I’ve been playing the Sniper Elite games since the first one debuted back in 2005, but I didn’t truly fall for the series until I reviewed the second installment in 2012. As a veteran Army sniper and former instructor at the U.S. Army Sniper School I have a particular fondness for this and another certain sniper franchise, Sniper Ghost Warrior, and both games have seen some true advancements to match the growing technology of PC and consoles. I typically stick with the PC format for games like this, but for this review I went with the PS5 for the primary focus, but thanks to Sniper Elite 5 being on GamePass I was able to play and compare the PC and Xbox versions as well.
It’s been five years since the last Sniper Elite game, so I was expecting some significant changes, but instead got something that could best be described as an expansion or major DLC. Relying on the aging Asura Engine, Rebellion seems to have reached the limits of that engine’s abilities when it comes to next-gen hardware with the consoles nearly reaching parity with PC performance. Like the previous installment, Sniper Elite 5 returns to the open-world mission and map design where you are inserted into a specific area of engagement with one or two objectives and the ultimate freedom to complete them as you see fit along with the other optional tasks that will appear when discovered either through exploration or eavesdropping on any of the hundreds of guards and soldiers patrolling the area.
I was immediate impressed with the mission designs for all of the ten missions that clock in anywhere from 2-4 hours each depending on your thoroughness and playstyle. Sneaking around will take a lot longer than rushing in guns blazing, which, in a sniper game, you really don’t want to do., especially since the AI is so much more aggressive in this fifth installment. There is a line-of-sight alertness for the guards as well as sound detection. Alerted guards will investigate in a three-step process of white, yellow, and red detection meters then proceed to work in coordinated fashion to distract, flank, and sneak up on you when you are looking through your scope. Working without a spotter, I was quickly falling back to my actual sniper training to establish a perimeter of traps to protect my six.
Speaking of spotters, Sniper Elite 5 can be played entirely in co-op, which greatly changes the campaign dynamic. You’ll still be going up against oppressive numbers of Nazis but there is some comfort in working with a partner. You can watch each other’s backs, strategize on a coordinated assault, or even setup some crazy crossfire situations. It definitely adds to the replayability of the campaign and the matchmaking system makes it easy to host of find a game to jump into. And if you love “jumping into games” then you’ll definitely want to check out the Axis Invasion mode where you can insert yourself into somebody else’s campaign and try to take them out Dark Souls style. If you prefer to play without these random invasions, you can toggle off the feature to keep your game private. This invasion feature is pretty clever as long as you know that it defaults to “enabled” and aren’t totally shocked when real humans invade your campaign. There are even some cool game mechanics specific to this like call boxes scattered about that will help you find the enemy invaders but using them will also alert the enemy to your location as well.
The core game loop is mostly unchanged from the previous game. This time we are in France and Karl must use his special set of skills when he joins a covert Ranger team to infiltrate and join with the French Resistance. Upon learning of a new Nazi project named Operation Kraken, Karl must go deeper into enemy territory to learn more and foil their evil plans. This all plays out through a series of primary and optional missions as well as plenty of discoverable locations and collectibles along the way. Along with all the weapons and ammo there are numerous pieces of collectible intel stashed around the levels; more than you’ll likely find in a single playthrough. And don’t forget about those Stone Eagle and Gargoyle statues waiting to get destroyed. You’ll sneak your way across some incredibly realistic terrain, recon your engagement area with binoculars to tag targets then plan your best strategy for covert infiltration…until something goes terribly wrong, and you must blast your way to freedom like John Rambo. Your style of play is graphed in real-time, so you can see your balance of combat vs stealth in the results screen. A true covert playstyle is almost too demanding, forcing you to clean-up after yourself. In one mission where I let the bodies lie where they fell, I had 143 kills and 108 bodies were discovered. The enemy AI does an incredible job of watching its own back, adding tremendously to the overall challenge of trying to remain covert.
As far as presentation, this is definitely the best the franchise has ever looked with new photogrammetry techniques being used to bring these real-world locations to stunning life. The variety of environments combined with massive sprawling level design, expert enemy placement, and realistic AI provides the ultimate sniping experience, and is totally scalable with selectable difficulty settings. The lighting and shadows are excellent, offering a great mix of day and night gameplay and everything in-between. Of course, the signature element of Sniper Elite is the slow-motion bullet cam that tracks your kill shots from tip of the barrel to the point of impact, and often beyond.
