Sniper Elite 4 Review – PC
+ Huge non-linear design
+ Scalable realism settings
+ Great replayability
+ Co-op and online modes
- Auto-save permadeath
- DLC weapon variations
- Absurdly hidden secrets
It’s been a while since I’ve played a pure sniping game; actually I believe it was Sniper Elite 3. I’ve played many games since then that have had sniping in them but never the central focus, so I was interested in seeing what Rebellion was going to do with their fourth installment in their WWII franchise. I was not disappointed.
Sniper Elite 4 is a remarkable game from start to finish, both as a visual showpiece and a game that truly encompasses what it’s like to be a sniper; at least in WWII. Things are a bit different in the modern military but the core skills and tactics are captured brilliantly from breath control to limiting your noise and visual profile. This latest game even adds some much needed co-op play, allowing you to bring another sniper along or even play using a spotter to call out your targets.
For this installment you’ll be playing once again as Karl Fairburne, this time sent to 1943 Italy to investigate and stop the Nazi development of a new guided missile program that could turn the tide of the war if left unchecked. The story is communicated through artistic panels prior to each mission as well as conversations with in-game characters and a library’s worth of readying material in the form of collectibles.
While past Sniper Elite games have given you limited explorative freedom when completing their linear mission objectives this fourth game goes totally “sandbox” in its design. The levels are massive – the smallest level in this game is three times the size of the largest in any previous game – and you are allowed to complete the various primary and secondary objectives in any order you choose. Each of the eight primary missions are no less than two hours each; some reaching three or four if you are going for total stealth. And even then you aren’t likely to gather all the collectibles, if you care about such things. Each level has three stone eagle targets that started off as fun to find and shoot, but in later levels were so absurdly impossible to find I stopped caring. And that is really the only downside to having all of this collectible stuff. Most of it is hidden off the main mission path, forcing you to go into this blanket coverage of the entire map just to find secrets. It’s even worse when a collectible is hidden on a random soldier.
One of the more interesting mechanics in Sniper Elite 4 is the body search. It takes a good 8-10 seconds to thoroughly search a body; all the while leaving you open to discovery or getting hit by a bullet. As the circular meter sweeps around you may collect ammo, grenades, med kits, and yes…the occasional letter or collectible document, but most of the good stuff is usually at the very end of the search, so if you stop too soon you can often miss something. If you plan on playing the game and sneaking by lots of your enemies, do so knowing that you are probably going to miss out on a lot of this stuff.
The rules of proper sniper techniques are surprisingly spot-on for a video game, and your success will be determined by how closely you follow them. Situational awareness is paramount so you always want to recon each area with your binoculars. This is where reality gets set aside in favor of gameplay. Apparently your glasses come equipped with the best spy mic in the world, allowing you to hear all sorts of random banter and sometimes bits of intel. You also have the ability to tag targets and then continue to see those tags when you put the binoculars away.
Once you know where all the soldiers are and their movement patterns you can then decide on how to avoid them or take them out. There is a new takedown system in the game that allows you to hide in tall grass or hang from a ledge and drop down to take out enemies with spectacular finishers. Of course the ideal way to play is to remain undetected for as long as possible, which means using your surroundings to your advantage. Most levels will have some sort of noise distraction like artillery fire or a plan flying overhead that you can use to mask your perfectly timed sniper shots. You can also choose several types of traps like mines and tripwire charges to take out the enemy long after you’re gone. You can even booby-trap dead bodies.
The core of the game is all about sniping and Sniper Elite 4 offers several scales of realism based on the selected difficulty. Sniper Elite (Hard) mode is perfectly balanced for most gamers, but for those looking for the most realistic challenge you’ll want to turn off all the assists in the custom difficulty option. This turns off the yellow/red assist reticle that compensates for distance and wind and forces you to factor those variables on your own. You’ll also need to regulate your breathing, which means no sprinting before sniping, and always crouch or go prone and empty those lungs before each shot. Regardless of difficulty it’s the brilliant enemy AI that will impress you the most.
The AI in Sniper Elite 4 is some of the best I’ve seen; even better than a lot of humans I’ve played against. Sure, there are those blindly stupid moments where you can lure six guys into the same flower bed and stab them in the skull, but in the more combat-centric situations the use of flanking and flushing tactics is impressive. Unfortunately, even their seemingly genius tactics can get predictable and used against them. If you are bunkered down in a house with a back door then you may as well put a tripwire trap on it because sooner or later somebody is coming in to “surprise you”.
This is the first Sniper Elite game designed for next-gen consoles and high-end PC’s. My GTX1080 was more than capable of using the DX12 mode and cranking out some impressive 4K visuals at a smooth 60fps. The new engine used for the game created breathtaking Italian vistas, and the huge open-world design of each map makes every level its own game. The details on the characters, their weapons, and their gear are pixel-perfect and even the vehicles were ultra-realistic. The subtle changes in textures from sand to rock to grass to tall plants that you could duck into and sneak around reminded me of Assassin’s Creed Black Flag, only better. The draw distance is out to the horizon with minimal pop-up, and the lighting and shadows are photo-realistic.
Of course the big draw to the entire Sniper Elite franchise is their epic x-ray kill shots. Those are back and better than ever showcasing every gory detail as bullets shred through skin, bone, organs, as well as buildings, engine blocks, fuel tanks, or even a rope pulley to drop a load of cargo on some unsuspecting guard. New for this game is the added x-ray cams for melee kills and environmental takedowns, so if you blow up a fuel barrel next to a stone wall you can see parts of that wall turn to bits of shrapnel that will rip anyone nearby to shreds. Booby-trap kills are also shown in realistic, transparent, slow-motion detail. And as always, you can fine tune the frequency of these kill cams in the options if they start to interrupt the flow of your game.
The 7.1 audio mix is excellent, allowing you to hear and track people within your surroundings using a good home theater setup or some surround headphones. The explosions are excellent and make great use of a subwoofer. The voice acting is fantastic with subtitled German enemies, authentic Italian accents for rebel NPC’s, and of course that manly-man voice for Karl. Weapon sounds seem spot-on, at least for the weapons I’ve actually heard fired in real life, and there is great use of sound effects for your sniper senses, like being spotted by a rival sniper or catching the eye of a guard. There is even a cool slow-down effect on the audio when you empty your lungs or the kill cam kicks in.
I do have a few grievances with the game. I don’t mind DLC when its playable story content but having to pay for weapon variations seems like a bit of a scam. Going through the loadout screen to find half the weapons locked with a DLC tag was annoying at first until I realized I am just as lethal with anything I can equip. My other more serious issue is the auto-save, which is normally a blessing until it kicks in just as a tank blows me up, and every restore is instant death forcing me to replay over 90 minutes of perfectly executed stealth to get back to that point. There is a manual save feature and I highly recommend you use it, especially in a game where missions can exceed 2-3 hours.
Sniper Elite 4 has quickly become one of my favorite games of the year. It captures the look and feel of a 1943 Italian countryside as well as all the challenging and thrilling parts of being a real military sniper while offering a great balance of simulation versus entertainment. The game is massive and the replayability potential is off the charts with collectibles, co-op modes, online multiplayer, or just the infinite ways to approach the solo missions, either in order or by going all commando or totally stealth. Sniper Elite 4 sets a new high bar for tactical stealth sniping, and you won’t want to miss this.