If Sniper Elite 4 has taught me anything it’s this: Don’t put a sniper rifle in my hands unless you want someone’s jaw obliterated. Seriously, I can’t tell you how many times my brain made me aim for an enemy’s jaw. It wasn’t a conscious thing but more often than not I would leave a Nazi without a functioning mandible. I know this thanks to the series’ tradition of X-Ray Kill Cams. It brings everything within the human body beautifully (or disgustingly) to the forefront. However, awesome, action movie-esque moments don’t make the game and I’m happy to say Rebellion has crafted a complete package here.
The story continues Karl Fairburne’s assault against the Nazi regime during World War II. This time he’s deployed to Italy after the fascist state has created another super weapon. We find out pretty early (opening cutscene) that the weapon is a missile that can be radio controlled and has already taken out an important ship in the war effort. Once Karl arrives, he has to work his way up the Nazi chain of command in the boot shaped country to find information on the missile and how to stop it. In order to do that, some sacrifices and allegiances will be made. Our hero will team up with British troops, German informants, a resistant movement, and even the Italian Mafia. Just don’t expect these plot points to be stretched out.
For the most part, Sniper Elite 4 has a straightforward and simplistic plot. It’s about a military man doing his job and going on missions to eradicate a world threat. There’s no RPG-like tale of overcoming adversity or a handsome, roguish adventurer on a personal quest – and that’s okay. The game never tries to be anything more than it is and treats all matters as an objective to get done, not an emotional tale to pull on the heart-strings. Although I will admit there was a scene that got to me in a way other than collateral damage. Also, I’ll have to take back the handsome part as well as Karl Fairburne would certainly be a lady killer today.
Gameplay is easily this title’s best feature. You travel to different parts of Italy from the countryside, to docks, to military bases, and anything in between. Each of the eight levels features an expansive amount of land to gallivant about in order to complete main missions, side missions, or find collectibles. Killing every Nazi scum on the map is an acceptable goal, too. Important items are marked on the in-game map (unless you play on the hardest difficulty) and I found things were easy to find but challenging to overcome. First and foremost is the level design itself. Each area of interest was made actively, and by that I mean there were many ways to accomplish feats. Most places offered the perfect amount of stealth approaches, combat readiness, or tail behind the legs retreat. Needless to say, there will be plenty of cover to take advantage of from a crouching or laying down standpoint.
Not all places had a tiered model but I was surprised at the amount of verticality Sniper Elite 4 had, and not just simple laying on a hill and shooting from the high ground. I’m talking about houses, mansions, or complexes that had a variety of paths, floors, and escape routes. Exploring really should be a part of every wannabe sniper’s mindset as you’ll find unused entrances or exits to wherever a target is hiding. I willingly admit to getting lost inside a Nazi science base due to its size and different departments. The denizens of these places (nasty Nazis) are also pretty good at defending themselves. That is when they’re not walking into walls (more on that later). I felt the capability and knowledge of the enemy A.I. was satisfactory for a stealth/action game such as this. They heard sounds at the precise distance they should have and had pretty good aim if the player chose to remain stationary. The only drawback would be the teetering they do when behind cover so that their head peaks out. Of course, this is a generally accepted trope within the franchise so that you can pop some domes without having to wait for them to get back out into the open.
But you guys mostly care about Karl Fairburne’s abilities and equipment. Let’s just say that he’d make any World War II soldier blush. Going into each story mission, you’ll be able to assemble a loadout consisting of sniper rifle, sub-machine gun or shotgun, handgun, and slots for health items, extra ammo, or grenades. You can unlock more weapons through earning money by completing objectives, but I found the standard loadout will work fine for the entire game. Out in the field is where the fun happens though. Here, Karl has landmines, tripwire traps, and more that can be accessed through the weapon wheel. Which, by the way, works well with no problems on-the-fly to switch between firearms or usable items. Pushing down on the right analog stick will also bring up binoculars to use and spot enemies or explosives.
The grand daddy of it all though has to be the sniper rifle. This more or less acted as my significant other within the Sniper Elite universe. It allowed me to crack skulls, penetrate organs, and explode testicles. All of which was brought to you by the returning X-Ray system I mentioned earlier. During some kills, you’ll be pulled right up front to the enemy soldier’s demise. The bullet penetration zone will allow you to see the insides of the human body and how the piece of metal damages it. Ergo, lungs disintegrating, brains becoming goop, and vertebrates being removed through bloody, bloody means. The game is rated M for a reason. However, I do wish for more variety to the X-Ray kill possibilities. After awhile the same animations played over and over far too soon. There’s also an empty lung ability which provides the proper amount of bullet drop you have to account for but it can be overexerted. This will be an absolute necessity to trigger the horrifying slaughter your sharpshooter skills have wrought.
The graphics for character models are above average but the detailed world is very beautiful. I have no shame in admitting I didn’t leave a bush so I could admire a view. [Ed: Oh er, innuendo?] The forest level was particularly striking. The soundtrack was enjoyable to listen to but it’s nothing I’ll download to my MP3 player. The sound effects on the other hand are a different story. Everything from simple movements to sticking a knife in some guy’s head provided that “oomph” to make it seem real. I know I may sound like a psychopath, but remember that these are Nazi’s we’re talking about.
Sniper Elite 4 has a ton of replayability in its ten-hour campaign alone. There’s five different difficulty settings to test your skills on, collectibles to acquire, specific challenges that will take more than one playthrough to complete, and co-op for two elite snipers to find out about this super missile weapon. I wish I could say I played more of the multiplayer but other reviewers rarely got online. There’s classic modes like TDM and control but others are rather unique. Specifically the playlist where kill distance will declare the winner and No Cross which acts like a snipe off across a portion of land where teams can’t venture. Sadly, while the frantic, tactical rush will be present, I didn’t find much enjoyment here. Probably because there weren’t enough people playing and mostly everyone was camping, but it offers more Sniper Elite 4 experiences nonetheless. In addition, there’s a survival mode that plants you in one of three maps and spawns in waves of Nazi’s for you to take out. This can be played with up to four people. It’s fairy simplistic and acts like any other horde mode but with the possibility of stealth if you’re good enough. Lastly, a shooting range with medals to earn and accuracy to hone is available.
Unfortunately, the fantastic gameplay and militaristic tale are bogged down by a myriad of technical problems that got me killed way more than they should. The two major ones dealt with placement and control schemes. The melee button and pick up body button are one and the same. So if a corpse was near an oncoming victim, I’d pick up the body by accident and get immediately spotted and sprayed down with bullets. Some of the story missions require you to place satchel charges on larger targets and a few times I couldn’t without repeated tries. When I say repeated tries I mean minutes worth of just holding the square button. Other, more minor tech problems consist of a weapon refusing to be equipped, getting stuck in the corner of a small house, the enemy lung ability not registering a hit even when you nailed your shot, stealth killing way out of Karl’s range, and A.I. walking continually in a wall.
Overall - Fantastic - 8.7/10
Minus some major and minor technical issues, Sniper Elite 4 is the pinnacle of the series. The story is straightforward and enjoyable but the gameplay is where the fun’s at. Its diversity and amount of possibilities are good ol’ sniping fun. You will spend hours in each map performing objectives and taking names through the X-Ray system. Which are brutally and beautifully on display thanks to the graphics. They also bleed over nicely into the rich environment. Here’s hoping some problems are fixed because semi-open world stealth/action games are rarely this consistently entertaining.
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* Reviewed using a base PS4.
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