Sniper Elite 4 is the game that fans of very long-range shooting have been waiting to play. Even the previous title in the series, Sniper Elite 3, while a good game overall, never got close to the polish that Sniper Elite 4 offers. In fact, in anticipation of the release of SE4, I want back and played the entire SE3 game, so I’m in a great position to make some comparisons. But basically, SE4 surpasses its predecessor in every way, but especially in shooting mechanics and level design.
Sniper Elite 4’s plot follows the previous game and is still set during World War II. Only you are done in north Africa. Instead, OSS sniper Karl Fairburne is sent to Italy to solve whatever problems the combined armies of the United States, England and the other allies can’t tackle. Like in SE3, there is an overall plot involving another superweapon. Only instead of a giant tank, which was a little bit of a ridiculous concept as a war-changing weapon, this time the Nazis are working on a radio-guided missile. Historical buffs will be pleased with that, as the Nazis did develop a radio-guided bomb in real life, and deployed it successfully against the Italian Navy once that country switched sides. In Sniper Elite 4, the Nazi’s took that technology and mounted it on a V1 type rocket to create a creditable superweapon.
You find out about the weapon in the very opening cut scene, so there are no spoilers in that. For the rest of the game you are tasked with missions to find out more information about the weapon, to recruit allies like partisans and the mafia to help out, and to destroy production facilities and the supply lines that are feeding the weapon’s development. You will also be given a ton of secondary objectives, some of them seemingly more important than your main mission objectives.
There are many improvements in Sniper Elite 4, but one of the biggest that is going to be experienced right off the bat in the very first tutorial-type mission on San Celini island, is the scope of the new game. The levels are huge. Whereas in SE3 you might be shooting across an airstrip or something like that, in SE4, you may find yourself firing across an entire valley, aiming at a sniper positioned on a distant bridge. Most of my shots in SE4 have fallen into the 100 to 200-yard range, but I have had a few that I hit at just over 500 yards where the target was barely in my scope.
The developers have said that even the smallest level in Sniper Elite 4 is three times as large as the biggest one in SE3. This also tends to lengthen playtime as you creep around observing your enemies and set yourself up for the perfect shot. Some levels took me over four hours to complete, but I had a great time doing it and never felt bored with all the new territory.
The shooting mechanics are also greatly improved, and at higher levels takes into account things like the wind direction, gravity, and the muzzle velocity of your weapon. You can change your scope settings to adjust for range, and need to if you have any hope of hitting at longer distances. I generally played the game on Hard difficulty, and was pleased that all those things were considered, yet done in such a way that the game was still playable and fun. Fairburne takes all the environmental factors into account in his head when you enter slow-time mode, so it’s still more challenging than just putting the crosshair over a target, but doesn’t require a slide ruler.
You may also find yourself using your submachine gun and pistol a lot more than before. Both seem to be a lot more effective and most pistols can be silenced to make for a perfect assassination weapon.
The guns in general are also much more detailed now, and Rebellion Developments added a monetary mechanic whereby you can unlock new primary and secondary weapons, plus a variety of pistols, by spending that cash. You get a couple dollars, called tokens, every time you complete a mission or earn medals, and the guns are cheap at only a few dollars each, so getting enough money together to buy what you want isn’t too difficult. In addition to buying guns you can also buy new loadouts like TNT, grenades and medical packs. Once unlocked, the option to take them on a mission is forever unlocked, so you only have to buy each weapon or item one time.
Weapons can also be improved and gain better statistics. To do that, you must perform certain fairly difficult tasks, which the game tracks. You can level up most weapons in terms of the damage they do, but some can also be improved to grant more stability or higher muzzle velocities. Tasks include things like getting 50 headshots, making 100 kills under 10 yards, targeting specific organs like kidneys and other diverse sniping and shooting challenges. Some are harder than others, like making ricochet kills, explosive environmental kills or killing people by shooting through something else like a wooden barrel or a door frame. Each weapon can have three of its attributes upgraded. Once the challenge is met, the bonus is automatically applied. When you earn all three substantive upgrades, a final challenge unlocks. Complete that, and your weapon gets a new golden skin, though its performance remains the same.
