We’ve followed the Sniper Elite series pretty closely, from its wartorn European campaigns to the increasingly outlandish Nazi machinations in Africa. Moving locale to the beautiful, sun-baked islands of Italy, Sniper Elite 4 really doesn’t do anything hugely new but if you’ve got testicle-shattering previous, you’ll know what to expect. It’s down to the usual gruff-voiced US sniper, a cast of bland ‘Allo ‘Allo cast-offs and a whole buncha Nazis to make Sniper Elite greater than the sum of its parts…
First impressions are positive, if expected. If you’ve played the third game in the franchise you’ll be familiar with the look and feel of the game. It’s all about the kill-cams; slow-motion shots tracking successful bullets as they rip through anatomically near-enough organs and bones. But that’s blowing your wad too soon - before that, you’ll have to set up, scope out (in both ways) the area and proritise targets before lining up the shot. It seems Sniper Elite 4 has refined the fiendish placement of explosives and other traps - soldiers are constantly, temptingly stationed next to gas canisters, oil barrels or underneath loose fitting pulleys holding up a net full of heavy crates.
However, each time you fire the enemy will hear it. There’re no silenced rifles here so triangulation, or the ability for the enemy to pinpoint your location should you fire too much, has to be considered. There are ways around this - loud noises will soundmask your shots and generators to sabotage make a welcome return, again disguising your killsprees. For the most part, the main changes seem to have come from the AI routines and the ranks of each soldier. Aside from triangulating your position, soldiers are now very good at calling in reinforcements or artillery bombardments in order to get you out of a sniper’s nest. Officers are good primary targets as they’ll often co-ordinate offensive attacks, while later troops in the game also feature counter-snipers, Faust guards and spotters.
Vehicles also return and the Nazis have seemingly fixed the problem with the explodable valves on their tanks - instead, individual elements of the vehicle can be damaged and the driver/gunner vision panels make for prime incapacitation. However, it does feel like your best bet will always be a satchel charge, mine or other type of explosive to finish off an armoured vehicle. Accurate, but the satisfaction of a single bullet taking down a tank is missed. Trucks (and there are many) will have to suffice!
The campaign stretches across a good few sprawling maps, far more interesting than the desert outposts of Sniper Elite 3. Coastal towns, beaches, villas and more feature and while there are a few that do feel rather similar, it’s forgivable by the fact that every level looks like Hitman’s Sapienza mission. They aren’t as intricate, but the varied colour palette does make for some vibrant environments that are a pleasure to sneak through, rather than a chore to blast apart.
Usually, what tends to happen will be a reliance on a tried and true cycle of gameplay. You’ll snipe some, silenced pistol kill others until an alarm brings everyone to your position. At this point you’ll either kill everyone there and then or sneak and hide, then restart the process. Unfortunately, should you excel at this then later levels become quite easy - proceed stealthily until discovered, then slaughter anyone who comes to your position until the alarm resets. By the final mission there were bottlenecks of troops being mowed down with a machine gun in what felt like the least elite sniper behaviour. Did the job though, and that does reveal that perhaps there isn’t enough encouragement to stay a pure one-shot, one-kill hero.
But of course the real reward of sniping are those kill-cams. And damn, aren’t they as addictively, gleefully visceral as they’ve ever been. Kudos to the sound designers who make them amazing as well - from the ping of a helmet to the crunch of bones, they never get boring. Whether a game can stand up on just this is down to personal preference, but without them the game would be half the title it is.
On the other hand, Sniper Elite has potentially the dullest cast of characters and most unnecessary plot. This is real ‘don’t pay attention’ territory - there’s nothing really at stake, surprises land with a muffled thud and the characters are as shallow as a sniper’s breath. It’s a shame as a more nuanced story might’ve been provocative where it instead comes across as exploitative but then again this is a game with X-ray, slow motion deaths. At the very least, the writing is totally uninspired, right down to the collectable letters to be found that do not merit reading in the slightest. Full campaign co-op and a serviceable multiplayer mode also feature but don’t warrant going in much more depth. They’re fine, a good place to test your skills against the ‘real world’ but there isn’t anything vital that would distract from perfectly placed shot in the single player mode.
Sniper Elite 4 never quite ascends to being a must-have title - it’s really fun, screaming as it does to the base pleasure centers of the brain that appreciate a skilful shot ending in glorious death. Graphically it just about manages some beautiful vistas, but the engine is starting to feel creaky. The stock of your rifle is less wooden than the characters, put it that way. Aside from the best-in-trade kill-cams, it would almost be non-descript and that’s where the inevitable Sniper Elite 5 needs to up the quality.
If you’re a fan of the series, there’s no reason whatsoever to miss this fourth instalment. If you’re stuck with what game to get, if there’s nothing else that takes your fancy then it’s a great buy. But really Sniper Elite 4 is a fantastic mid-range, AA title that would make for a worthy impulse purchase but not much else. Simply, if the thought of a long-range shot passing through the eye-socket of a Nazi appeals well, then, give it a shot.