Sniper Elite 4 may lack the bells and whistles of other World War 2-based shooters, but its top tier shooting mechanics and open maps make it a fun experience for the creative sniper.
When it comes to shooter franchises, there are two ways in which developers are able to keep things fresh. The one more commonly chosen in recent years is to provide a change of scenery through moving the series to a different time period, be it in the future of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare or the past of Battlefield 1. The path less travelled is to provide significant updates to mechanics and gameplay, but that is the route that the Sniper Elite series has taken, and Sniper Elite 4 is no exception.
It's easy to understand why many studios try not to change a game's formula too much, given the risk involved and the potential to alienate a series' audience, but it's certainly worked in the favor of the Sniper Elite series. Over time, the rigidity of the franchise has loosened somewhat, with one of the largest steps being made for Sniper Elite 3 through an increase in the open nature of the game, and these improvements have followed on to Sniper Elite 4.
Indeed, those who enjoyed Sniper Elite 3 will definitely find a similar experience in this game. Its predecessor pushed forward with additional stealth mechanics into the series' open maps, and although the results were a little patchy (read Game Rant's Sniper Elite 3 review) to say the least, developer Rebellion has clearly thought that the game's sometimes-jarring blend of stealth and sniping could be improved upon.
Rebellion has certainly succeeded in those improvements, too. Switching between stealth sections and sniping sections is no longer as off-putting as it could sometimes be, making for a much easier transition of gameplay styles this time around. Sniper Elite 4 flows between large, open areas and tight, cramped corridors regularly - from vineyards to forests, and town centers to secret facilities.
Indeed, this variety of setting is definitely one of the highlights of Sniper Elite 4. The series has moved from the North African landscapes of the previous game to Italy, and as such there's a little more geographical diversity this time around to go alongside the bigger map size. One mission will see the player placed on the shore of a coastal village, while another will move to a mine-filled woodland. It adds a neat level of change, and each shift brings with it its own challenges, be it in the form of camouflaged enemies or having to infiltrate heavily-protected bases at night.
This diversity also allows the player to try out different strategies in the various scenarios that crop up over the course of the campaign. The levels themselves are all of a decent size, offering up many different options to try and tackle the various objectives. Indeed, players will want to take a good amount of time to work out a strategy before moving on any given task, be it the destruction of artillery or the assassination of a Nazi officer.
It's here where Sniper Elite 4 will either become a fascinating, slow-burning experience or something of a chore for players. Theoretically, a player could power through each and every mission in the game in an hour or two per level, taking risky sniper shots and blundering through the ensuing firefights using pistols and submachine guns. However, that isn't exactly the way the game should be played, with instead a more careful approach the best course of action - particularly when a foreboding array of custom difficulty options are thrown in.
With that in mind, players should perhaps forgo many of the 'options' put in from of them when playing Sniper Elite 4 if they want to get the best out of the game itself. This title requires a stunning level of patience, and the ability to accept the need to maneuver to varied vantage points to work on even the smallest of objectives. This means that, in spite of the improvements made to other mechanics in the game, Sniper Elite 4 still caters to a very particular type of gamer.
This isn't helped by the fact that other parts of the game are still a little on the rudimentary side. The stealth mechanics are certainly no longer the make-or-break aspect that they were in Sniper Elite 3, but those expecting a level of stealth experience akin to Metal Gear Solid, Assassin's Creed, or Dishonored are going to be a little disappointed. Without being bad by any means, and a step above other games that offer a 'stealth' option without it being the main focus of play, these mechanics should not be thought of as a way in which to play the entirety of the game, but instead as a means to get between different set pieces to show off the excellent sniping.
As always with Sniper Elite, the long-range shooting is among the best around. The title still has the slow-motion, grisly close-ups to show off the player's excellent shots, and fans of the gore shown in Mortal Kombat will definitely find something to keep them occupied here. Sniper Elite 4 definitely makes the player feel a great sense of satisfaction, particularly when keeping track of the number of points racked up per kill.
In a sense, Sniper Elite 4 gives players an odd blend of arcade-style one-upmanship and gritty sniping simulation, but still one that is wondrously addictive to play. It's here where the player's desire to play the game effectively really comes to the fore - after all, why pull off the same perfunctory melee kill when waiting an age to get the perfect multi-kill headshot is such a rewarding experience? Through its sniping mechanics, Sniper Elite 4 acts as a great example of how one near-perfect element can make gamers forget other shortcomings.
It's fair to say that there are issues with Sniper Elite 4, but these can be overlooked, and even regarded as a little bit charming. Alongside the above-average stealth mechanics, it's worth mentioning that the story itself never really gets out of second gear. A standard World War 2 tale, it's not going to win any prizes, but there's something very comforting about a straight-forward narrative about shooting Nazis in the face.
In fact, the setup of Sniper Elite 4 often calls back to something of a bygone age of gaming, but not necessarily in a bad way. Aside from the sniping itself, there's a lack of complexity here, and although gamers used to a wider buffet of gameplay styles may find this a little bit irritating, those willing to throw themselves into a game that asks for patience will be rewarded accordingly. Treat Sniper Elite 4 differently from other shooters, and it will treat the player well right back.
Sniper Elite 4 will be released on 14 February, 2017, for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided with a PS4 download code for the purposes of this review.