A few weapons require special challenges just to obtain. For example, to be able to equip a Luger pistol at the start of each mission, you must first kill five officers in close combat. To get the shotgun, you need to kill a rival sniper with a shotgun. So, for that, you have to find a shotgun in a level, and then get close enough to a sniper to make a kill with it. I did that one, but it was a pain, and the shotgun wasn’t worth it in my opinion. Instead I use a slow-firing, high damaging SMG as my secondary weapon, fully upgraded and even golden skinned.
I have a little bit of a problem with what the developers did in terms of new weapons. There are several unique weapons, including ones with silencers, which can only be obtained by buying them as DLC packs. Given how much being able to shoot silently changes the entire mechanics of the game, having a silenced rifle, pistol and SMG available, but only as paid DLC, smells a bit too much like “pay to win” to me. Why force players to pony up a couple more dollars for an overpowered rifle after they already spent $50 or so on the core game?
Thankfully, you can buy silenced bullets with in-game money, which means that most rifles and pistols can operate silently in a limited capacity. Using quiet bullets adds a temporary silencer to your gun, even though it’s the bullets which are supposedly silent. But even if you max out the number of silent bullets you can carry, something I always do, you only have about 20 shots worth for each weapon. Then it’s back to the odd mechanic carry-over from SE3 where you find a generator, kick it, and use the sputtering noise it makes to mask your gunshots.
Getting back to the core game, the levels are beautiful. A few are even breathtaking. They are also much more vertically accessible than in SE3. Especially when you are in villages and towns, the ability to get up to higher floors, roofs and other perches is something that most snipers will want to heavily invest some time in finding. If your objective is too heavily guarded, there is probably an alternative route to get there, and it might just be above you. The levels are also packed with environmental kill opportunities. Trucks and even tanks still have weak spots, but there are also lots of gas tanks and oil drums scattered about. You can target them with your binoculars and then hit them with a shot when a group of enemy soldiers or a powerful vehicle is nearby.
And yes, the classic X-Ray camera is back. When you take a sniper shot, many times you will see the bullet fly through the air in slow-motion, eventually drilling into a target where you get to see all the damage the projectile is doing. It’s kind of gross really, but also really cool. And you can target specific organs if you like, hitting foes from their brain down to their testicles – the latter of which I try to reserve as a special hello from me to SS officers I encounter.
The AI of your opponents is greatly improved as well. They are much smarter now than before and take a lot more time hunting you when something is amiss. They will set up covering fire for each other and advance slowly, directing others to go around to try and flank your last-known position. Fire and move tactics are critical now. There are even special enemies like radiomen who will call for reinforcements or spotters who can drop artillery on you if you don’t take care of them quickly. All in all, it’s a much more living, realistic world populated by lots of people who want to kill you.
In addition to the core mission, Sniper Elite 4 also comes with several extra modes which are almost as fun. Solo survival makes a return, where you have to fight waves and waves of enemies and enemy vehicles, only the enemies are much smarter now and more diverse. You get credit for kills and also how many waves you can survive. There are 12 in each of the maps. As a side note, the solo missions are perfect for upgrading your weapons by performing those aforementioned tasks. Especially if you set the game to easy for the solo survival runs, leveling up most guns is not too hard. I maxed out the stats on an SMG and got halfway through a pistol upgrade doing two solo survival runs.
There is also a multiplayer mode which is not unlike other games like CoD that have similar arenas for player versus player combat. The difference here is that everyone is a sniper, obviously, and the levels are pretty huge. So, they can turn into slow-paced, long-range duels instead of short range free-for-all slugfests, though surprisingly, this does not happen as much as you might think. Still, having snipers with talent on your side goes a long way to victory.
Anyone who likes snipers will love Sniper Elite 4. It’s much less gimmicky than its predecessor, and plays much more like a sniper simulation now, while also being fun and exciting as only a videogame can. While lots of games are adding sniper elements these days, only Sniper Elite 4 truly focuses on it with realistic shooting mechanics, smart enemies and an action-packed plot that is sure to make any long-range shooting enthusiast very happy.