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Sniper Elite 4 Review | The Old Familiar Feelings

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Sniper Elite 4

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.

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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.)

Sniper Elite 4

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.

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Review

American Fugitive Review — A Grand Tale of Theft and Auto

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American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 1

The original Grand Theft Auto rocked the virtual world with its violent gameplay from a birds-eye view perspective back in 1997. Once the series moved to a third-person, 3D perspective with Grand Theft Auto III, few gamers looked back and few developers attempted to replicate the original style. More than 20 years later, Fallen Tree Games has become of those few with American Fugitive.

Players control Will Riley, a man convicted for a crime he did not commit and filled with the desire for revenge. Once he has escaped from prison, Will must find old friends—and meet some new ones—to run errands and discover the person who killed his father.

The game is played from a top-down perspective in a 3D open world. More reminiscent of Chinatown Wars than the original Grand Theft Auto, the camera adds a level of complexity to American Fugitive, as players often will not see what lies beyond the edges of the screen. While a behind-the-character perspective would, at times, not go amiss, players will eventually grow to familiarise themselves with the camera, respecting the callback to classic open world titles.

American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 2

The open world itself is also reminiscent of classic titles, with simplified designs regularly complimented by the detailed art style. The game’s animated, cartoon design scheme is fitting of its fast-paced action gameplay, always managing to keep the player on their toes and keen to discover more. Technically, the game plays almost flawlessly, with no significant performance issues to disrupt the player while they explore the map.

Players can explore the rural open world of Redrock County on foot or in a vehicle. The vehicular gameplay may take some time for players to familiarise themselves with, with some overly slippery mechanics leading to some unfortunate collisions, though fitting to the game’s tone. Thankfully, most environments in the game are destructible, so sliding off the road—if the player follows the road to begin with—does not often lead to disaster.

Despite beginning the game as a seemingly innocent man, Will doubles down on his criminal actions once he escapes from prison. Akin to Grand Theft Auto, the player can hijack cars, kill civilians, and attract the attention of police. Most residential buildings in the game can be robbed by the player, often leading to tense confrontations with the homeowners or police, so players must continue at their own risk.

American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 3

The ‘wanted’ system in the game works similarly to Grand Theft Auto games, with players accumulating up to five stars depending on their behaviour. The stars often accumulate a little too quickly, however, with additional stars regularly added simply for evading police. Oftentimes, the player may possess a full wanted level—complete with large police vans and circling helicopters—within a minute of committing a minor offense. While this over-the-top gameplay design is fitting to the pace of the game, it may lead to frustrations within the main story missions by bringing the player’s progress to a halt.

The missions are also reminiscent of those in Grand Theft Auto, tasking the player with a wide variety of tasks to keep them busy while the story evolves. While many of these missions may seem disconnected to the main narrative structure, they are unique and regularly keep the player entertained, ranging from simple fetch quests and car robberies to full-scale shootouts. The game’s fast-paced gameplay and lack of loading screens also make the poorly-placed checkpoints bearable, especially when the beginning of missions require the player to drive to a certain location.

American Fugitive‘s storyline is simple in design but entertaining enough to keep the player engaged. The game’s ‘cutscenes’ exist in the form of text atop character designs; while some simple voice acting would elevate these scenes with more dramatic tension, they are short enough to maintain the player’s attention and continue the missions at a fast pace. Players will find themselves surprisingly engrossed in the story, wanting to see it through to its full conclusion.

American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 4

Accompanying the fast-paced gameplay and narrative is the game’s music. From slow, explorative themes to fast-paced tracks, American Fugitive‘s original score is reminiscent of some of the best soundtracks across different media—from television’s True Detective to video gaming’s Red Dead Redemption 2 and The Last of Us. Each song accompanies the gameplay nicely, ramping up and down as the player makes the appropriate actions, and, along with the expert sound design, add the auditory sprinkles atop a visual and narrative treat.

American Fugitive, simply put, is fun. Fallen Tree Games has added its own unique twist to a classic gameplay formula, and utilised a simple but engaging narrative and a beautiful original score to maintain the player’s interest until the very end. Despite a few minor flaws in gameplay, the game stands strong against its competition. Players looking for a fast, fun, and mature sandbox game should not miss American Fugitive.

OnlySP Review Score 4 Distinction

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro.

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