First Thoughts: Sniper Elite 4 is bigger, tougher, headshottier

Rebellion’s latest World War II long-range-headshot romp, Sniper Elite 4, expands on the series in some satisfying ways.

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First Thoughts: Sniper Elite 4 is bigger, tougher, headshottier

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of lining up a long-range shot on a patrolling Nazi goon, taking the wind and bullet-drop into account, and unleashing a shot that slows time, spins into bullet cam, and shows the painful evisceration of said Sieg-Heiling goon in glorious X-ray view. It’s one of those gimmicks that never fails to get old, not even across games, and it’s as good as it’s ever been in Sniper Elite 4.

The only time it’s a tad jarring is in cooperative play. It’s fine when you’re the one taking the shot, because you know it’s about to make that familiar time-slowing noise, and drag you away from what you were just looking at. When you’re trying to shift stealthily through the Italian countryside, though, and you’re suddenly dragged into the perspective of your co-op partner’s shot, well, it never ceases to make me jump.

One of the first things you’ll notice about Sniper Elite 4 on PC is how pretty it is compared to what came before. I recently revisited Sniper Elite 3, and while it’s not exactly an ugly game, it’s not the kind of game you show off as an example of impressive visual fidelity. For Sniper Elite 4, I’ve got everything set on High (there’s also an Ultra setting), and it looks beautiful, which is complemented by the reality that it runs close to 100fps, too (at 1080p on my GTX 980).

There were some moments online where that frame rate tanked, but that appeared to be more to do with a couple of odd networking issues more so than optimisation black holes (unlike my recent experience with Resident Evil VII). A short tutorial, thankfully, doesn’t outstay its welcome before you’re introduced to the next big addition to the series: wide-open space.

Sure, Sniper Elite has had open-ish areas in the past, but it also liked to funnel you between points in a way that felt more gamey than natural. That’s all changed for Sniper Elite 4. When you encounter your first obvious vantage point, the entire level is there in front of you. Granted, it’s a little odd that you can’t be prone all the way up to the edge of these sniping nests, but crouched shots feel just as effective, as long as you haven’t been sprinting recently.

Those same hardcore mechanics come into play, in terms of heart rate, holding your breath before the shot, as well as gravity and wind, which means it’s particularly punishing on the highest difficulty. That was my first cooperative experience and, as it turns out, I don’t really have the patience for the most hardcore of sniping simulators, even if I can appreciate that the option is there.

Dropping the difficulty to Hard meant it was more forgiving on the ballistics (you can still slow time and have an assisting reticle), but the enemy AI is brutal. At times. It’s a shame the AI drifts between coordinated and Stormtrooper (of the Imperial variety) in terms of its intelligence, because they’re a dogged threat when you’ve alerted them to your presence.

They’ll shoot at you, incredibly accurately, the moment they have line of sight, so long grass can become your enemy, and solid objects are essential to discouraging incoming Krupp rounds. There was another time that long grass helped me marvel at the enemy AI which, ultimately and unfortunately for my suspension of disbelief, ended in disappointment.

The enemy was at high alert as I’d been treating one particular area like it was the O.K. Corral. Eager to test the concealment mechanics, I dashed into a nearby bush and waited for enemy reinforcements to arrive. At first, a rifle-wielding soldier arrived, sprinting between cover, before sliding into a well-protected spot just opposite my last-seen ‘ghost’.

He waved over a fellow soldier, armed with an SMG, and he also slammed into cover nearby. Fearing I was nearby, the first guy used hand signals to indicate to the other that he wanted him to jump over the fence and flank around to my last-known position. The man nodded and rolled over the fence to follow the order.

At this point, I was pretty damn impressed. It wasn’t until the SMG-toting grunt wandered through my bush and I had no choice but to kill him that it all fell apart. I opted for a stealth takedown, just to see how the first guy—who was looking right at us during the deathly animation—would react. He did nothing. Free kill, and the oblivious first soldier received a silenced Welrod shot to the head for his incompetence.

Had that situation played out differently, I’d likely be marvelling at Sniper Elite 4’s cunning AI. As it stands, outside of that blunder, the baddies are sufficiently threatening. I’d often disrespect them and take shots at one in a group, only to be perforated by the others. The rifle (obviously) reigns supreme in Sniper Elite 4, but falling back on the SMG (now with more abundant ammo) is satisfyingly tricky at even mid-range thanks to a hell of a lot of recoil.

It’s a simple mechanic that dissuades you from treating Sniper Elite 4 as an open-world run-and-gun game and, instead, relegates the SMG to what it should be in this kind of game: a backup for when the schizer hits the fan and a bolt-action rifle won’t cut it. That said, it still does sufficient damage if you can control the recoil. That opening mission took me an hour to complete, and I wasn’t even taking a completionist approach to it.

Cooperatively, we ended up rage-quitting it after a few failed attempts. The second mission fared a lot better for us, and despite a similarly open presentation, it felt satisfyingly distinct from the opening level. Where the first map has longer lines of sight and sections of cover, the second map was set within a town, which meant frantic firefights often broke out with enemies that you didn’t know were around the next corner, or camped out above you.

This added a fantastic sense of tension to moving through the game world, and also rewarded thorough reconnaissance as well as simple buddy tactics where one player moves in close with an SMG and the other provides overwatch from a great vantage spot.

Overall, I was impressed with the simple improvements in Sniper Elite 4. The ladders are greatly improved, but still frustrating when trying to descend. Outside of that, the shift towards truly open spaces creates a sandbox shooting experience where patience and well-timed shots (masked by sound) are just as rewarding as frantic moments where the best laid plans fall apart.

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