One of the downsides to both stealth games and sniper games is that having to be slow and cautious can get tiresome. But while the sneaky sniper game Sniper Elite 4 (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC) avoids this pitfall by letting go all gun blazing when the situation arises, what really makes this such an exciting and addictive action game is where you do all your shooting.
Set during World War II, Sniper Elite 4 once again casts you as Karl Fairburne, a gruff OSS agent who’s sent to Italy in 1943 to help the local resistance fight the fascists and to stop the Germans from deploying a new weapon. Which is how you wind up skulking around the island of San Celini, the picturesque coastal village of Bitanti, and the nearby woods of Rogliano.
Like such similar third-person stealth games as Splinter Cell Blacklist, Sniper Elite 4 employs many of genre’s common mechanics, including tossing rocks to distract people, silently killing people from behind, and moving dead bodies so they won’t be discovered when his coworker comes looking for him. It also tells you when you’ve alerted any nearby enemies, and how alert they happen to be, while leaving a ghostly image of where you were when spotted so you know where they’ll be looking for you. Or throwing a grenade at you, as the case may be.
Of course, the Germans aren’t the only ones who have grenades in Sniper Elite 4. While shooting people is how you’ll take out most of your enemies, you also have grenades, and can even shoot vehicles or gas cans, which may take out any nearby enemy in the resulting explosion.
As for its sniper mechanics, Sniper Elite 4 takes an approach similar to the racing games Forza Motorsport 6 and Forza Horizon 3. While you can play Sniper Elite 4 as a realistic simulation, and will have to account for such factors as how much wind and gravity will impact the flight of your bullet, you can also skip those aspects if you’d like a less realistic experience. You can even customize the difficulty (again, like Forza), to include only some aspects of real sniper shooting.
That said, there is some realism in Sniper Elite 4 you can’t avoid. It takes time to reload a weapon, plant an explosive charge, or use a bandage, during which you will be vulnerable. Though, on the plus side, you can take a deep breath to momentarily calm yourself, which effectively slows time down, regardless of what difficulty or level of realism you play at.
While much of the action in Sniper Elite 4 is a mix of third-person shooter and stealth action, it also pulls aspects from such role-playing games as Fallout 4, the Borderlands series, and especially The Division. Not only is there a leveling up system and simple skill tree — with XP awarded for completing objectives and for pulling off such tough shots — but you also have to replenish your ammo and supplies by scrounge around or rifling through your dead enemy’s pockets.
The battlegrounds in Sniper Elite 4 are also littered with tons of optional side missions, such as trucks that need blowing up and intel that needs stealing. You even get secondary objectives from other people, though they’re always in the pre-mission staging area, not standing around in the woods just waiting for you to stop by. All of which not only gives this the variety of an RPG, but they’re depth as well; if you complete most of the objectives, missions can take as long as two hours to complete, and since there’s a bunch of them…
For the most part, the Sniper Elite 4 plays very much like its predecessor, 2012’s Sniper Elite III, and its 2015 undead spin-off, Zombie Army Trilogy. But it’s not just the Italian setting and lack of undead Nazis that make this new installment so much fun. Well, the story-driven campaign, anyway.
While Sniper Elite 3 and Zombie Army Trilogy had broad battlefields, they were still pretty linear. Sniper Elite 4, however, sets its missions in much more open areas. When you visit San Celini, for instance, you have the run of the whole island. Granted, none of these battlefields are as large as the open worlds of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or The Witcher III: Wild Hunt — they’re more comparable to the individual spaces in Rise Of The Tomb Raider or Deus Ex: Mankind Divided — but they still seem big since there’s no drivable vehicles or fast travel spots, so you have to run everywhere. As a result, the campaign in Sniper Elite 4, even more than its numeric and living impaired predecessors, plays like a tense but exhilarating game of cat and mouse.
Unfortunately, these improvements do highlight some of the issues with Sniper Elite 3 that haven’t been fixed in Sniper Elite 4…but should’ve. While you can now stab someone all quiet-like when you’re hanging off a ledge or on the top of a ladder, you can’t shoot someone while in this position, and can’t simultaneously use the top ledge as cover.
More importantly, while your enemies in Sniper Elite 4 do seem smarter than they were before, they can still sometimes be pretty dumb. I’m looking at you, guy who ran away from me and went right off a cliff.
Along with the campaign, Sniper Elite 4 also features both co-op and competitive multiplayer modes. And while none are as engaging as the campaign, there are some that work better than others.
If you’re the competitive type, Sniper Elite 4 includes such requisite multiplayer modes as “Deathmatch” and “Team Deathmatch,” though they’re nothing you haven’t played before. Slightly more interesting are “Distance King” and “Team Distance King,” where the objective is not to kill the most enemies, but to do so from a distance, with the winner being the one whose total shot length is highest. But the most fun is had in “No Cross,” which is basically “Team Deathmatch” but with the two teams separated by a barrier, which not only forces you to snipe, but also to be especially sneaky.
Similarly, the co-op modes in Sniper Elite 4 also vary in quality. Like “Team Deathmatch” in multiplayer, this game’s requisite “Survival” mode offers nothing new. You can also play the campaign with a friend, though this ruins the game’s lone wolf vibe that makes stalking your prey so compelling. But what can be fun, if you find someone good to play it with, is “Overwatch,” in which one person is the sniper and the other is the spotter.
While most of the improvements in Sniper Elite 4 are restricted to the campaign, some do impact the co-op and multiplayer modes as well. For instance, while the controls in Sniper Elite 3 needed to be adjusted to work right, Sniper Elite 4‘s are solid from the get-go. They’ve also fixed the sensitivity of the button prompts; you no longer have to be in just the right spot for them to appear.
Unfortunately, all three modes in Sniper Elite 4 have a problem, and it’s one that so common these days that I just slightly rewrote the same paragraph from my Sniper Elite 3 review: some of the type is too small. Unless you sit really, really close to your TV — y’know, like your mama told you not to — you’ll have a hard time reading the mission objectives, the subtitles, and some of the menu text.
Even with these shortcomings, though, Sniper Elite 4 is still exciting, compelling, and often effortless sneaky shooter, even if you only play the campaign. The expanding of the battlefields really adds a lot to the challenge and tension, making this feel new and revitalized. So much that you’ll probably play this multiple times…without getting tired.