Sniper Elite 4 Review – Empty Lung Kills (PS4)
The Sniper Elite series took a slight detour with Zombie Army Trilogy, which our reviewer Tyler Treese did not enjoy much. However, Sniper Elite 4 seeks to get the series back to its roots, as an open-level sniping “paradise,” as Rebellion Developments claims. But does this game allow you the freedom you need to kill Nazis however you please?
Back to WWII
Sniper Elite 4 takes place in Italy in 1943, directly after the events of Sniper Elite III. Of course, it is the middle of World War II, and the Italian resistance is putting up a fight against the Nazis and their allies. You play as Karl Fairburne, an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) agent tasked with helping the Italian resistance. The majority of the story is told through fairly static cutscenes, and before each mission is a staging area where you can talk with certain key characters and pick up the loadout you chose before the mission started. This series has had a recurring problem of possessing rather disjointed storytelling skills. This remains true here, but it isn’t as glaring of a problem. The aforementioned staging area helps to fill in some of the gaps, and you end up with more of a sense of what each characters’ motivation is, and why you should care.
Sniper Elite 4 marks the first time the series has been built entirely for current-generation consoles, and the difference is quite significant. The first thing you’ll notice is that these levels are huge, and teeming with enemies. In the first mission alone, I had tagged more than 60 enemies by the end of it. View distance also appears to encompass the entire level, no doubt thanks to some nifty rendering tricks. This allows you to be able to see and tag all enemies with your trusty binoculars, to minimize surprises once you’re behind enemy lines.
Those massive levels also have a bit of verticality in them, meaning you can usually get to higher ground for a significant advantage against enemies. You are rewarded for making kills while on high ground, as well. Large levels mixed with dozens of enemies adds up to lots of different ways to tackle the game’s rather diverse missions and side quests. If you only chase after the main objective, levels can go fairly quickly, but opting instead to remain hidden, slowly stalking your prey and completing all optional objectives can increase the average level play time to at around 2-4 hours.
Echoes of Humanity
As you scout the area, you can use your binoculars to tag enemies. Hovering over a tagged enemy who is actually in your line of sight for a few seconds collects intel on them. This is where the game begins to screw with your emotions. See, you’re here with a simple mission, at the end of the day: kill Nazi scum. But while the intel gathered on these soldiers usually describes mundane things such as how long they have served in the military or what atrocities they have committed against the Partisans, occasionally you’ll run into intel on someone who just turned 19, and worries about his family back home, or the German who is actually currently dating a Partisan. Combine that with finding rather sad “last letters” or letters to/from home, and Sniper Elite 4 does a pretty good job of adding a human element to war that makes you think twice about pulling the trigger…at least until you see how close you are to leveling up.
Karl’s arsenal of weapons is impressive. You can choose one of several period-accurate rifles, along with regular and suppressed firing modes and ammunition. There is also a smattering of choices for pistols and secondary weapons, but things really get interesting in the number of explosives at your disposal. Sticky grenades, satchel charges, TNT, S mines, trip mines: there’s no shortage of different ways available to you to cause mayhem and confuse your enemies. You can even booby trap enemy bodies, which will explode once an investigating comrade comes by.
Those enemies are actually pretty smart, as luck may have it. On the normal difficulty setting, enemies will scout an area where they heard a noise, but move well beyond it to check for anything that might have changed. Taking out an enemy and hiding their body is usually not enough to remain hidden, either; other soldiers will notice when one of their own are missing, triggering an area search. Yet every now and then you’ll still end up with the occasional bozo who keeps running into a wall, or two enemies who walk repeatedly into one another. For the most part, this is a rare occurrence, thankfully. Ramping up the difficulty level increases the amount of time the AI remains in a searching mode, and decreases the time that it takes for an enemy to see you when you are exposed, or to lock in on your position if you make too many loud kills.
Multiplayer and Co-Op
The campaign is also designed for two-player co-op, which is always a welcome addition. This can result in shortened mission play time, but synchronizing kills can make you feel like a badass as you take down the enemy before they even know what hit them. Traditional multiplayer is also featured in Sniper Elite 4, tailored to suit sniping gameplay; Distance King, for instance, is a deathmatch mode where total kill distance determines who the winner is, and No Cross is team deathmatch with a level-dividing “No Man’s Land,” which ensures all kills are performed at distance.
In Sniper Elite 4, you can upgrade every weapon and improve Karl’s skills. There is an in-game currency earned for completing missions, and a few weapons can only be unlocked by performing certain actions, such as melee killing enemy officers a certain number of times. Unlocking all add-ons for a weapon can unlock special Mastery skins, which serves as a carrot dangling in front of completionists. Every kill nets you XP, with more creative kills netting the most. Every five levels, you are prompted to choose a new skill, such as increased maximum heart rate for sprinting longer distances, or acquiring enemy intel more quickly, and other bonuses. You can only choose one of two skills per tier, but you can switch between missions to experiment and see which mix best matches your playstyle.
Customize Some More
If you’re looking for custom sliders, Sniper Elite 4 has just the screen for you. A custom difficulty mode allows you to modify a few of the game’s core mechanics, such as AI competency, ammo availability, bullet mechanics, and more. The game even tells you which level of trophies you can obtain with your current options, meaning you can experiment with these settings and still earn some trophies.
The term “sandbox” is thrown around a lot these days. But Sniper Elite 4 is a true sniper’s sandbox. The game’s enormous levels ensure that you can approach each mission in whatever way you see fit, and there is a good level of challenge in lining up the perfect shot. A more coherent story than the last game and the inclusion of co-op help to wrap everything up into a very nice package.
If you prefer your shooters to be more methodical or enjoy taking out enemies with pinpoint accuracy rather than just blindly rushing into skirmishes, Sniper Elite 4 will delight your trigger finger. Whether you’re a long-time series fan or someone just who wants to test their sniping skills, Sniper Elite 4 hits its target.
Review code for Sniper Elite 4 provided by publisher. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.