remains very much the same stoic, grizzly sharpshooter we’ve seen in the past. Still, there’s a discernible effort to humanize things this time around. You’ll converse with various characters while gearing up for a mission, giving a little more weight to the narrative, even though the storytelling is hardly the most nuanced you’ll encounter this year.
Enemy troops also benefit from this side of things; you’ll hear conversations about their home life, find scattered notes to loved ones, while tagging enemies brings up bursts of info that may reveal the face in your scope is a father to two children back home. I’ll admit that I felt a palpable sense of guilt shattering the skull of some poor sod who only a few seconds ago was chatting about the birth of his newborn baby son. It’s a nice touch, and as such doesn’t make you feel like you’re just capping mindless husks.
Having said that, Sniper Elite was never about dipping into the intricacies of individual struggle, oppression, and political minefields; it’s the bread-and-butter that does the talking, and here, the series’ core principles are as strong as ever thanks to some impressive advancements. For starters, areas are larger, offering sharpshooters mini-sandboxes to explore, affording you a level of freedom that previous iterations touched on only briefly. Each mission is uniquely crafted, whether it be the winding cobbled streets of an occupied village, labyrinthine Nazi strongholds, or sprawling country fields punctuated by crude Fascist camps and roadblocks. And naturally, each one offers more than its fair share of sniping points and holes in the opposition to exploit, as you methodically push forward, tagging foes with your scope and silencing foes in a spray of blood and bone.
If anything, Sniper Elite 4 doffs its cap to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’s pitch-perfect stealth, offering a degree of satisfaction that’s hard to beat as you inch forward on your stomach, avoiding the enemy’s sights, ducking around corners and slipping past strongholds. The addition of silenced ammunition for your sniper rifle can sometimes balance things too easily in your favor, but its limited supply makes it precious gold dust and not something to be wasted. Plus, the enemy AI has seen a boot up the arse, with foes tenaciously pursuing you if you’re spotted, flanking your position and flushing you out with grenades.
Even the slightest twitch from you will warrant a troop to investigate, potentially spelling doom for you and forcing you to think fast on your feet. Sure, Sniper Elite 4 gives you the option of equipping perfunctory machine guns and pistols, but attempting to nonchalantly mow down troops won’t get you far; the AI is aggressive, and Fairburne won’t last long under a barrage of machine gun fire. Whatever scenario you are faced with, Sniper Elite 4 is fueled by an undercurrent of tactical decisions on your part, where meticulous planning will reward at the end of the day. It’s these components that make the campaign a joy to play.
Pleasingly, you’re never at a loss of things to do. There’s a healthy dose of side objectives to tackle if you fancy going that one step further to 100 completion on each mission, with the open environments giving you all the freedom you want in terms of the order you go about these. Whether it’s assassinating a corrupt harbor master, stealing vital documents, or sniffing out medical supplies for your resistance chums, your map is positively oozing attractions from every pore, and that doesn’t include the copious supply of collectibles to hoover up, such as diary entries and letters. Needless to say, Trophy Hunters will have a field day here. Every kill also you land nets you XP, which will level you up and give you points towards more firearms and equipment during pre-mission loadouts. Still, the action isn’t without its niggles. I noticed a few bizarre glitches, notably where soldiers on the floor above could spot and shoot me through solid concrete, or foes end up running in one spot on an endless loop. For a PlayStation 4 title unrestricted by last-gen tech, Sniper Elite 4 also looks distinctly rough around the edges, particularly in cutscenes, but these minor creases are pretty inconsequential in the long run.
The multiplayer rounds things off admirably well, with the meat and potatoes of Sniper Elite 4’s sharpshooting action lending itself well to a competitive environment. Whether it’s your basic team deathmatch or capturing radio points while fending off the opposing team to nab precious points, there’s a definite enjoyable rhythm to the action as you snipe some poor bugger between the eyes before hastily relocating, or sneaking up on an enemy player only to plough your knife straight into his heart for a grisly X-Ray melee kill. Similarly, the co-op mode offers some of the best online functionality in the series to date, as you communicate with your team to strategically neutralize waves of Nazi soldiers, making the most out of the the myriad of weaponry on offer. Indeed, one of Sniper Elite 4’s biggest strengths its tactical freedom and the ability to adapt to almost any situation. Tanks encroaching on your position? Snipe the driver with a well-placed shot, or lay down some mines in its path and reduce it to scrap metal. Enemy sniper? Put your sharpshooting skills to the ultimate test.
Overall, Sniper Elite 4 is brilliant step forward for the series and unequivocally the most fully realised entry in the franchise to date. Yes, the tech side of things lets it down somewhat and a few nasty bugs rear their heads, but in the post-MGS V world, you’d be hard pushed to find a more rewarding stealth-oriented gameplay experience—with complementary nutshots.