Snipers have to be good at a few things. The list looks something like this: sneaky, patient, accurate, innovative, and familiar with their weapons. They also need a thick skin, because they’re slimy, lowlife, basement-dwelling campers – at least according to everyone in a game of Call of Duty.
Sniper Elite 4 is set in Italy during World War II (1943 to be exact), and follows on from the events of Sniper Elite 3. Aside from featuring the same main dude, one Karl Fairburne, Sniper Elite 4 isn’t linked to the series’ previous entries in such a way that you’d need to play the previous titles to fully enjoy this one. The game’s plot sees you working with the Italian resistance to further the Allies’ cause, and your reward is that you get to sleep soundly knowing that you helped bring everyone a step closer to world peace. That, and a Hawaiian pizza to go (hold the pineapple).
The game’s Italian setting is beautiful. During your stay you’ll visit sleepy coastal towns, lush forests and imposing mountains. Of course, you’ll also be leaving a trail of blood, bone fragments and grey matter in your wake. You’re able to explore each location pretty comprehensively, because Sniper Elite 4 is now somewhat open world, or more accurately, open map. Each map is massive, filled with collectibles and unique locations. Finding the game’s secrets often involves climbing ladders, jumping out of windows and shimmying along ledges. There’s a lot more verticality in this latest iteration of the game, and it’s very well implemented.
You’re able to approach any of the multiple objectives on each map any way you’d like. Just don’t complete the main objectives first, or you won’t get to do the optional objectives – like rescuing a stranded pilot because you decided to blow up a bridge first. Poor dude. I hope he’s okay. There‘s a liberal scattering of these side-quests at each location, and they range from eliminating checkpoints to blowing up a downed Allied plane while rescuing the pilot. Sorry buddy. I really wanted to do that mission, but it was pretty late at night and I was already halfway across the bridge. Main objectives are clearly marked on each map, but side missions are demarcated by vague circles. It’s up to you to scout each area and, using a little ingenuity, complete the secondary objectives. It’s a fun approach, and if you complete everything on medium difficulty each of the eight missions should take you around two hours. There’s a lot of sneaking and planning involved.
The difficulty levels are well graded. If you screw things up on easy and medium you’ll be able to shoot your way out of most situations. Enemies will forget you just murdered their best friends and quickly get back to their daily patrols and tasks. The harder settings not only increase the difficulty of long-range shots, but also make you softer and the enemy tougher. At the most brutal end of the scale, expect a very long and satisfying game – if that’s your thing.
There are other fun things for Karl to do, like booby-trapping bodies and laying explosives in the path of armoured vehicles. The game allows you to manipulate enemy forces in an impressive number of ways. Silently kill an enemy and booby trap the corpse. Toss a stone to attract the attention of another guard. The guard checks the body and boom, another one down. Make a noise near an explosive barrel, which funnels three guards towards it. Fire a single shot at the barrel, and that’s three foes for the price of a rock and a bullet. This is one way of doing things. The more traditional approach is hiding in cover and picking off the bad guys one by one. Most locations feature noise pollution such as planes buzzing overhead or artillery fire in the distance. These noisy distractions provide the perfect mask for your shots. Time things correctly and you can accomplish most objectives without alerting anyone. In case you’re wondering: yes, you can pick up and stack dead bodies in grotesque heaps to avoid detection.
There’s a lot going on in Sniper Elite 4 and you can play it in many ways. Karl has a decent selection of novelty equipment, but the one area that’s a little lacking is the arsenal. You can play through the entire game with the rifle you’re given at the start. There just isn’t enough benefit in changing weapons to make it worth even checking their stats. You do get different types of ammunition, and switching to silenced rounds, for example, is an excellent idea for crowded spots. That said, the guns on offer are just a little dull. It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s one of the few complaints I have.
Overall, the core, meat-and-potatoes of the game is sound. The good old X-ray vision that’s become a Sniper Elite staple makes a welcome return, triggering whenever your shots find their target. It’s still great, and never seems to get tired. When it first hit the scene it was a hypnotic experience, and it turns every shot into a competition to see what part of the body you can destroy next. You’re able to play co-op as well, with you and a buddy free to head off in different directions. Player one can hit the optional objectives while player two works on priority tasks, for example. It’s great fun and actually a little tense, considering friendly fire is a thing. Putting bullets into a moving bush without proper target identification might not be such a good idea in cooperative play.
There’s also a horde mode called Survival in the co-op menu, which sees you fending off waves of increasingly tough enemies, while protecting your cache of supplies. These supplies are an endless source of bullets and other toys, so you’ll have to guard them for as long as you can or you’re going to end up in trouble.
Sniper Elite 4 is a classy, sniper-focused shooter. The game features a number of innovations and new things that differentiate it from the previous game by a large margin. There’s more stuff to do and more ways to do the new stuff. You can pretty much play it any way you like, which is rare for a game like this.