Over the last decade plus, U.K. developer Rebellion has created and expanded the world of Sniper Elite, with superior results in each iteration. While World War II games have been off the radar for a long time, the role of a sniper still feels somewhat fresh. Now in its fourth game, Sniper Elite 4 doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it adds custom rims, shiny gloss and stronger treads to make a great game even greater. While that might not do much to convince non-fans of the series to give it another try, it is basically a love letter to everyone else who thought Sniper Elite 3 was the peak of the franchise.
Series mainstay Karl Fairburne returns after his African exploits in Sniper Elite 3; he now finds himself behind enemy lines in Italy. Despite being a one-man death bringer, Karl is not forced to take on the Italian Nazi branch alone. Non-playable characters and allies are more prevalent than ever before. A resistance group known as the Partisans is providing the type of inside information that only locals can, in addition to lending a hand in battle. Together these allies provide objective briefings before the start each mission; what you’re doing and why you are doing it. It’s much more cinematic and engrossing than text instructions, although those are readily available from the map at any time. Once the player has spoken with allies in person and over the radio, everything else rests in your hands.
Each mission takes place in a different location across Italy, from port towns to trainyards to civilian villages. Unlike Sniper Elite 3 which appeared on previous generation hardware, Sniper Elite 4 is only on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. While I didn’t notice a drastic difference in the character models or textures, the scale of each level is greatly increased. Maps are huge, non-linear and full of secrets to discover. The Italian location really gave Rebellion an opportunity to add vibrant colors to environments and plenty of high ground for sniping. A typical mission has primary objectives in addition to optional objectives, which are easily toggled though waypoints on the map. You might have to assassinate a big-shot commander, destroy anti-air weapons or discover intel on secret Nazi research. In addition to objectives, there are a multitude of collectables scattered about, usually in the form of letters or journal entries. Fans of the hidden red bottles in Zombie Army Trilogy will be happy to see a similar mechanic in Sniper Elite 4, hidden stone eagles. The player can tackle both primary and optional objectives in any order, going as slow or fast as they want.
Like previous games, nearly every action you take will earn Karl experience points. Combining variables like tagging with your binoculars, holding your breath, and/or masking the gunshot sound earns more points than just killing with a machine gun. In time, Karl will level up and earn additional perks like reduced fall damage or improved items, among others. I always tried to take on objectives quietly and stealthily, but thankfully when things got loud I never felt overly punished. If the player is spotted, enemies will close in on their last known position quickly; they won’t stop until they’re dead or the player runs off and hides. One memorable level was the dockyard, with few sound masking items and dozens of enemies. Going full stealth was nearly impossible, which left me running, gunning and hiding for over an hour. Although it can be fun to go full-Rambo, it was always a better idea to be patient and methodical in all levels. The entire campaign and bonus modes can be played co-operatively with a friend as well.
It wouldn’t be Sniper Elite 4 without the gruesome x-ray kill camera, a series staple. When Karl fires a perfect shot from distance the camera transitions to slow motion and follows the bullet until it makes contact. When the bullet meets its destination, whether that be head or other internal organs, the player sees gruesome penetration complete with blood and splattering bone fragments. X-ray kill cams are also now included in explosions and melee strikes, giving fans even more anatomy lessons. Improvements have been made as well, not every x-ray shot is a drawn-out affair, less impressive shots will have a shortened scene that sometimes only lasts a second. I really like this change because after a few hours I didn’t want to sit through every long kill cam. If the thought of shooting your enemies in the testicles doesn’t appeal to you, feel free to turn off x-ray cameras entirely.
There are other single player modes in addition to the main campaign like shooting gallery and solo survival, better known as horde mode. In shooting gallery, the player shoots targets at ranges up to 300 yards; some of the targets move and you earn medals based on your performance. There are also galleries for your secondary weapons and pistols. I like having this mode in the game, it’s a good way to earn extra experience points, but I won’t be spending hours with it. Solo survival tasks the player with protecting an objective from waves of Nazis. If you die, or they capture the objective, it’s game over. I like the idea of this mode, but with such fast moving enemies it usually boiled down to a machine gun fight, until I was quickly overrun. Similar horde modes in spinoff series Zombie Army Trilogy are more enjoyable because zombies are slow and easy to pick off. For me, this mode felt a bit like wasted potential.
Multiplayer returns with modes familiar to those who have played the series. Deathmatch and team deathmatch are self-explanatory. Previous entries in the series return as well: distance king (highest combined distance wins), team distance king and no cross. No cross pits two teams against each other with a barrier preventing them from crossing to the other side. It gets very tense and always feels great when teammates cooperate with spotting and sniping. Curiously absent is the capture the flag mode, replaced with a new mode called control. Players must reach and control radio drops to earn points and ultimately win the match. This is identical to hardpoint in Titanfall or domination in Battlefield. These modes add endless replay value to Sniper Elite 4 and they are more fun than ever with enhanced resolution and graphics. Again, if you did not care for multiplayer in Sniper Elite 3, this version will not change your mind.
Despite the similar formula to previous games, I’m feeling absolutely no franchise fatigue after hours of playing Sniper Elite 4. Every aspect of the game benefits from the change in setting and devotion to current generation hardware. Environments are larger and better looking, enemies more aggressive and deadly and x-ray kills are as satisfying as ever. Countless collectables, difficulty settings and variety in modes will keep me playing well into Sniper Elite 5. If you are a fan of the series there is no reason not to purchase Sniper Elite 4, non-fans should keep their heads down. Viva Italia!