Just call me the testi-killer
The Sniper Elite series really hit gold with its X-ray kills. Being a sniper is satisfying and all, but killing Nazis at a distance just lacks intimacy. With the “X-Ray” cam, you get that up-close and personal touch, and watching your shot tear through the innards of Germany’s footsoldiers is just gravy. I remember how cool it was to shoot the hats off of enemies in Goldeneye for the N64, but look at how far we’ve come with Sniper Elite 5!
Who would have guessed the series would have such legs, though? Or that Karl Fairburne would get around so much. Africa, Italy, France, Berlin? What’s next? Did he have a stint sniping on Iwo Jima scarce months before the Battle of Berlin?
Sniper Elite 5 follows the continued exploits of one of the most boring protagonists in gaming: Karl Fairburne. The most interesting fact about him is that he was German-born, but it’s a bit foggy. Everything else is “not much is known about him.” He also has an American accent and eats apple pie, so there’s no real moral conflict here. Not that there should be. Nazis are bad.
Speaking of which, this time he is in France around the time of the Normandy invasion. He hits the beach first to sabotage some stuff, then gallivants around with the French Resistance getting in Nazi business. Their business in this case is a super-weapon, try to act surprised.
What I’m saying is the story is absolute garbage. It’s not only staggeringly trite, it fumbles over itself. I really want to spoil the ending because of how daft the climax is, but I won’t ruin anything. What annoys me is that Sniper Elite 5 sometimes shows some awareness of its wackier side, but does nothing with it. Give me something to stop that would actually turn the tides of the war in 1944, like an orbital laser or something. Just enough with the V2 rockets.
Guten Tag, Fritz
The narrative is maybe not all that important, but it’s one of a few areas where the Sniper Elite series has room for improvement. Much of everything else is the same. Once again, you get plopped down in little sandboxes, and it’s up to you to figure out how best to accomplish your objectives.
I’ll be honest, the first few missions left me feeling cold on Sniper Elite 5, but that warmed over time. I appreciate how adaptable it is. If I wanted to, I could find a covert route into the Nazi installation, or I could just feed them all a high-caliber breakfast from a safe distance before moving in and spreading the love to their countrymen. I did a bit of both, honestly. There were missions where I was only glimpsed by the enemy. Then there were enemies where I crisscrossed the map between hiding spots and took out every fancy uniform on the map. Then there were times when I blew everything up and shot anything that moved, and Sniper Elite 5 was all right with it.
You have to be smart about it if you want to climb a mountain of Nazi carcasses. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and Karl isn’t that great at close range. He mostly loads his SMG with Nerf because the Nazis seem to be minorly inconvenienced when you hit them. It works better if you hit them in the face, because faces are fragile creatures, but sometimes you don’t have the luxury to take careful aim. I usually just sprinted into an aggressor and stabbed them, but later enemies get the ability to fight back. That’s no fun.
Auf Wiedersehen, Hans
Objectives also give you some variety. Typically you can go loud or make it look like an accident. Even if you take the raucous approach, you can switch back to stealth. Nazis are not only quick to forget but also only concerned with things that happen in their immediate proximity. I once dropped a pallet of explosives on a construction site, then immediately walked by a pair of guards talking about how uneasy they felt with the explosives there. It doesn’t hurt anything aside from immersion, but when you’re watching Nazi skulls cave in from 300 meters away, it’s not the most absorbing to begin with.
For that matter, you can fine-tune the difficulty to your heart’s content. There are lots of mechanics that can be tweaked to your tastes, allowing you to turn Sniper Elite 5 more into an arcade shooter or a simulator. Not that it’s ever truly realistic, but certain assists can be toggled.
You can also disable the new Axis invasion feature, which is probably going to be very hit and miss for people. It’s a bit like the invasion system from Demon’s Souls. Some jerk from across the internet drops in to make things harder for you.
Adversarial sniping sounds like a fun time, but if you’re trying to be stealthy, it can be a bit of a pain. When another player shows up, you don’t have a lot of time to switch over to sub-sonic rounds or wait until you can mask the sound of your shots, so the chances of you blowing your cover are high.
It provides the potential for tense showdowns, but that’s not guaranteed. Usually, a player would show up immediately after I made a mistake and alerted every Nazi in the country to my position. So this Axis invader would just get to watch me embarrass myself. I eventually toggled it off, since I just wanted to frustrate the enemy without it suddenly turning into a deathmatch.
There’s also the option for Co-op in the main campaign, which is always a nice addition, even if it doesn’t really feel like Sniper Elite 5 was built for it. Then there’s survival returning from Sniper Elite 4; another decent distraction. Additional replay value can be found in scouring levels for collectibles, mission start points, and upgrades for your weapons.
My biggest issue remains that Sniper Elite 5 isn’t a very noteworthy improvement over Sniper Elite 4. Killing Nazis is always a lot of fun, but buying what feels like the same experience repeatedly isn’t. The Sniper Elite formula is fun, but it is absolutely not evergreen and it’s starting to brown.
If you’re wondering if it’s worth picking up, I guess I’d say that it probably is. If you’ve never played a Sniper Elite game before, Sniper Elite 5 is as good as any to jump in with. You don’t need previous experience to understand what’s going on. If you’ve played every game in the series, then you know if you’re going to like this one. However, if you bounced off the previous titles, this one absolutely isn’t going to change your mind. Not in the same way a bullet to a Nazi’s cerebral cortex does.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]