A single shot rings out, echoing through the picturesque Italian valley. A muted thud soon follows; a lone tooth flies away from the bottom half of a jaw that’s been violently ripped from the skull it belonged to. Those near the victim involuntarily jump back, suddenly awash in a spray of blood. As the infantrymen spring into action – or are petrified by shock – the soldier nearest the new corpse cries out, his lungs explosively decompressing from a pinpoint prick of a shell sent from the barrel of your rifle over 300 yards away.
This is the world of Karl Fairburne. This is Sniper Elite 4.
A direct sequel to to Sniper Elite III, players once again play the role of sniper extraordinaire and virtual World War II G.I. Joe doll. At its core, this is a refined version of the previous title, offering larger maps, longer sightlines and even more chances to trigger the infamous X-ray cam. The franchise’s cornerstone now offers shrapnel kills in gruesome slow-motion alongside close-quarters murders that mimic Mortal Kombat without the supernatural. Fairburne is tasked to sneak, stab and snipe across the beautiful vistas of Italy, allying with men and women of numerous accents, all determined to take it to the Nazis at every turn.
Three main modes await those who play: a single- or multiplayer campaign mode alongside a rather unique set of multiplayer possibilities. The campaign is ten missions long, each easily taking an hour or so to complete depending on your play style. With a range of difficulties available, Fairburne can stick to the shadows, avoiding enemy patrols and striking out only when all other avenues have been exhausted. If that’s not your thing, you can simply go balls to the wall, laughing maniacally as you splatter the streets of Italy in German blood.
Playing the campaign on normal, I found it much easier than in Sniper Elite III. While enemy AI is much improved and presents more of a challenge, I never found myself out of ammo, even when spraying and praying – something that constantly plagued me in the previous title. Enemies are still a little on the dumb side, easily corralled into chokepoints and evaded with a sprint here or there. Refinements to UI make stealthy escapes even easier; rather than indicating if you’ve been spotted via a simple open or closed eye, Sniper Elite 4 how shows colour-coded vision pop-ups. These start off as small yellow blips — one for each enemy that sees you — before expanding to a full half-moon, showing you’ve been spotted. They then slowly fill red, indicating that sighting has been confirmed.
As before, Karl’s best bet is to stealthily survey the area, picking a high vantage point and then pulling out his binoculars to tag vehicles, enemies and explosive items. At most, he can get two or three rounds off in a single location before enemies can triangulate his location. Rather than going all out, it’s better to sneak up on lone enemies and eliminate them with your knife – getting treated to an X-ray cam kill at the same time – before opening up with your rifle on larger groups. Shots are made easier with a button press; emptying your lungs means steady shots, provided you’ve not run your heart rate up getting into position. Karl can also take advantage of the noise emitted by overhead planes, shell-firing cannons and faulty generators to mask the sound of his fire, allowing him to loiter in one spot for far longer.
Near the end of the title, I was so versed in stealth mechanics I hardly pulled out my rifle, choosing instead to bum rush enemies, perform a silent knife kill and then move on. While playing as a sniper or as an assassin, I hardly ever touched my secondary pistol or automatic weapon, choosing instead to swap them out for rockets that could take care of armoured trucks or tanks. While the non-sniper method is effective, it’s clearly not the way developer Rebellion would have you play; these once-off kills provided little XP, something Karl needs to require better skill sets like reduced fall damage and increased recovery. It was also a tad boring.
A sniper’s sandbox, the true delight of Sniper Elite 4 comes from embarrassing your opponents. Your ultimate goal should be to find a location that is difficult to pinpoint, enhanced by aural distractions, and pick off baddies one by one. You can literally see your enemies fear increasing as you take out an infantryman with a heart shot, followed by a Jager with a lung shot, a radioman with a headshot, and finally – and most cruel – an officer with a bullet to the testicle. Embarrassment truly is the name of the game; there’s even an Achievement awarded to those that cripple an enemy with a shot to the knee before finishing it off with a ruptured ball sack, and another for killing an enemy after rigging a colleague with a booby trap.
Quite earnestly, the more you humiliate your enemies, the higher the XP awarded – especially if you can rig chain reactions that fell numerous opponents at once. This notion of careful planning and decimation is exponentially increased in co-op, and Luke hit the nail on the head describing the sensation in his preview. To confound your enemy in solo play is delightful, but in two different spots on the map, divine.
It’s better to take to Sniper Elite 4 in co-op with a friend rather than in multiplayer. While offerings are nerve wracking and tense, akin to the stealth you’d find in Assassin’s Creed multiplayer, matches in the review period were about as hard to find as in the first weeks of Sniper Elite III’s release. If you can find matches, jump in – but be warned: running and gunning means instant death. Slow and steady, stealthy and out of sight – those qualities will have you on top of the leaderboard.
My biggest complaint with Sniper Elite III was that refinements were few and far between when compared to Sniper Elite V2. The jump to current-gen consoles (and increased power and draw distances) tackled last iteration, Rebellion truly shines in this new release. I never encountered clipping issues – something that plagued last release – and physics were locked down, apart from the infrequent launch of an infantryman into orbit thanks to an exploding gas tank. The latter happened only two times in my twelve hours with the game, and each time was a welcome break from the seriousness that is war. Fairburne, less of an action hero trope and more of a silent everyman, letting you fill in his personality à la Master Chief.
If you haven’t experienced the open world, stealth extravaganza that is Sniper Elite, this is the time to jump in. For those returning to the franchise, buckle up — and play about two difficulties higher than you were planning. You’ll thank me later.
Sniper Elite 4 was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox One, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.