After waiting in line for over two hours, we were hoping that our first hands-on with Sniper Elite 4 would be worth the wait. Dropped straight into the third mission from Rebellion’s upcoming shooter, we immediately recognised the franchise we were playing; which you would think would be a good thing. Unfortunately, this recognition largely came from the fact that Elite 4 feels, plays and even looks the same as 2012’s Sniper Elite II.
Most notably, the franchise’s iconic kill-cam animations – which occur when you hit that perfect shot – of your bullet slowly ripping through the bone and muscle of your target are identical to those used in both Elite II and 2014’s Sniper Elite III.
What is different is the improved reticle that shows you where your bullet is actually going to hit, after taking wind and bullet drop into consideration. Orange represents a non-lethal hit whereas red means dead. Following complaints of Sniper Elite II being too difficult, Elite III introduced a crosshair that turned red when you were aiming in the right vicinity, and Elite 4 takes it to that in-your-face level of obviousness. While this certainly makes the game more accessible to sniping newcomers, we couldn’t help but feel our kills felt somewhat less rewarding as a result.
Set in World War II Italy, our Axis-affiliated enemies were testing a large rail gun that would every so often create a deafening bang when fired. While it wasn’t immediately obvious, we soon discovered that the sound would mask our gunfire for a small amount of time. Picking off an enemy during this window allows you to do so without too much suspicion and also give you bonus points for awareness. It seems, from this demo at least, that silenced heavy-duty weapons still aren’t present so you need to find a way around that yourself.
As has been a problem with the franchise so far, once you’re spotted by enemies for one of a huge list of reasons, you might as well restart because there isn’t much you can do to save yourself. Enemies will swarm on your position, though you now see a ghost-like outline of where they think you are. You have no chance of being able to pick anyone off from close range with a sniper rifle as they run towards you, but luckily you have a side-pistol and sub-machine gun to switch between with a simple tap of a d-pad direction. It’s not as subtle as an elite sniper should be, but it’ll get the job done.
Graphically, there are far better games on current platforms. The environmental colours are quite drab and bland, while character models don’t feel as polished as we’ve come to expect from games of this generation like Metal Gear Solid, Uncharted and The Order. Granted, the game is still in alpha stages so we have to exercise a little caution, but in terms of graphics it looks no different to previous releases in the series.
Returning features include the binoculars that allow you to spot and tag your enemies to follow their movements. It goes without saying that this is a vital part of making sure you know what’s going on around you and when the perfect time is to strike. Tapping L1 brings up your inventory menu, where you can use supplies to heal yourself or equip some not-so-subtle grenades. These can be taken into a mission with you at the start but also sparingly found dotted around the area.
The map we found ourselves in the middle of was huge, with a ravine in front of us, woods to the left and a whole village to the right. This is what we want from a sniping game and it gives players a wide range of options and decisions to make. If you wanted, you could get up close and personal too, sneak around to your target and complete the mission. Alternatively, you could find a nice patch of grass and pick everybody off in a two mile radius and skip to the end.
One of the developers told us that fans of the series enjoyed it due to it feeling more like an extension of previous games. They haven’t reinvented the wheel, for better or worse, but they haven’t improved on it much either. New fans to the series we spoke to gave it very mixed reviews, though perhaps this is partly due to the steep learning curve caused by sophistication of sniping compared to that featured in other first-person shooters such as Call of Duty.
Overall, despite a few subtle tweaks, Sniper Elite 4 did little to capture our imagination. If you enjoyed the previous titles in the series, then there’s something for you here. If, however, you just found them passable and were hoping for something new to rekindle your interest in the franchise, then you’re less likely to find anything for you.
Sniper Elite 4 is due for release on February 14, 2017.