It’s been a few years since I was first introduced to the Sniper Elite series after watching, what I thought was, a hilarious video on YouTube by Robbaz. I’m sure his Swedish accent commentary had something to do with it, but the X-Ray Kill Cam also had me intrigued and I had to try it out for myself. Here we are a few years later, a few Sniper Elite and Nazi Zombie Army games later, and Rebellion’s latest is out. Our Sniper Elite 4 review plays through the game as our hero Karl Fairburne heads to Italy for some jaw shattering, organ exploding, ball busting Nazi killing.
NOTE: given the game’s maturity level and rating, parts of this review is also going to be less PG that usual.
If you’ve played previous games in the series, Sniper Elite 4 picks up in the aftermath of Sniper Elite III (which, if you haven’t played, was a prequel to Sniper Elite v2). While the previous game took place in North Africa, Sniper Elite 4 sees OSS sniper Karl Fairburne headed to beautiful Italy in 1943 to track down rumours of a deadly new Nazi weapon. The game starts off on the fictional San Celini island, and heads through a number of other fictional Italian locations across a series of eight missions in total.
Without getting into much into the story — we like to stay relatively spoiler free here at Techaeris — while playing as Fairburne, you are assisted “in theory” by the OSS, Italian Partisans, and the Sicilian Mafia in your quest to hunt down the weapon and kill the man behind it — General Heinz Böhm. I say “in theory” because, as with previous Sniper Elite games, you’re flying solo as Fairburne. At the beginning of each mission, with the exception of the last, you start off in a safe zone where you can speak to a member of the OSS, Partisans, and/or Mafia depending on how far along you are. These individuals give you main and optional objectives which move the story along.
Throughout most of the game, I couldn’t help but feel like the objectives and story were more of a loose cover and an excuse to sneak around and kill Nazis any way you could. While it’s not necessarily a bad thing, much of the story played out at the beginning and end of each mission with copious amounts of death and destruction packed in between. That being said, the story did come full circle with a bit of a shocking, if not slightly predictable event in Mission 8 and the completion of the final objective to finish the story up.
I did enjoy the overall story arc, it would have been nice to see some of it spread out more through each mission perhaps by having to find individuals who would give you your objectives as you proceed through each mission.
As with previous games in the Sniper Elite series, Sniper Elite 4 has you sneaking, hiding, and trying to take out as many Nazis as you can without being discovered. I played through the campaign on Sniper Elite difficulty, one down from the highest difficulty, and it was definitely a challenge without being frustrating. While sneaking and hiding in wait for the right moment to dispatch your many enemies without giving away your location can be tedious in some games, I actually found it oddly relaxing — and also stressful at times.
There are plenty of places to hide, and the variation in locations ranges from rural areas to town squares, during the day or night. You can hide in the shadows, buildings, dark areas away from lights at night, or up high in bell towers or sniper hideouts. You’ll want to make frequent use of your binoculars to scout out the area ahead and tag vehicles, enemy soldiers, and explosive containers. One of the things I actually got a kick out of while playing was reading the Allied Intel about the enemy soldiers I was tagging. I read quite a few of them which ranged from “Conscripted in 1935” to “Thinks the rest of his squad hates him” and everything in between. I don’t recall the same one being used twice, which shows a fun amount of detail applied to the numerous soldiers in the campaign.
Each mission has you setting up your loadout with a sniper rifle, pistol, and secondary weapon along with your choice of grenades, traps, medkits, and more. During the game, as you get kills and complete objectives, you gain XP which allow you to level up. As you level up, you gain access to skills which give you more health, slow down the rate at which your lungs empty while in sniping mode and more. These choices are very easy to make, as every fifth level (up to level 30) you get to choose between two skills. Each weapon can also be mastered after you’ve met three objectives with each, for example getting a certain number of explosive kills or liver shots with it.
As this is a sniper-focused game, the best way to kill someone is from a distance. This is where the X-Ray Kill Cam comes into play the most, although Rebellion did add it to melee kills as well (something I don’t recall being present in Sniper Elite III). If you’re successful in targeting an organ, the X-Ray Kill Cam kicks in and follows the bullet through the air before cutting away to a medical-like representation of the bones and organs inside a human body. Enter bullet, shattering skulls, exploding organs (including *cough* nuts *cough*), and even eyeballs in dramatic — yet strangely gratifying — fashion. I’m not sure if that makes me psychotic, but I definitely grinned more than a few times at the X-Ray Kill Cam and looked forward to the next one.
Even though sniping is a big part of the game, you can also dispatch your enemies with a melee takedown, which sometimes resulted in an X-Ray Kill Cam view of a knife going through a heart, or plant explosives on vehicles. Vehicle and explosive containers also triggered the X-Ray Kill Cam on occasion and watching two or three Nazis being shredded by a trip mine or S-mine were equally satisfying. There were many times when I was compromised and had to crack out the submachine gun and engage in Call of Duty style warfare, but in the end you could usually get your way out of a situation and return back to your stealth and snipe mode.
