Sniper Elite 4 Review: A Near-Brilliant Shooter That Fires A Bit Wide
It’s near midday on a bucolic Italian beach. The waves rustle against the shore and a flock of gulls chatters overhead. There’s also a dead Nazi officer crumpled in the sand.
From a safe distance, and from behind a craggy outcropping of rock, I lower my reticle over the pound or so of highly explosive TNT I’ve gingerly placed just under his right shoulder. There’s a breeze coming in from the west, and I adjust my aim accordingly.
There’s a commotion. Two soldiers run down on to the beach. One keeps watch while the other kneels to check the pulse of his fallen commander. My finger itches on the trigger of my Springfield rifle. Waiting.
As he scans the horizon and then bends a little to check underneath an overturned boat at the water’s edge, the lookout backs up, inching slowly, yet ever closer, to his comrade behind him. Closer.
I pull the trigger, igniting the TNT. Their bodies fly higher than V2 rockets, and I reposition for my next kill as alarms sound and soldiers panic in the streets of the city ahead.
That’s how one early scenario played out in my first few hours with Sniper Elite 4, Rebellion’s newest (and arguably best) entry in the sniper-sim franchise set during World War II. Being a homicidal voyeur has never been so exhilarating or fun. But it’s never been quite as frustrating either. In a game predicated on stealth and strategy, the ecstasy of long-range murder waxes but ultimately wanes as your tour of duty lengthens.
Patience is a Virtue in Sniper Elite 4’s Open World of Choice
In preparing for battle, I have found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. – Dwight D. Eisenhower
Like Sniper Elite 3, SE4 eschews the linearity of the series’ earliest games and places the player in an open-world sandbox of sorts. Each mission contains its own ultimate goal, but the path by which you choose to reach it is completely up to you. And that’s OK, because each map is beautiful and unique. Gone are the series’ drab hues and undertones. Italy is a blindingly gorgeous backdrop dotted with sparkling coasts, vibrant cobalt lakes, misty white mountains, and verdant valleys. On top of all that, Sniper Elite 4’s maps are much larger this time around — up to three times larger than anything in SE3.
Being a homicidal voyeur has never been so exhilarating or fun. But it’s never been quite as frustrating either.
That means Sniper Elite 4 is a long, complex game. If you’re playing it as a stealth sniping game (which it’s obviously meant to be), many of the game’s eight missions will take somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours to complete on normal difficulty, especially if you’re going after each mission’s many optional objectives and getting creative with your kills. On higher difficulties, your playtime is exponentially protracted because the enemy AI is more intelligent — and more belligerent.
That’s where patience and precise planning comes into play. Understanding each of the campaign’s maps is easier in SE4 because of the attention to detail Rebellion’s put into the game’s map and tagging feature — the latter of which helps you highlight enemies and environmental tools of destruction for quick and easy reference. Using both in tandem, especially at the beginning of each mission, helps you quickly determine your route through each sprawling map — and where to go when everything’s invariably shot to shit.
The Man With the Golden (Sniper) Rifle
Sniper Elite 4’s bread and butter is (of course) its sniping, which can be as easy or as difficult as you’d like. On the game’s lower difficulties, you won’t have to worry as much about windage or bullet drop or muzzle velocity. You’ll even have a handy tool on your reticule that will help you pull of the perfect lung shot from 500 meters.
Arguably, this isn’t as fun (especially to the sniping purest) as honing your skills and pulling off circus shots unaided. That’s where SE4’s “Authentic” mode comes into play. Not only will players discover that their HUD is reduced to nothing (it’s literally not there), but they’ll find that all the cards stacked against real-world snipers are present: windage, realistic bullet drop, scope drift, ammo scarcity, and more.
“Authentic” mode isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s hard. Very hard. It requires patience, dedication, and persistence to master. But it’s one of the most rewarding experiences in Sniper Elite 4. The main draw of the series has always been mastery — and while the barrier to entry for SE4 is lower than past titles (in a move undoubtedly focused on widening the series’ appeal), Rebellion’s newest entry hits all the targets dead center in this regard.
Sniping just feels right. It’s powerful. It’s kinetic. Finally, the mechanics are firing on all cylinders. For what it’s meant to do, Sniper Elite 4 excels. It’s too bad that the cramped design of some later level forces you into a run-and-gun, commando playstyle, something the game just isn’t built for.
Release the Toys of War in Sniper Elite 4
From trip mines to TNT and pistols to SMGs, Sniper Elite 4 has a myriad of historically accurate weapons and gadgets for players to choose from before they embark on missions.
And these toys wreak havoc on Nazi scum.
