Price: £29.99 Developer: Rebellion Publisher: Rebellion Platform(s): PC, Xbox One, PS4 Version Reviewed: PC
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the Sniper Elite games, it’s that basing an entire game around sharpshooting is not as easy as you might think. The problem is the qualities that make a great sniper and the qualities that make a great game are entirely opposite. Games are about momentum and interactivity, keeping the player engaged at all times through inputs and responses. Sniping is about inactivity, sitting in one position for hours and days waiting for your opportunity, if one ever comes.
There’s a reason why sniping tends to be one option of many in a first-person shooter rather than the main event, and that’s because it gets boring very quickly. Making sniping your central mechanic means the relationship between player and game is by its very nature a long distance one, which narrows the scope for the experience you can offer the player without descending into silliness.
Watching Rebellion grapple with this problem over the course of the Sniper Elite series has been fascinating. Sniper Elite V2 introduced the controversial “Bullet” cam, which traces the trajectory of your shot through an enemy’s body in gratuitous detail. Provided you can stomach it, this is a pretty smart way of giving the player direct feedback on their long-distance shots. Sniper Elite III, meanwhile, ditched the previous game’s linear structure for open-ended missions, giving players room to think tactically about their surroundings.
The changes Sniper Elite 4 makes are less dramatic but no less important for that. Whereas the previous two games couldn’t decide if Sniper Elite was a stealth game or an action game, Sniper Elite 4 asserts that it is neither. Instead, Sniper Elite 4 is a game about manipulation. And sabotage. Lots and lots of sabotage.
As before, you assume the role of American personality vacuum Karl Fairburne, who after single-handedly dismantling the Nazi war machine in North Africa is dispatched to the Italian Peninsula to seek out and destroy a new kind of missile being developed by the Germans. Also like before, this plot is an entirely disposable setup for skulking around heavily guarded Italian towns and Nazi facilities popping any skulls that hover into view.
Sniper Elite 4 continues with the open-mission structure of Sniper Elite 3 and in fact expands the level sizes considerably, with some environments stretching half a kilometre each way. One mission tasks you with destroying a thundering German railway-gun, positioned on a viaduct that spans a huge, open valley. There is a greater variety to the missions too. The following level couldn’t be more different, with Fairburne infiltrating a sprawling dockyard at night to destroy its searchlights and artillery guns in preparation for an Allied bombing run.
As well as increasing the size of missions, Rebellion has thought much harder about what you can do in them. Alongside your main objective, each mission has a bunch of optional objectives for you to complete, which often take you on a zigzagging journey right across the map. These might involve clearing a checkpoint of enemy soldiers, blowing up a supply depot, or destroying a patrolling armoured vehicle. The rewards for completing these objectives are fairly small, but the satisfaction comes from figuring out your own approach to completing them.