The problem with the Sniper Elite 4 is that, after prolonged exposure to the game’s special brand of gunplay, players might start to feel a little worried about their state of mind. At first, chances are players will feel sorry for the German officer they accidentally castrated with a .30 calibre bullet—a sensation made more excruciating as a result of having to watch the bullet tear through said officer’s scrotal sack—and then wince as the poor man’s testicle explodes. However, by the end of the game, many players will acquire a taste for testicular manslaughter. Where once they winced, players will chuckle, gleefully robbing half the Third Reich of their crown jewels from 200 yards with a Lee Enfield Rifle.
OSS officer Karl Fairburne is back on the war trail again. Set immediately after the events of Sniper Elite III, this sequel sees Fairburne sent to Southern Italy to help the local resistance and destroy another prototype Nazi wunderwaffe (wonder weapon): a radio-controlled missile capable of taking out Allied ships from hundreds of miles away. The narrative feels very similar to that of Sniper Elite III, with Fairburne sent to scupper the Nazi’s new doomsday weapon and the officer overseeing the program, before getting sucked into another local conflict, which ultimately leads to Fairburne’s actions having a huge impact on a major battle from the shadows—in this case Operation Avalanche (the Allied invasion of Italy).
The Sniper Elite series has always subscribed to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy of sequel design, and Sniper Elite 4 is no exception. Aside from the shift in setting from North Africa’s sun-baked savannahs to the idyllic vineyards and olive groves of Southern Italy, few of the changes to the game’s formula are visible on the surface. The most significant changes are found under the hood. Enemy A.I. has been reworked, with the easily-tricked relocation system from previous games replaced by a new triangulation mechanic; now, if a player snipes from one position for too long, regardless of whether their shots are muted, the Nazis will eventually figure out where they are and attempt to trap them with the preternatural abilities of a bloodhound.
This particular trait of the A.I. is designed to be exploited, and players are wise to do so, drawing enemies toward Fairburne’s position, before picking them off with landmines and the occasional pot shot, or getting the drop on them using Sniper Elite 4’s greatly improved traversal and stealth mechanics. With the intricately-designed levels, filled with towers and tunnels to hide in, plenty of foliage to sneak through, and all manner of mechanical contraptions to sabotage, players are handed a toybox full of options that allow for multiple approaches to almost any situation.
From coastal fishing villages to humongous rural viaducts, Sniper Elite 4’s locales are the largest and prettiest in the series to date, capturing the balmy Mediterranean beauty of southern Italy perfectly. Players can almost smell the oranges in the trees, feel the sun on their back, and hear the sound of Messerschmitts flying overhead—the latter offering a fine opportunity to mask the thunderous sound of Fairburne’s rifle firing. The sound in Sniper Elite 4 is meaty and very well designed, from hearing enemies chatter to each other in German and Italian, to being able to determine where enemy sniper fire is coming from by noise alone. However, the audio also forms a vital part of Sniper Elite 4’s gameplay, with players actively using ambient sounds from the environment, such as planes flying overhead or the roar of a malfunctioning generator, to hide to sound of their shots, lest enemies come running straight to the explosive, accurate sound emanating from Fairburne’s rifle.
More spectacular than the audio, however, is the visuals and experience of the series’ signature Kill-Cam, which allows keen snipers to see, in excruciating detail, a head shot landing 600m away. Watching a bullet fly in slow motion from barrel to brain stem via half a kilometre of rural Italian countryside creates a feeling of tension, satisfaction, and immediacy that no other shooter comes close to replicating. This sense of satisfaction is amplified on the harder difficulties, where bullet ballistics, wind, and gravity can affect where a shot eventually lands.
The inclusion of a bombastic feature, such as the Kill-Cam, should indicate that Sniper Elite 4 is not a stealth game in the traditional sense, instead packing each level with guards, making traditional sneaking and stealth tactics very difficult to accomplish for any great length of time. Therefore, players are encouraged to gun down every soldier they see. To make things trickier, a plethora of reinforcements arrive if Fairburne is spotted or heard . However, once players get into the swing of the action, wiping out whole platoons of troops becomes relatively easy so long as Fairburne does not get pinned down.
While, admittedly, attempting to murder half of the Third Reich is fun, Sniper Elite 4’s classification as a stealth game is asserted through Fairburne’s presence as an atypical glass cannon. As such, any attempts to fight the Axis head on inevitably ends with the player’s swift demise at the hands of half a dozen angry Nazis with MP5s and very itchy trigger-fingers. To succeed, players must keep their distance, use the environment to conceal their position, and take advantage of the sounds of overhead planes and malfunctioning machinery to mask the sound of sniper rifle fire to pick off troops before the Nazis can figure out where Fairburne is. Successfully taking out an officer surrounded by an entourage from several hundred meters with no-one noticing never fails to feel like an achievement. Nevertheless, in the event that a carefully constructed plan does go completely up the creek, players are given the means to make a quick exit and fight another day if they need to (even if the game does have a horrible habit of autosaving when this happens.)
Along with the main target, each mission also has optional objectives and targets that net players bonus XP and other rewards. In a nice twist, these side-goals are delivered during pre-mission briefing areas by NPCs, allowing players to get their bearings before launching into the mission, and adding a little more context to the killing. Levels are also peppered with all manner of collectibles, including letters, documents, and other superfluous trinkets that expand the lore of the game as well as reveal more about the real-life events that surround the well-researched narrative. If players are feeling destructive, they can also earn some extra XP by destroying Stone Reichsadlers (Imperial Eagles).
Kills are scored depending on the difficulty and landing of the shot. The better the shot, the more XP the player earns, which rewards them with better equipment. Meanwhile, additional upgrades for existing equipment are earned in-game by completing Wolfenstein: The New Order-style “weapon mastery challenges”. These systems encourage players to be creative, find the best vantage points, and take the time to land solid shots, while adding an extra layer of challenge to proceedings.
After a first playthrough, players have plenty to sink their teeth into, including the ability to play through the entire campaign with a friend in co-op. The game also features a robust multiplayer mode that includes a whole a suite of competitive options. While this mode does not fall under OnlySP’s purview, gamers looking for something a little more tactical than the usual run-and-gun found in most online shooters should give Sniper Elite 4’s offering a whirl.
The idyllic Italian setting, humongous sand-boxes with a wealth of tactical options, and numerous under-the-hood improvements combine to make Sniper Elite 4 the best entry in the series. Fans of the series may know exactly what to expect, but in the case of Sniper Elite, familiarity does not breed contempt.