I’m honestly not much of a sniping fan, to the point that I ignored the chance to download Sniper Elite V2 for free during some Steam Christmas offer. I kind of regret that honestly, but at least I’ve got the latest in the series, Sniper Elite 4, as current company.
One of the things that drew me to the sniping-focused game was what I perceived to be a slight resemblance to the phenomenal Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, something I mentioned in an earlier Valentine’s Day article. After completing four of its missions however, I can safely conclude that it’s a pretty different game.
Despite that, I’ve been having a good time slaughtering German soldiers and completing side objectives whilst navigating the large single player levels. Sniper Elite 4 is a fun and solid title and of its features, there are three in particular that serve to endear it to me.
It’s probably common knowledge by now that Sniper Elite 4 features big open-ended levels - the largest in the series - and that’s another aspect of the game that caught my attention. Even the very first mission gives you a sizeable chunk of land to explore, and the levels seem to get progressively larger every mission - at least, that’s the feeling I get.
The size of the levels benefits the sniping, giving you the opportunity to snipe targets from long distances and providing plenty of space for escape. The level sizes don’t feel as exhaustive as an open world game (thank goodness), but it still provides moments of “hey, I can actually go there!” And being a sniping game, sometimes it also makes you think: “Hey, I can shoot this guy from all the way here!”
It also adds to the sneaking, though the preserved focus on sniping, fun but straightforward items and slightly clunky cover system prevents me from feeling properly connected to the environment. That’s one of the reasons why Sniper Elite 4 doesn’t feel like a sniping-focused MGS 5, or a typical stealth game for that matter.
That said, I still greatly appreciate the wide scope and generous amount of allocated space. Side objectives prevent spaces from feeling wasted, and I enjoy the small thrill I get from stumbling upon a new route or leaving an area through a completely different path than the one I used to enter.
The locations themselves aren’t revolutionary, although I enjoyed exploring (and getting lost in) the Italian town in the second level. The first mission takes place on an island, while the third and fourth feature a forest and dockyard respectively. They’re hardly boring locations however, just nothing unexpected.
And although I don’t find them repetitive yet, there’s an underlying sense of slightly familiar design between the levels despite the varied settings, as all basically feature a mix of open spaces, structures and some verticality. But some of the areas within the levels themselves do feel notably distinct, like the previously mentioned Italian town and the warehouses in the harbour level. I like how these places stand out even within their respective levels, giving the feel of a tiny open world with different locations.
I find Sniper Elite 4’s World War 2 setting to be strangely nostalgic, despite not playing many WW2 games. Weirdly, I can also imagine myself playing this at my cousin’s house back in the last decade and not finding that thought weird and coincidentally, playing this keeps reminding me of a WW2 shooter I played at his place for some reason.
I guess the feeling is partly due to the fact that I did play a few WW2 shooters but never completed a single one, and having a WW2-set stealth-action shooter with such large levels feels like I’m making up for it and experiencing a lost childhood. There’s also the fact that it’s a nice change of scenery and atmosphere from modern and science-fiction settings. If Sniper Elite 4 was set in modern times, it’d probably feel like a bit of a bore.
The Italian-setting is also a plus, since I don’t recall it featuring in most WW2 games. On the one hand, you’re still facing and killing tons of German soldier, but on the other the knowledge that you’re in Italy pervades sufficiently throughout the game, partially due to the presence of Italian Partisans, some of whom you can interact with. And there’s also the matter of the lovely Italian architecture.
What I didn’t really expect to enjoy from the setting was the lack of customization. You can upgrade your weapons by doing certain things with them, but they’re perfectly serviceable without all that and the setting means a lack of fussing over new scopes and laser sights. Without the ability to pimp up my equipment as well as the absence of sophisticated gadgets (and also with the cover system making my sneaking feel slightly inept), I feel like I’m playing as a (relatively) ordinary or unremarkable person who is able to do some incredible things. Which is a surprisingly nice feeling, although I do miss Venom Snake's super-quick reflexes.
Of course, it's also partly due to the game's design, but the older technology afforded by the WW2 setting is also integral to this experience.
Months ago, I thought that if I played a Sniper Elite game, I‘d probably get bored of the violent X-ray killcams quickly and derive more satisfaction from the shooting without them. After spending 7 hours with Sniper Elite 4 however, I don’t feel the slightest urge to turn the feature off yet.
The killcams are admittedly repetitive, but it’s still satisfying to see the gruesome results of my shot. I love it more when they’re the result of a melee kill however, especially when protagonist Karl Fairburne forgoes his knife and simple slams his palm into the jaw of an unfortunate soul and breaking it with the force. It’s deliciously brutal and over-the-top, but it doesn’t feel absurdly outlandish either.
Explosion-caused kills can also trigger killcams, which gives you the opportunity to see the victim’s entire skeleton. Less precise or personal than a sniper shot and with less apparent organ damage, to be sure, but it still gives you a feeling of power.
It’s not purely the violence itself that makes me enjoy the killcams though. Since sniper rifles aren’t usually my preferred choice of video game weapon and sniping isn’t my strong suit, the killcams feel like a nice reward for all the sniping I have to do. The marker that assist with the aiming contributes to my desire for a reward too, since the marker stands out more than the visual damage. I want the result of my shots to stand out more than the marker, and the X-ray scenes of bones getting smashed and organs getting burst provides just that.