The Sniper Elite franchise has gone through a remarkable transformation since it originally released in 2005. The unique mix of tactical gameplay and over-the-top violence has matured and evolved with each entry, and the Sniper Elite we have today is a rather different beast from its earlier iterations. Sniper Elite 3 marked a significant turning point for the series by further emphasizing stealth and vaster level designs, and the newly released Sniper Elite 4 takes that direction to unforeseen places. Developer Rebellion has crafted something truly extraordinary here, dare I say a masterpiece within the stealth genre.
Sniper Elite 4 boasts diverse, challenging and stupendously enjoyable playgrounds that inspire experimentation. It’s a sandbox in its purest form. Primary and secondary objectives are expertly intertwined across each map and they present endless strategic choices for tackling targets. The game hands you the tools and opportunities, and it’s entirely up to you how they’re used. The sense of freedom and lack of handholding is refreshing.
"Developer Rebellion has crafted something truly extraordinary here, dare I say a masterpiece within the stealth genre."
The narrative has always played a small part in Sniper Elite games, and while the latest entry strives to give characters more depth and personality, it remains the least memorable aspect of the experience. Sniper Elite 4 continues precisely where its predecessor left off. It’s 1943 Italy, and players once again take control of Karl Fairburne who sets out to fight fascists in World War II by teaming up with the Italian resistance. Important plot developments are still told through monochromatic illustration stills, and to be frank, they’re neither impressively drawn nor effective.
However, I appreciate the ability to chat with characters before missions, giving you a chance to gather extra intel and acquire side missions. Once you get past the mundane history lessons, Sniper Elite 4 opens up and let’s loose. No time is wasted with pointless tutorials. You’re immediately presented with an objective-filled map and a plethora of toys, ehm I mean tools, to wreak havoc or go completely ninja on your foes.
Sniper Elite 4 doesn’t have a singular map, and is instead divided into hub levels similarly to Dishonored. These maps may be individually smaller than your typical open-world game, but they’re impressively designed and varied. Every map offers a unique layout that requires strategy and wit. The environments are gorgeous, and the level designs are some of the best I’ve ever seen. Every new area has its own personality and set of challenges.
"The environments are gorgeous, and the level designs are some of the best I’ve ever seen. Every new area has its own personality and set of challenges."
Side missions are genuinely exciting and interweave cleverly with primary goals. When I say side missions, I’m not referring to the derivative junk found in Ubisoft’s OCD-laden landscapes. The side missions in Sniper Elite 4 carry as much weight and importance as the main tasks. Some examples include sabotaging enemy artillery, disabling lights to free the airways for ally airplanes, setting up traps for convoys, destroying/gathering evidence...and so on. Everything feels organic and meaningfully placed, and you never get the sense that you’re simply checking off a laundry list of chores.
Sniper Elite 4 runs at 60fps, and the engine remains stable throughout. There are minor fps dips here and there, but it never interferes with gameplay. Developer Rebellion has gone out of their way to fully utilize the Playstation 4 Pro hardware, and the differences from the base version are noteworthy. Framerate is more stable on the Pro, shadows are crisper and there’s better draw distance and greater detail. Playstation 4 base users aren’t going to be disappointed either as the game runs wonderfully even without the enhancements.
"Everything feels organic and meaningfully placed, and you never get the sense that you’re simply checking off a laundry list of chores."
If you haven’t played any Sniper Elite games before, or you’re only familiar with the last generation releases, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Sniper Elite 4 is a haven for stealth genre fans. Maps have extremely high replay value, and with each new playthrough, I found myself discovering new ways to overcome obstacles. Karl’s arsenal consists of deadly traps that can be employed in numerous creative ways. You can plant explosives underneath assassinated corpses, you can set up trip wires to surprise patrolling enemies, you can set TNT explosives and ignite them with your sniper rifle from miles away...the possibilities just keep piling up.
Upgrades work in a conventional RPG fashion. You’re awarded skill points based on your performance, and you can improve specific traits that complement your playstyle. It’s also worth pointing out that even though the sniper rifle remains Karl’s primary weapon for eliminating baddies, other weapons and accessories are given equal importance. On more than one occasion, I found myself solely relying on the silenced pistol and close quarter combat, which was a refreshing deviation from the more common long-distance approach.
"Karl Fairburne puts Sam Fisher and Solid Snake to shame, and I haven’t felt this sense of freedom since venturing through the phenomenal Hitman: Blood Money."
To further embellish the brilliant campaign, Rebellion has added customizable difficulty options for an even more personalized experience. If you want a truly hardcore challenge, Sniper Elite 4 lets you turn off all assists if you’re confident enough with reading wind direction and judging how gravity impacts bullet traversal.
Beyond the excellent single player campaign, Sniper Elite 4 has both competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes. The co-op mode allows gamers to team up with up to four players, and if you’re lucky enough to play with competent teammates, the sandbox becomes an even richer playground for destructive possibilities. When it comes to competitive multiplayer, I only had the opportunity to play a few team death-match rounds due to slow matchmaking. The overall experience will vary depending on the type of people you’re playing. This may seem like an obvious statement, but in the case of Sniper Elite 4, issues with trolling are even more prevalent. When you have a bunch of snipers facing off and everyone decides to go prone and wait until someone makes a move, the matches can quickly turn sour. On the other hand, if you’re competing with a serious team, the match dynamics suddenly become more compelling.
Conclusion: Sniper Elite 4 is not only the best entry in the series, it’s one of the finest stealth games in years. Karl Fairburne puts Sam Fisher and Solid Snake to shame, and I haven’t felt this sense of freedom since venturing through the phenomenal Hitman: Blood Money. Sniper Elite 4 is especially thrilling considering how well it stacks up against all the amazing shooters that have come out in recent months. Even as a die hard Sniper Elite fan, I’m completely blown away by how much effort Rebellion has put into this sequel. Sniper Elite 4 is simply exceptional!
Reviewed on: Playstation 4 Pro