As gratuitous and fun as these shots are the first dozen or so times, they do get tiresome and even invasive to the flow of the game after about thirty minutes. You can totally adjust the frequency of these gory cutscenes or turn them off entirely. I found they were only interesting during special shots that involved multiple soldiers, explosive items, or maybe a cool ricochet shot. The actual X-ray cams have been seriously dialed back from previous games. You used to see skulls explode and organs burst, but now everything seems to be more superficial and less gory with much of the carnage hidden behind large globs of blood spray and splatter. As far as violence, Sniper Elite has lost its edginess with this latest installment and really needs a patch to restore the gore. (#restorethegore)
The rest of the package is fine with great audio, music, and voice over work. There is a lot of foreign language, requiring you to read subtitles unless you happen to be fluent in German, but focusing on the text can often distract you from more important things going on, which makes it problematic when trying to eavesdrop and keep watch on your surroundings. Audio is also put to great use as a distraction and concealment tactic by sabotaging various items to lure unsuspecting soldiers to your kill spot or perhaps just mask the sound of gunfire with the occasional backfire from a generator. It was odd that when using the phonograph as a distraction there was no music playing…never…not once in the dozens of times I tried using it in multiple levels. Missing sound file perhaps?
So how about that system breakdown. The PS5 is a solid experience with visuals that are definitely improved over the last game but still starting to show their age when compared to similar titles. Give the scale of these levels I’d guess they’ll be switching to Unreal Engine 5 for their next release. Controls are problematic in several areas. First, the right analog stick is way too sensitive, and you’ll need to back it down to around 40 to make the game remotely playable. While the keyboard allows you to spread out the commands, playing on console means multiple actions for the same button, so prepare to be pissed off when you start boobytrapping a body instead of using your med kit, or you might rush up and hit the triangle button to stealth-kill a soldier but instead start searching a dead body who was six inches closer than the enemy when you hit the button. I can recall more than a dozen unintentional actions, several resulting in mission failure and death. The Xbox has similar controller issues while the PC version is saved by the classic mouse and keyboard combo. Nothing beats the precision of the mouse for aiming, but you’ll find it much easier to do most things with the mouse. Most dead soldiers have multiple hotspots for looting a body or moving/hiding it and trying to line up on those tiny circles with the fidgety right stick to make those button prompts appear can get annoying. I’m also not a fan of the radial inventory wheel, which never seems to stick my selection before I exit.
Sniper Elite 5 uses variable resolution scaling while striving to maintain that 2160p on both consoles, although the PS5 will dip as low as 1440p, and the Xbox Series X falls to 1656p under stress. The Xbox Series S, while not personally tested, will top out at 1440p. Naturally, your PC experience will vary based on the power of your rig, but my 3080ti had no issues maintaining a locked 60fps at native 4K with max settings. Regardless of the system or the resolution, you will have to contend with some aliasing issues that can create some distracting shimmering effects in certain situations…even on PC. Framerate is locked at 60fps for both consoles, at least during gameplay, but the cutscenes between missions and even some of the ultra-detailed X-ray kill cams can drop into the 50’s and even high 40’s at times.
If I had to rank the three versions for preference, I’d stick to the PC version followed by Xbox Series X then PlayStation 5. Keep in mind there are only very minor technical and gameplay issues that factor into this ranking. GamePass subscribers get the game for “free” on both PC and Xbox while PS5 gamers pay the full $60 and those wanting the game on Steam will only have to pay $50 for their copy unless they go with the $80 Deluxe version that includes bonus content and the Season One pass with access to four new missions.
Sniper Elite 5 advances the franchise beyond the games that have come before it. While I appreciated the straightforward linear mission design of the earlier games, once the series adopted the open-world concept is when things literally opened up. The ability to play co-op fundamentally changes the way you approach the missions and adds tremendous replay potential, and the addition of cross-platform multiplayer for co-op and PvP is truly appreciated. My only major issues are with the toned-down kill cams and the troublesome controls when playing with a gamepad, and even despite those flaws the game is a blast to play with so much detail in such massive environments. The castle level in chapter 3 feels like the same size as an entire city in Assassin’s Creed, and the sprawling indoor and outdoor levels are so dense and full of detail you can explore for hours without getting bored. And with a season of new missions waiting in the wings, I expect I’ll still be playing this when Sniper Elite 6 shows up. Let’s just hope they are using a new engine by then.
If you’d like to see the game in action, then check out our live gameplay video that covers the first mission in the game along with commentary (not mine).