A smart, strategic shooter that empowers you to make your own path.
You know those elaborate machines built to make simple tasks more complicated, like striking a match or springing a mousetrap? They’re called Rube Goldberg machines, and they now have a shooter equivalent in Sniper Elite 4.
Rebellion’s stealth shooter shares the weaknesses and strengths of these contraptions. It’s long and complex, and taking your time to use all your gadgets can feel silly when blasting away at baddies often works fine. Just pick up the darn match and strike it yourself, right? However, Sniper Elite 4 doesn’t only give you the tools to kill Nazis in its (mostly) realistic World War II setting; it gives you the means to stalk them, scare them, and utterly dismantle them if you have the patience. Setting up traps doesn’t feel crucial outside of higher difficulty modes, but playing puppet master is always intuitive and rewarding. It’s by far the thing Sniper Elite 4 is best at. I found myself putting in the effort not because I had to, but because I wanted to.
If you’re going to put “Sniper” in the title of a game, you’d better put serious thought into your weapon mechanics. True to its name, Sniper Elite delivers options galore, but its single-player and co-op campaign wisely doesn’t force you to consider all of them all the time.
One Shot, One Thrill
Before you pull the trigger, here’s a handful of things you might think about: Will you use regular ammo or more precious silenced ammo? Can you score the kill quickly, or will you need to hold your in-game breath to steady your aim? Have you considered the effect gravity will have on your bullet? Is your weapon’s muzzle velocity high enough to hit a moving target with only a small lead, or will you need to aim a few feet further in front of your target to land that heart shot?
Few shooters pack so much consequence into each copper casing.
And that’s just for the standard difficulty. If you crank up it up to “Authentic” mode, you’ll also have to contend with wind speed and direction, weapon spread, more scope drift, ammo scarcity, realistic magazines (losing the bullets you didn’t fire from a clip when you reload early), and more. All of these factors matter, and they make each long-range shot into a miniature math problem. It sounds like it could be cumbersome or tedious, but the satisfaction of learning the systems and, eventually, intuitively “feeling” the bullets makes it gratifying to experiment, fail, and improve. Few shooters pack so much consequence into each copper casing.
There is a side-effect to Sniper’s smorgasbord of options, though. The difference between difficulty modes is astounding, and that corresponds heavily with the level of effort you’ll need to put into your play. As I mentioned at the beginning, Sniper Elite 4 often asks more from you than it actually requires. On normal mode, if you miss a shot and blow your cover you can gun down foes with a pistol or an SMG and you’ll probably be fine. On hard, escaping this scenario becomes much more painful because sniping is harder and enemies are tougher, and on Authentic, every tiny bit of caution is warranted because your HUD is limited. So, unless you’re bent on playing like a masochist, a healthy chunk of Sniper Elite 4’s ideas fall into the “take it or leave it” category.
Lands of Opportunity
Sniper Elite’s humdrum World War II story is spread across eight huge campaign levels. I didn’t finish a single one in under an hour, and many took closer to two. This is far longer than most shooter missions, but because you make your own path and do only what you want to do, they didn’t drag at all.
Every mission begins with a few primary objectives – Nazis to kill, generally – and a smattering of secondary tasks, such as destroying a downed spy plane or blowing up an ammo cache. Your map is marked with large, non-specific circles to point you toward your goals, and… that’s that. Sniper Elite 4 lets you put on your grown-up pants (fatigues?) and solve these problems however you see fit. I spent most of my early time in each mission crouched in foliage, tagging enemies, vehicles, ammunition, explosives, and more with my binoculars. Once spotted, you can see their icons at all times and move through the battlefield with more confidence.
It may not sound like much, but hunting for every single mark is step one in your upcoming reign of terror; when your plan inevitably goes to hell, your preparatory efforts will keep you alive. Having so much control over your fate turns what should be a menial task into something fun and worthwhile.
…When your plan inevitably goes to hell, your preparatory efforts will keep you alive.
Repetition fatigue is also countered by the fact that Sniper Elite 4 packs tons of variety into its eight levels, both visually and functionally. Your European tour takes you to a remote island, a radar facility, a fortified mansion, and a viaduct in the woods (among others). In a game where you spend lots of time staring at the environment and waiting for someone to do something foolish, such as moving, it’s great to always have a refreshing new location to scope out. More importantly, most levels have a mechanic or a geographical feature that differentiates them from the others. For example, one map has a massive railgun that periodically fires off into the distance, and if you synchronize your shots with its blasts you can mask your rifle’s sounds and stay hidden, like real snipers are known to do in thunderstorms. Another map has heavily armed gunboats patrolling its edges, making the typically safe outskirts a riskier route. These modifiers complement the already varied gameplay in a way that keeps you alert and improvising.
Toys and Terror
In Sniper Elite 4, you don’t have to just take out enemies with wanton aggression. You have the tools to go full Dark Knight on these guys.
