I’m not exactly well versed in the world of VR gaming. While I think the technology is cool and all, I feel it has more value in academics than gaming. You can certainly make interesting games around the technology, but there hasn’t been much that sticks out to me. I like first-person shooters, and there are a ton of first-person VR games, but they are almost always compromised by the limitations of VR headsets, usually playing dramatically slower than what you can play on a standard system.
Having heard nothing about Sniper Elite VR, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I figured this would be akin to something like Hitman: Sniper Assassin, where you’re perched in one spot and taking shots at targets from far away. While that gameplay does feature a little, imagine my surprise when I discovered that this is a full-on FPS like the rest of the series. No teleporting around, no downgraded arenas to compensate for limited movement, no stationary segments that feel like glorified shooting galleries. Somehow, Sniper Elite VR is a fully featured FPS in VR form.
The E3 demo I played was a relatively short slice of what the final campaign will be. In a mission that took roughly five minutes to complete, I was tasked with storming a village and clearing it of Nazis before my troop could proceed forward. I’m not sure where this takes place in the Sniper Elite canon, but it seems World War II is still raging on and you’re all but ready to shoot more Nazi scum.
For this specific demo, I was playing the PlayStation VR version of the game using the PSVR Aim controller. Since that device has two joysticks like a regular gamepad, I was allowed the option for free movement and aiming. It works exactly like any other FPS title, so you’re able to roam around, sprinting with the left stick while the right stick helps you turn. You could get fully immersed with the VR helmet, but I decided to utilize it more for slight adjustments, instead of full body movement.
It’s surprising how intuitive Sniper Elite VR felt, especially since I have next to no experience with VR games. Other than missing some button presses on the completely foreign controller, I was looking through the sniper scope with little practice and picking off guys from far away.
There are a few concessions given to the player to help acclimatize to this new environment. By holding one of the triggers on the Aim controller, you’ll enter a slow-motion state that lets you line-up your shots without fear of taking too much enemy fire. Once you become accustomed to how Sniper Elite VR feels, you’ll rarely need it. Still, for my first run through the demo, I was making liberal use of this function and picking off foes like a pro.
The other comes in the form of difficulty options. On any setting lower than “Sniper Elite”, you don’t have to worry about distance or wind direction/intensity. While that sort of destroys the whole point of what Sniper Elite is about, it does at least let you familiarize yourself with the VR mechanics while practicing the art of pointing and shooting. I honestly don’t believe you’ll need much practice, though, because the game feels very natural.
Once you’re closer to foes, you’re able to swap weapons to a close range machine gun, but it felt much less accurate. That’s probably more because I was afraid to move too much than anything to do with the VR sensor. I had no idea where I was in relation to the TV set, so I really didn’t want to punch over the unit and leave with a very expensive broken display. Regardless of my spatial fear, using the machine guns feel just as natural as the sniper rifle. You move the iron sights up to your face to aim and the extra depth provided by VR makes judging distance easy to understand..
It’s truly outstanding how well something like a shooter translates to VR. Since everything in the environment now has an appropriate sense of scale and depth, making split-second shots without having to fumble with sometimes complicated control schemes keeps the action moving at a brisk pace. You don’t need to remember to hold L2, then tweak your reticle with the right stick, but simply point and shoot as if holding a real weapon. You’re also easily able to better gauge distance when the world is in 3D, instead of being filtered through a traditional display.
That all came together for me when I ran through “Sniper Elite” difficulty mode. My practice with the easier option had benefited me greatly, as I was now lifting the gun and making shots within seconds. Having to compensate for wind was challenging, but a meter underneath your scope keeps the HUD concise and focused. That clarity is appreciated, especially when the screen in VR is massive.
The only thing I wasn’t able to test is how the game would play with standard PlayStation VR controls. A teleport option does exist for people that would prefer it, but you can also opt to use the regular DualShock 4 if you want to retain that free movement. I don’t think I could go back to teleporting around, because having that freedom to play like a standard FPS transforms Sniper Elite VR from being a cheap cash-in to a fully featured experience. I truly can’t believe how much I enjoyed this, especially since I’m very cynical about the future of VR gaming.
While I’m still not quite sold on getting VR, Sniper Elite VR makes a very compelling case for investing in a unit. I might personally opt for the PC version of the game (which will be coming to both Oculus and Vive), but Sony’s Aim controller really does complete the illusion of being a WWII sniper. Currently, there is no planned release date, but this will be one to keep your eyes on.