Sniper Elite has always been a fun franchise for me with each installment getting bigger and better than the previous. Sniper Elite 4 was practically an open-world game with a rich sandbox design. Sniper Elite VR understandably reins things back a bit when it comes to size and scope, using the immersion of VR to tell a more personal and focused story with an emphasis on more realistic interactions with dozens of WWII-era weapons. It’s a calculated risk, one that I found satisfying and more realistic than any other FPS you would play with a gamepad, but also opens itself up to the pitfalls of VR when trying to merge with mainstream gaming.
Instead of delivering a traditional campaign, Sniper Elite VR goes with the Saving Private Ryan style of storytelling; an elderly veteran looking back at his days serving in WWII as an elite sniper. Journal in hand, you get to literally turn the pages of history as you relive your days fighting for the Italian Resistance back in 1943. It’s an interesting way to progress the narrative as well as a fun mechanic for turning back the pages to replay earlier missions to pick-up any missed awards.
I was immediately impressed with the level of immersion, both in your quiet countryside estate hub world and when thrust into the tactical stealth and frantic combat missions. Splash screens and mission briefs are put on a 2D screen like being at a movie theater before you are placed into a living breathing 3D world that is surprisingly detailed, loaded with wartime clutter and debris, interesting architecture, lush outdoor environment, and claustrophobic interiors. Obviously, it lacks the pristine shine we’ve come to expect from non-VR shooters like the recently released Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2, but it gets the job done and is one of the better looking VR games I’ve played in over a year.
Sniper Elite VR offers plenty of options for quality and comfort so you can find something that works for you and your system. My RTX3090 card was able to crank this out at max settings with all the comfort assists turned off, so I could walk and turn smoothly without snap turns or teleporting. System requirements are fairly modest so lesser systems should be able to do the same. The game is up on both Oculus and Steam stores, the latter also allowing you to play on other platforms like Vive and Index, but for my review I was focused solely on the Oculus Rift S.
At its core the actual gameplay is not unlike a traditional FPS as far as moving around the levels to reach your next waypoint. Item interaction is made easy with a Jedi-like magnetic grip system; just get close enough for the hand icon to appear over an object then flick your wrist to acquire the object. You’re wearing a combat vest that is slotted for your primary sniper rifle, a secondary weapon like a machine gun or shotgun, as well as loops for grenades, and a sidearm holster. Accessing these items merely requires you to physically pretend to take that item from the location on your body. Reaching over your right shoulder takes the sniper rifle, left shoulder takes the secondary gun, etc.
Sniper Elite VR can be played seated or standing and there are issues with both. Playing seated can create some unreliable interactions with your gear like trying to take your pistol off your hip which might be “below” your physical seat. Conversely, playing standing up creates a disconnect since you still must press the stick to crouch rather than simply crouching yourself, which only changes your viewpoint and not your ability to move silently. There is also no way to support your weapon to steady your aim either by using an object like a crate or railing or even going prone.
Sniping is the reason to play this game and it’s handled brilliantly with a working sniper scope that you must hold up to your eye and look through. Squeezing the left trigger holds your breath and zooms in a bit closer, also revealing key red targets like explosives and even grenades on your enemy’s belt. Fuel cans, ammo crates, and event TNT you can toss into the battle are all ready to go BOOM with just one precision shot. You can toss grenades after pulling the pin, use bottles as distractions or sabotage a generator to make loud noises to mask your shots and even toss landmines into the patrol path of an enemy soldier. You’ve even got a grenade launcher you can use to take out groups of soldiers and technical targets.
The real joy of the gameplay is in the somewhat realistic handling of these weapons; certainly more realistic than pushing a button on a gamepad to reload. In Sniper Elite VR you must perform all the moves like taking out the empty mag, grabbing a fresh one from your ammo belt and inserting it before working the bolt to chamber a fresh round. This process varies among weapons. To add even more authenticity every bullet counts, so you can’t simply reload in mid-combat and preserve the ammo you had left in the previous clip. If your MP40 had 5 rounds left you just tossed them. This even carries over to looting enemy soldiers, as their guns will only have the bullets in them that they didn’t already shoot at you. Even firing your weapons is going to require some realism that traditional games seldom demand. You’ll need to grip most weapons with two hands; sure you can fire that machine gun with only one hand or even wield two at once, but your bullet spray will be wild and worthless.
There are a variety of mission types that have you moving around complex levels engaging in a lot of stealth, while other times you might be surrounded and need to unload a few mags into nearby approaching soldiers. The AI is shockingly good with soldiers locking in on your position, repositioning, flanking, taking cover while reloading, and even seeking elevated sniping positions of their own. I truly missed having a spotter, as I would often have some sneaky bastard shoot me from behind while lining up my next shot, although if you have a landmine you can protect your six that way…at least once. One of my favorite missions was having to clear out a cliff-side sniper nest then using that location to defend against waves of incoming enemies trying to loot a crashed plane. That mission singlehandedly used just about every game element Sniper Elite VR has to offer. I even got to hit one guy on the head with a hammer while he was taking a piss on a wall.
In addition to all the fighting and killing there are some collectibles in each level to remind you that you’re playing a game. You can shoot glowing eagle statues, find Lost Letters, and collect a bunch of scarves. Each mission also offers up a few challenges that will reward you with gold stars like getting so many headshots or killing soldiers with explosions, etc. All of this is documented in your journal, so you know what needs to be done if you are trying for perfect completion.
For those of you who are aspiring med students or just fans of anatomy you’ll be sure to enjoy the infamous kill-cams this franchise is known for, now 10x as visceral thanks to their updated 3D graphics in VR. You now get to see bones shatter, lungs deflate, kidneys rupture, eyeballs implode, and gallons of blood spray from your precision shots, all complemented with horrific sound effects. You can dial down the frequency of these kill-cams and even toggle a camera that follows the bullet. Despite these momentary interruptions to the game flow I still find these kill-cams highly rewarding.
Expect a solid 10-15 hours knocking out the 18 missions that make up the campaign, and add a few more if you are going for all the gold stars. There is plenty of death and retrying; sometimes due to player incompetence and other times to weird stuff that just happens in VR. Most missions have at least one radio that serves as a checkpoint, so you seldom have to replay too much of a level. It’s worth noting that collectibles aren’t saved as you get them, so they must be collected again if restarting from a checkpoint.
I had a real good time with Sniper Elite VR. As a fan of the series and a career military sniper I found this to be an interesting attempt to add some much-needed realism to the genre, and VR is the perfect way to do that with the physicality of the Touch controls and the added immersion of actually being placed into this virtual recreation of WWII. There is still room for improvement, but this is a great step in the right direction and totally worth your time and money.