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Review: Sniper Elite 4

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Is it OK to shoot a Nazi in the nuts?

I love sniping in games, but I never do it. That’s because I’m terrible at sniping in video games. Give me a sniper rifle during a multiplayer match and you may as well have pulled the plug on my session, for that’s about how useful I become when armed with that type of weapon. I never had the combination of twitch skills and patience great game sniping requires, nor did I have the temperament to “get good”.

Sniper Elite 4 makes me feel like a good sniper. I still wouldn’t trust myself around a scope in any other game, but the folks at Rebellion have managed this feat in theirs. Ironically, they did it not by making sniping simple enough for someone of my level (what’s the level below “decomposing monkey”?) but by making it harder, more complex, and altogether a rarer activity than one would expect from a game called Sniper Elite.

Sniper Elite 4 [PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC]
Developer: Rebellion Developments
Publisher: Rebellion Developments
Released: February 14, 2017
MSRP: $59.99

As I mentioned in my earlier impressions of the gameSniper Elite 4 is a far different game than one might have imagined back in 2005, when the franchise first debuted as an early console shooter constructed around the cheap-but-effective gimmick of gory, slow-motion kill shots. Whereas the original Sniper Elite and its V2 remake played out like the shooter equivalent of Mortal Kombat, known more for gratuitous violence than deep gameplay, Sniper Elite III brought the beginnings of a sea change in design and flow.

Rather than distinct set pieces funneling players towards dramatic long-range kills, Rebellion shifted the game to a more open, stealth-action footing, favoring larger maps and allowing players to approach each situation according to their preferences. Sniper Elite 4 feels like the point where that change reaches its logical end, resulting in a play experience that has more in common with Hitman, ArmA, and Metal Gear Solid V than the slightly tacky World War II shooting gallery that began the series.

Of course, it's not as if the game has given up on visceral, gory thrills. In fact, they're as prevalent as ever, thanks to the power of modern technological flourishes. The "X-ray" shots of bullets entering bodies, bursting organs and shattering bones, return, and now even apply when players set off explosive traps or use melee attacks. Indeed, most deadly acts can be counted on to result in some kind of graphic payoff. More squeamish players can turn this off, though.

If anything, what's most impressive about Sniper Elite 4 is that playing it feels almost as engaging without gore as with it, and that speaks well to the ways Rebellion have built out the design. Not to mention that the game's customary attention to sniping has resulted in one of the most satisfying interactions in contemporary gaming. Sending a bullet downrange to pop some unlucky Nazi's brain or nads feels like nothing else. 

Better still, it's almost easy to do, even for a really bad sniper like myself. A series of HUD-based assists (that hardcore users can disable) make compensating for ballistic drop and wind a simple task. Indeed, the challenge of this third-person shooter has moved from testing a player's marksmanship to testing their tactical acuity, and their ability to find the best aiming spots and set up opportunities to maximize their kill count and get away unscathed when the enemy comes running. To that end, the game offers an expanded repertoire of traversal options, such as climbing, and tools to create kill zones. Trip wires, sticky grenades, TNT charges, and land mines can all be used to make an area deadly to fascists or to defend a vulnerable approach. 

Able use of noise and sight mechanics also make stealth and more up-close action a valid (if risky) alternative. Silent takedowns, corpse hiding, and the ability to distract enemies away from their patrol routes or charges allows players to try to "ghost" levels if they wish, though moving stealthily is quite slow. Further, enemies have surprisingly acute senses, with AI routines advanced enough to triangulate a player by their sound and investigate when patrol partners have gone missing. They're not quite smart enough to truly threaten a reasonably competent player, but they do the job. 

Some players looking for sniping above all might be put off, though. Between the size of the maps and the variations in terrain and objectives, players must range farther and wider to get the job done. In many cases that might mean opting not to snipe hapless enemies, and this almost forced departure from the game's strongest mechanic can grate on the nerves at times. Further, the lack of more scripted, straightforward set-piece moments can make the game feel a little less dramatic. Part of the fun of fictional sniping is seeing "trick" shots performed from extreme range. This can still happen, of course, but the pressure to take the path of least resistance can be overwhelming.

That, though, is more a matter of taste than design. If there's anything that disappoints in a more definitive way, it's the narrative. Sniper Elite games were never known for their story, and got by providing just enough justification for players to take ace lieutenant Karl Fairburne across the battlefields of World War II in search of Nazis to gun down. Having exploded every fascist testicle in North Africa, Karl's sights are turned on Italy, just as the Allies prepare to invade Il Duce's kingdom. There he'll hook up with Italy's Partisan resistance, take down Nazi and Italian targets, and interrupt Axis weapons programs. In other words, he'll do pretty much the same thing as he's been doing in all the Sniper Elite games. 

That kind of story does the job, sure, but given the quality of the rest of the game, it feels like Sniper Elite 4's story is a missed opportunity. The Italian theater of World War II is rather underexplored, and it would've been nice to care a bit more about the sun-drenched environments one is shooting all their bullets into.

Multiplayer also makes a return, and it proves a surprisingly robust offering. Classic modes like No Cross (a team deathmatch set on maps divided by an impassable trench) are the best suited to Sniper Elite's strength. A cooperative survival mode is also available, and with the right group of friends, can feel like an interactive version of Stolz der Nation, though with the sides reversed. 

Sadly, though, this gloriousness will largely depend on being able to get into a match at all. Even in the days after release I found myself waiting for minutes on end to populate a match. Hopefully the servers will fill up as more people give the game a shot, but at the moment one shouldn't count on a vibrant multiplayer scene.

Still, Sniper Elite 4 comes across as a fully-realized result of the shifts Rebellion set in motion with the previous game, and proves itself an ably constructed, often gorgeous, and thoroughly engrossing stealth-action shooter.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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Sniper Elite 4 reviewed by Josh Tolentino

8

GREAT

Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.
How we score:  The destructoid reviews guide

 
 
 

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Josh Tolentino
Josh TolentinoAnime Editor   gamer profile

When not posting about Japanese games or Star Trek, Josh serves as Managing Editor for Japanator, Dtoid's sister site for the best in anime, manga, and cool news from Glorious Nippon. Disclosure... more + disclosures


 


 


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    Filed under... #PC #PS4 #Rebellion #reviews #Shooters #third-person shooter #Top Stories #Xbox One

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