The missions were different enough, with very different layouts and objectives and I found myself trying to complete every secondary objective as well. Somehow I missed one during my initial playthrough, and I found I was spending at least a couple of hours per mission — and enjoyably so. The layouts for each mission really required some critical thinking and problem solving. The straightest route wasn’t necessarily the best, and there were times I found myself circling back to find a better way towards the next objective.
I’m an achievement hunter through and through, and oftentimes when I don’t see achievements pop up at a steady pace, I tend to move on to a different game. That wasn’t the case with Sniper Elite 4 by a long shot. There were many times I found myself sitting in a bush for up to five minutes waiting for overwhelming odds to pass by, and for me, it actually enhanced the pace and enjoyment of the game tremendously.
I’m glad that Rebellion chose Italy for the setting for this installment of the series. They did a decent job on the environment from the Italian countryside to the villas and, of course, the Nazi bunkers and fortresses. Structures were decent looking, as was the surrounding foliage from a distance. At times the foliage was a little flat when viewed at a certain angle, but was decent over all.
I’m certain that Rebellion beefed up the X-Ray Kill Cam graphics, from the jawbone shattering to the brain shots. Bones fragmented into hundreds of pieces, while the brain compacted slightly as the bullet entered it and expanded back to its normal size as the bullet sped through it. Organs and eyeballs exploded with blood and green goo accordingly, and the exiting bullet was mashed as expected and often popped off the enemy’s helmet if it was a head shot. And yes, as mentioned above, the infamous cringe-worthy nut shot is back, complete with the Nutcracker achievement on the Xbox One which requires you to incapacitate someone and then finish them off with a well-placed gonad shot. Cringe-worthy indeed.
There was the odd time, however, when I found myself running around holding an invisible gun. I couldn’t pinpoint what triggered it, sometimes a weapon swap would fix it, other times exiting out of the mission and returning to it fixed it as well. This didn’t happen often, and while it was kind of funny the first time is an obvious glitch. Some of the kills resulted in bodies being contorted in weird ways as well, but not having seen a dead person as a result of a gunshot or explosion in real life I can’t speak to the accuracy of these contortions.
While some of the graphics could have used a bit of beefing up, there was nothing overly glaring that really detracted from gameplay.
With the Sniper Elite series, sound has always been an important factor. While the underlying soundtrack is decent and fits the scenarios and narrative, it’s the sound effects that really shine. Being a sniper has its hazards and any way you can mask your sound, or hear someone sneaking up behind you can mean the difference between life or death. Rebellion has done a great job with the environment sound effects, from the sounds of gunshots to vehicles — both ground and air — and soldiers walking by. Having ample opportunities to fire off a shot after you’ve sabotaged a generator to make a covering noise or timing it right with a nearby artillery gun or aircraft overhead was well done. While it’s not entirely a sound thing, the onscreen indicator and controller vibration during these times helps tremendously, especially when you’ve got your target scoped and are simply waiting for the right opportunity.
What’s a good sniping game without some multiplayer? Sniper Elite 4 has a few different multiplayer modes which include versus and co-operative. The usual modes like Team Deathmatch, Deathmatch, and Control exist, as well as some sniper unique ones that can be fun or tedious depending on what you like. Distance King and Team Distance King tallies the total distance of kills made to determine the winner, while No Cross is Team Deathmatch with a twist — both teams are separated by an impassable obstacle.
On the co-op side of things, you can complete campaign missions with a partner, buddy up in a spotter/sniper configuration in Overwatch, or team up with three others in Survival mode which pits you against hordes of Nazis.
During the matches I was able to get into, multiplayer was pretty smooth and without issues. However, the main issue was that there doesn’t seem to be that many people playing and even when selecting any available mode for both multiplayer and cooperative, it required a bit of waiting and oftentimes ended up in matches with only a few other people. Unfortunately, this makes enjoying multiplayer difficult and I never was able to get into an Overwatch mode to test that out.
Sniper Elite 4 is priced right up there with other AAA titles, $59.99USD/$79.99CAD. While the story could have used a bit more fleshing out or delayed time release of story progression, I still enjoyed every moment of sneaking around during the campaign and aiming carefully for X-Ray Kill Cam shots.
Of course, there’s the dreaded DLC pack and Deluxe Edition addon, but one thing Rebellion has mentioned is that new maps and multiplayer modes will be free for everyone, regardless of game version.
If you’re a fan of sneaking around and sniping, Sniper Elite 4 is a morbidly gratifying, X-Ray Kill Cam, Nazi killing game with decent gameplay and jaw shattering, organ exploding, ball busting graphics.
*We were sent a copy of Sniper Elite 4 on the Xbox One for the purposes of this review.
Sniper Elite 4$59.99+ USD
- Kill Cam - need I say more?
- Beautiful environments
- Fantastic sound
- Decent gameplay mechanics
- Critical thinking required in some areas
- Enjoyed the Allied Intel
- Decent sized missions (levels)
- Story was pretty average
- Some graphics glitches
- Not many multiplayer players