Sniper Elite 4 Review

By Kevin Tavore,
There's one fantasy in the shooter genre that just about everyone seems to love. You'll creep through the forest or the town, carefully marking targets and silencing them with your sniper. One by one the enemies fall with their friends none the wiser. At the end of the mission you'll end up with a death count that would put a butcher to shame and you'll have done it all without getting within a hundred meters of your target. That fantasy captures a primal feeling of glee that leaves you feeling absolutely satisfied by the cold and systematic destruction of an unaware enemy army. It's something not a lot of games can get right but it's what Sniper Elite 4 is all about.


Sniper Elite 4 is set in Italy. It's a location we don't often get to see in World War II games and after playing through it, I'm not quite sure why. The Italian countryside is the subject of many vacations for families and lovers alike for good reason — it's absolutely beautiful. World War II was a grim and dark time, but the majesty of Italy still shines through in the first part of the game. The beginning levels are gorgeous. You'll visit the Mediterranean beach, a forested canyon, and a seaside town. Each location is thoughtfully unique and it's a background that's simply enjoyable to sneak through.

The beauty of the beginning is sadly in stark contrast to the dull military bases and warehouses that make up the majority of the rest of the levels. For every bit as wonderful that the beginning is, the later half is as unremarkable as any shooter ever was to the point that I can barely even remember what the locations look like. There are still trees and the like, but there's nothing fresh about that later half. The issue is not so much that the second half has a poor artistic direction — it's that the first few levels set a standard the rest of the game simply couldn't meet.

But Sniper Elite 4 isn't made as a visual masterpiece; it aims to capture the feeling of being a sniper in all the best ways. Many game series have tackled this in the past with mixed results. The first modern example is Halo 1's Truth and Reconciliation and the most famous take on the theme is probably Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare's All Ghillied Up mission where players sneak, stab, and snipe their way through the mission under the guidance of a master. Each of these offered a fantastic experience that left players wanting more and that's what Sniper Elite 4 is all about. If you ever wanted eight missions of All Ghillied Up then you've got it right here, although the old maxim of "too much of a good thing" rings particularly true.

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Intuitively you'll no doubt expect Sniper Elite 4 to focus on sniping, but the game is more than that. It's got a gameplay design shared with Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist. You'll spend time sniping, but you'll also spend time crouching in the bushes as your enemies pass you by. You'll creep around a corner and slit a throat. You'll use your silenced pistol to end a guard who's in your path. At least on lower difficulties, it's really up to you to decide how you want to play the game and any style — even a run and gun with a machine gun — can be effective. No matter how you play, you're rewarded with the series signature kill shots that show x-ray vision and the slow motion destruction of bones and organs in your targets that results from your sniper shots, grenades, and knife. It makes for a visceral experience quite unlike other games.

Sniper Elite 4 is not an open world game. You'll select a mission and a loadout and be dropped into an area to complete specific objectives, but this is a sniping game so the areas need to be big. In Sniper Elite 4's case, this means the levels are truly massive. The total landmass would certainly dwarf many open world games and each of the levels alone would have been a respectably-sized world in itself during the early 360 years. These sprawling levels mean two things. First, you've got freedom. You can approach your objectives however you want and on subsequent replays you can do it differently. Second, it means the world isn't finely tuned.

Any open world needs to have things to do inside of it. There's no benefit to the size of the world if there's no value to the exploration. Sniper Elite 4's answer to this is optional objectives and collectibles. You'll be sent to every corner of every map searching for documents, letters, items to sabotage, and targets to kill. There's a reason to go anywhere in the game if you look for one but the issue is that it's always the same reason. Never once will you walk into a remote building and discover something exciting. There's nothing to find other than one of over 200 collectibles or a meager amount of XP from an optional objective. The awe of the size of the world will dissipate by the time you finish the fourth mission and from there it's just a grind to finish all the optional objectives. Venturing off into the wild never resulted in anything but regret.

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Sniping itself is also disappointing. It's World War II and silencers don't exist. When you fire a shot, your enemies will notice... and there are a lot of enemies. If you fire too many shots from one place, usually about three, your enemies will pinpoint you and engage in open attack. To combat this, you need to constantly be on the move. You fire a shot and then you find a new position; this prevents the enemies from triangulating your position and ruining your day. Sadly, this isn't a particularly fun way to play the game — sniping is fun but constantly repositioning really isn't. If you do make a mistake and become detected, things really go quite bad. You'll have just signed up for a solid five minutes of running away while trying to get out of the line of sight of enemies. At some point, it feels like sniping is punished more than it's rewarded.