Once you’ve played enough Sniper Elite to understand its options you can set up kills like dominoes with incredibly satisfying results. For example, a quick, favorite technique of mine: after killing a Nazi officer I planted a grenade on his body that would explode when jostled. Once a guard on patrol came near I tossed a rock to make a sound that would draw his attention and lure him close to the body. When he checked the body, it exploded and drew over a handful of other enemies. They all rushed over to check on the commotion, but they didn’t consider the fuel tanks right behind them. The placement of the body hadn’t been random.
That’s just one example of the dozens upon dozens I concocted. In addition to good old rocks, you have a whistle, trip mines, TNT, regular and adhesive grenades, and more. Once you’ve gotten a lay of the land with your binoculars, you can set up traps and purposely blow your cover, letting enemies funnel toward your explosives. If diversion is more your style, you can plant TNT on a truck, snipe it from afar with silenced ammo, and go about your business in a newly vacant area as everyone rushes away to investigate. Sniper Elite 4’s levels, combined with your gadgetry, make on-the-fly deathtraps a pleasant possibility. Constantly outsmarting the enemy AI in new and, interesting ways keeps even the longest levels from growing stale.
Most engagements become much more than whatever you originally planned them to be…
It’s an odd thing to say, but after only a level or two, I began to see Sniper’s maps as a giant spider web. Motion on one side will register far and wide, for better and for worse. Most engagements become much more than whatever you originally planned them to be, and scrapping old plans to deal with new problems is tense, exciting, and a good test of your skills – even more so in later levels when tanks and airstrikes come into play.
It’s a shame not as much variety was extended to your weapons themselves, but they’re sadly limited by history. Several rifles, SMGs, and sidearms are available as part your starting loadout or on the bodies of fallen enemies, but the differences between them are generally so slight that swapping doesn’t feel necessary or meaningful outside of higher difficulties when one type of ammo is running low but another type is plentiful. I used the same rifle for almost the entire campaign, and I never felt the need to change it up.
I Spot, You Shoot
Sniper Elite 4 has a handful of ways to play alongside a friend – and if you have a chance to play it with a buddy, I highly recommend doing so.
Playing the campaign missions as a pair is much like playing alone in that you can do whatever you want. If you both want to go guns blazing, go for it. You have twice the firepower! But splitting up is a much more interesting and entertaining option, especially when playing with friendly fire enabled.
If you’re both together, you’ll probably make more noise and draw more attention. If you’re split up, you can take turns causing a ruckus, forcing the map’s enemies and vehicles to ping-pong back and forth between you the two of you. Sure, the risk of getting hurt and bleeding out is higher, but that’s a chance you can take. That said, there’s no blueprint for how to “best” play co-op. So many things are possible within the mechanics available that two brains can dive in, dig around, and have a great time. The hands-off approach doesn’t feel lazy; it feels respectful, like a challenge to try something new.
My favorite use of co-op in Sniper Elite 4 is Survival, which is a variant of Gears of War’s Horde mode. Played with up to four, enemies come at you in 12 waves, each more difficult than the last. The action is faster and more focused than the campaign, but it focuses the experience without giving up the great experimental nature of this wide-open toybox.
Another great thing about Survival is the way your footing changes as the rounds go on. On each map you have a supply station that constantly gives you ammo, mines, and other supplies, but you have to protect it; if the enemies invade your base for long enough, they’ll deactivate it for several rounds. Until this happens, Survival feels like a game of fortification that encourages you to hunker down and hold out. Once you’re overrun, it changes things so drastically that it can feel as if you’re playing a different mode. Without the supply station you’re much more reliant on scrounging ammo and gear from enemies’ bodies, turning it into a game of guerrilla warfare. You run, take shots when you can, and run again before an airstrike blows you to bits. Getting to a high wave number is no small feat, and the one-life-only nature of the mode (there are no revivals in war) makes for bold rescues, necessary sacrifices, and lots of tension all around. It’s a wonderful take on what easily could have been yet another Horde copy-and-paste job.
Sniper vs. Sniper
Sniper Elite 4’s multiplayer feels more “hit or miss” than its other modes. Taking out targets feels the best when you have ample time to scout, plan, and prepare. This works best against enemies that are unaware they’re being hunted, and competitive multiplayer is obviously not the same scenario.
There are a few game types that stand out, the best one being a mode that requires you to kill from range to win. At the end, whoever has the highest total kill distance wins, meaning patience and long-range shots are what really count. In this mode, most players find a decent spot, go prone, and search for a target. It sounds like this could grow stale quickly, but there’s a thrill to knowing that, at any second, your slightest movement could tip you off to an enemy sniper. Likewise, when you catch someone moving in some foliage and you line up a perfect headshot from across the map, there’s nothing like it.
Control mode is essentially just a capture and hold the point mode, but it does a great job at facilitating different styles of play. On one hand, when everyone is funneling into one area, the obvious decision is to sit back and pick off enemies with ease. However, you won’t be able to capture the point for yourself, so you’ll need to coordinate with teammates who will rush in and do the dirty work. It keeps the action fast, focused, and tense, without favoring one play style too heavily over another.