Outside of the outstanding job Rebellion has done fine-tuning and tweaking the series’ sniping mechanics, this is probably the absolute best part of SE4 — finding inventive and creative ways to kill Nazis.
Sending a perfectly placed round through a Nazi sniper’s eye socket is endlessly satisfying, especially with Sniper Elite 4’s returning x-ray mechanic (which showcases death in all of its excruciatingly gory and beautiful detail). But setting traps and luring prey into the maw of total devastation is more satisfying than it should be.
While from-the-hip shooting isn’t SE4’s forte (and it’s really hit or miss with sidearms, just as it’s always been), these traps really set the gameplay apart, helping you outsmart the enemy at every twist and turn.
Outside of the outstanding job Rebellion has done fine-tuning and tweaking the series’ sniping mechanics, this is probably the absolute best part of SE4 -- finding inventive and creative ways to kill Nazis.
Plant a mine on the other side of the map to spark a distraction. Lure soldiers to an isolated glen and put bullets in their backs. Throw a sticky grenade on a generator or fuel truck and send a battalion of Hitler’s finest to the afterlife. Just know that on lower difficulties, the game doesn’t do a very good job of helping you realize you can do all of this — and more importantly, it doesn’t put you in any situation to necessarily stimulate change.
During my playthrough, I never really found a true difference in gameplay (or strategy) using the Carcano M91/41 in lieu of the M1903 Springfield or Mosin-Nagant M91/30. I also never found a section where using a trip mine was more beneficial than just blasting everything with my Thompson machine gun.
It’s unfortunate that while there are so many combat tools to be used, their differentiators are often obtuse, no matter your playstyle. The only true differences between them come in “Authentic” mode, where magazine sizes really do matter and suppressed rifle ammo can mean the difference between life and death.
Haven’t We Heard This Tale Before – And Better?
The Sniper series isn’t known for its storytelling panache, so it’s little surprise that SE4’s ham-fisted story ultimately falls flat. You’re once again Karl “Skull-Sniping Do-It-All-Commando” Fairburne, who’s been tasked with singlehandedly stopping the Nazi war machine.
Rebellion has done a wonderful job of using alternative in-game storytelling elements to create an interesting and compelling ludonarrative.
The problem is that the methods of delivery are often disjointed and awkward. Some missions begin with charcoal-drawn cut scenes (those that the series has used to great effect in the past), while other missions begin with in-engine cut scenes. On top of that, other in-game dialogue meant to drive the narrative forward is often delivered cold and detached by character models that look strangely possessed and puppet-like. Woefully underdeveloped, SE4’s characters attempt to make us empathize with their plight, but at the end of the day, their stories are nothing more than (painful) building blocks to the next snipe-fest.
The only caveat to this is that Rebellion has done a wonderful job of using alternative in-game storytelling elements to create an interesting and compelling ludonarrative. By using your binoculars, not only are you able to tag enemies and environmental hazards and aids (as we talked about earlier), you’re also able to learn if soldiers are hoping to go home to see their daughter after the war — or if they're ardent Hitler acolytes. It adds a human layer underneath all the killing and destruction, one that could very well make you think twice before pulling the trigger.
The Final Verdict on Sniper Elite 4
- Tight, stealth-sniper gameplay
- More diverse level design
- Lower barrier to entry than past entries
- Using tools/secondary weapons still not necessary at lower difficulties
- Run-and-gun is still wonky and feels awkwardly inaccurate
- Not a particularly engrossing storyline
Sniper Elite 4 isn’t a vast improvement upon 2014’s Sniper Elite 3. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Rebellion has obviously listened to fans and spent the last two and a half years developing a game that equally speaks to both hardcore Sniper and stealth enthusiasts, as well as casual gamers alike. By lowering the series’ notoriously high barrier to entry, while at the same time making the core experience more elegant and mechanically sound, Rebellion seems to have nearly struck a fine balance between both worlds.
In other words, Sniper Elite 4 is the best at what it does — sniping and stealth gameplay. And with new elements introduced here in SE4, such as traversals (shimmies, ledge hangs, leaps, and more) and takedowns, as well as brutal and efficient melee combat, the series is only going to get better.
Unfortunately, a few blemishes keep Sniper Elite 4 from being one of the best third-person shooters on the market. If Sniper Elite 5 can shore up running-and-gunning (because God knows, you just have to sometimes), tell a compelling story, make its character models as beautiful as its environments are sure to be, and make late-level gameplay not as frustratingly rote, there’s nothing stopping it from joining the elite echelons of the shooter world.
But for what it’s worth, SE4 is undoubtedly the damn finest sniping experience you’re set to get until the series' next installment.
[Note: A copy of Sniper Elite 4 was provided by Rebellion for the purpose of this review.]