As a result, most of your gameplay will be spent with your trusty silenced pistol. The pistol is by far the best weapon to ensure you remain undetected. It won't alert enemies when you fire it and that means you'll be able to move from objective to objective without abject frustration. This reliance on the pistol is further compounded by the poor AI that seems to be unable to detect you. Most missions you can crouch sprint to the objectives without ever triggering combat with an enemy. Sure, they will see you, but their awareness doesn't fill up fast enough to actually trigger combat. If you do end up with an unavoidable enemy, a quick pistol shot ends them and you're on your way once again. It's by far the easiest way to play Sniper Elite 4 and that's a shame. While making our video review above, Will made a joke that the game should have been named Pistol Elite 4. It's a humorous idea until you realize how depressingly true that is.

The game has four difficulties on which you can play. The game's highest difficulty, Authentic, is likely to be a source of significant anger for many players looking to complete the game. What it does right is offer a pseudo-realistic sniping simulation where you'll need to account for distance in your shots instead of pointing the crosshairs dead on and firing. I'm not qualified to judge whether this accurately depicts real sniping, but it's at least fun and unique. Unfortunately the difficulty is ultimately a failure despite treating sniping well. Chief among its issues is that there is no UI whatsoever. This means no HUD to determine your ammo and health, no distance markers, and no objective markers at all.

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Sniper Elite 4 is not a game designed with this in mind. The game offers no indication outside of objective markers about where you should go, so when you load up Authentic you'll either need to have a guide up, already know exactly where to go and what to do for each of the game's many objectives, or literally wander around looking for the objective until you quit the game. Authentic difficulty takes itself perhaps too seriously since any soldier going on a mission with a map would no doubt have marked on that map where his known objectives were. At some point the difficulty moves away from an interesting authentic experience and becomes an exercise in vexation.

Perhaps the greatest part of the game is the co-op campaign. All eight of the campaign missions can be played with a friend. You can set up shots together, run distractions, or just split the objectives up and work separately to do things faster. The world is at your fingertips and it's truly a great experience when you're playing with someone who plays like you. That makes it doubly sad to find out that the co-op specific missions are quite poor. One player is a sniper providing covering fire while the other completes the objectives on the ground. It's a promising concept that could have been fantastic, but thanks to poor line of sight, it feels much closer to playing alone than with a friend as you're rarely able to help each other when needed.

Beyond the co-op, there's also a run-of-the-mill competitive multiplayer that's exactly as forgettable as you'd worry it would be. Then there's a survival horde mode that is so bare bones there's hard to find anything good to say about it. The co-op campaign overshadows these other modes to such an extent you wonder why the developer even bothered with them. If the other modes had been as good, Sniper Elite 4 would have been a beacon in the industry.

Sniper Elite 4

The achievements are going to be quite a grind. You've got generic achievements for beating the game, of course, including on Authentic without making a manual save, although checkpoints are generally pretty forgiving so this extra requirement is no worry. Then there are achievements for the game's over 200 collectibles, which the developers sadistically hid all over the map and on the corpses of dead enemies, so you'll need to kill every enemy on each map. Those will make up the bulk of your time to completion, with miscellaneous achievements for seeing everything else and leveling up filling the rest of the list. If you're not into the completion, you'll be disappointed to hear that the score is backloaded and a playthrough on normal can easily net you less than 200 Gamerscore.

Summary

Sniper Elite 4 is a game that mainly succeeds at what it sets out to be. Thanks to an emphasis on freedom, you'll be able to play however you want. Sniping can be frustrating but ultimately effective if you want to make it work, while players who prefer less precise strategies will find a home here too. The entire game can be played with a friend and it's a fantastic co-op experience thanks to the many ways you can tackle a mission. However, the game is held back by poor balancing that renders the silenced pistol the most effective weapon, the truly awful AI that seems to actively try to not detect you even if you run in front of them, and a lack of worthwhile activities to play outside of the main campaign. If you hear the premise of Sniper Elite 4 and your first thought is "Wow does that sound awesome," then it's probably a game out of which you'll get some joy. For anyone else, it's a game worth playing but it might be better to wait for a sale.
3.5 / 5
Sniper Elite 4
Positives
  • Co-op play can be a ton of fun
  • Open worlds offer multiple paths to each objective
  • Sniping feels good
  • Visual impact makes each shot feel rewarding, if gruesome thanks to the x-ray kill shots
Negatives
  • Survival and competitive online modes are extremely dull and uninteresting
  • Enemy AI is poor
  • Silenced pistol is by far the most effective weapon, not a sniper rifle
  • Open worlds are big but full of filler content
Ethics
The reviewer spent eight hours patiently waiting, slitting throats silently, and pumping sniper shots into Nazi's half a world away. He collected 23 of 50 achievements for 305 Gamerscore. An Xbox One download code was provided by the ID@Xbox team for the purposes of this review.
Kevin Tavore
Written by Kevin Tavore
Kevin is a lover of all types of media, especially any type of long form story. The American equivalent of Aristotle, he'll write about anything and everything and you'll usually see him as the purveyor of news, reviews and the occasional op-ed. He's happy with any game that's not point and click or puzzling, but would always rather be outdoors in nature.
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