Sniper Elite 4 is the latest installment in Rebellion's cult stealth series, which rose to fame for its impressive sniping mechanics, satisfying bullet-time kill cams, and open locations.
Sniper Elite III launched on Xbox One back in 2014, taking its winning formula to the deserts of World War 2 (WW2) Africa. While it provided a satisfying, action-packed stealth-'em-up that was more than worth the price of admission, it was rough around the edges, to say the least.
Rebellion isn't rocking Grand Theft Auto-sized budgets or Assassin's Creed-sized dev teams, but for what they lack in brute force, they make up in pure passion, and it permeates every aspect of Sniper Elite 4. Rebellion has perfected Sniper Elite's formula with its fourth edition, bringing the bells and whistles you might expect of a huge "AAA-style" franchise for the first time.
Sniper Elite 4: In brief
Sniper Elite 4 is a slick and satisfying stealth shooter that fans of the franchise will love. Rebellion has worked hard to inject flair and polish that previously eluded the series, elevating the experience. Dynamic lighting and crisp 1080p visuals complement huge maps brimming with exploration opportunities and environmental detail. They are a pleasure not only to traverse but also to do battle in.
Sniper Elite 4's signature gunplay is back, and it's better than ever. Never will a bullet clip an invisible wall or poorly conceived hitbox, every bullet from Karl Fairburne's rifle will find its mark, providing you aim correctly.
Sniper Elite 4 doesn't revolutionize its gameplay systems. Instead, it builds upon what worked in previous titles while throwing the player new features and toys, including x-ray kill cams for explosions and stealth melee kills. I would've liked to have seen Rebellion stray a little bit from the safety of Sniper Elite's formula, but that certainly doesn't detract from the experience as a whole. This is a must-buy for fans of the genre — few stealth games are this satisfying.
See Sniper Elite 4 on the Xbox Store
Fight them on the beaches
Visuals, setting and story
As a fan of Sniper Elite 3, I can say with confidence that Sniper Elite 4 ticks all the right boxes that a sequel should, at least in the design department.
Sniper Elite 4 takes place after the events of the previous game, as Karl Fairburne takes the war to fascist WW2 Italy. Along the way, he'll join up with the local resistance movement, and work to destabilize Mussolini's harsh regime. Additionally, Fairburne is working to prevent the Nazis from deploying technological prototypes that could give them an edge in the desperate war.
Without giving too much away, the campaign in Sniper Elite 4 is a huge jump in quality from Sniper Elite 3, both in terms of performance and depth. Karl Fairburne breaks out of his shell a little bit between missions, with opportunities to converse with supporting characters to receive optional missions and other information.
He's still a little one-dimensional, however. It would have been nice to see Karl's personality evolve in the same way B.J. Blazkowics grew in 2014's Wolfenstein: The New Order.
A lot of Karl's dialogue is delivered by internal monolog, and he continues to portray the unwavering '80s action hero with emotionless stoicism and impenetrable professionalism. I think future Sniper Elite games could afford to plunge deeper into the depravity of WW2 and deliver something a little more authentic or explore Karl Fairburne's personality in more detail, but perhaps it wouldn't fit in a game that allows you to snipe people's testicles in slow motion. Sniper Elite 4 isn't here to get too political, but it does inject a human element into its setting, which is a little refreshing.
Sniper Elite 4's levels are scattered with collectible letters and other correspondence which offer some insight into the motivations of the evil forces Karl must eliminate. Nazism was fascist, but not all Germans were Nazis, and not all Italians supported Mussolini.
Sniper Elite 4 makes this point poignantly through the mundane banter between its non-player character (NPC) cannon fodder, in addition to those letters, and intelligence reports you receive when you tag enemies with your binoculars. Reading that an NPC Nazi was forced to join the army against his will just might give you pause when you're considering going for that testicle shot.
Speaking of which, those slow-motion, nut-popping kill cams render at an excruciating 1080p on Xbox One, without a single dropped frame or screen tear in sight. Rebellion has done a truly tremendous job with Sniper Elite 4's engine and visuals, which are as vibrant as they are detailed.
In a game that hinges almost entirely on sniping, long-draw distances are a must, and Sniper Elite 4 delivers. The game might not have the most photo-realistic environments, and it lacks things like dynamic weather that you might have come to expect of games of this type, but the art direction and careful design of the game's maps more than make up for it. The Italian peninsula is recreated wonderfully, offering a range of diverse terrain, from forests to vibrant coastal towns and mountainous regions. There is a ton of variety to enjoy in Sniper Elite 4.
Sniper Elite 4 plays very similarly to Sniper Elite 3 overall, with tighter mechanics, more realistic animations, and piles of polish. Sniper Elite 4 is a quintessential stealth game, where players are tasked to navigate large open-world maps crammed with opportunities to explore and exploit enemy weaknesses. The A.I. isn't anything revolutionary, but it's smart enough to create a challenge that constantly asks players to think and adapt to the evolving situation.
If you're familiar with any modern stealth game, Sniper Elite 4 is fairly intuitive. Crawl through grass or shadows to stay out of sight, sprinting with dead bodies is a sure-fire way to get seen, and firing unsilenced weapons will alert your position to enemy sentries.
That's why Rebellion gives the players all manner of gadgets and gizmos to overcome the game's challenges, including various new toys that make gameplay all the more satisfying.
Lure enemies into tripwire mines to cause chain explosions, resulting in glorious and gory slow-motion x-ray kill cams that only Mortal Kombat can compete with. Seeing an enemy's heart shatter into fragments in slow motion adds fist-pounding impact to every level of Sniper Elite's combat. The game will also reward players with X-ray cinematics for stealth melee kills, compensating the patient, methodical gamer.
Of course, no game with "Sniper" in the title would be complete without stellar marksman gunplay, and Sniper Elite continues to be at the forefront of the business. Sniper Elite bullet ballistics are still fine-tuned with razor precision. Never will your bullet get stuck on an invisible wall or rogue hitbox — what you see down your sights is what you get in Sniper Elite 4, and it allows you to snipe with confidence, even when taking awkward shots through tight gaps.
Sniper Elite's slow-motion lung meter returns for the game's basic modes, but you can play on Authentic mode if you want that true real-time sniping experience, where bullet trajectory and gravity enjoy a more prominent role in gameplay. Sniper Elite 4's lung meter provides gravity hints otherwise, and grants signature X-ray kill cams based on where your bullet lands. You can use external noise from sabotaged generators or overhead jets to silence your gunfire and even make use of the game's suppressed rifle rounds, which provide some limited opportunities for stealth sniping in quiet areas.
Still, you'll often have to be up close and personal, and Karl Fairburne has some new skills in his arsenal that allow him to traverse with deadly volition. Rebellion has designed Sniper Elite 4's maps with verticality in mind, allowing players to climb, leap and vault between areas that would've been unreachable in Sniper Elite 3.
This opens up the game to a wide array of new tactics, enabling players to decide whether to snipe all the enemies from afar, or cut through close quarters style. Either strategy is viable, and that's the whole point in Sniper Elite 4 — it allows you to play your way, even adding customizable talents, skills and weaponry to tackle the game's various missions. Beyond Sniper Elite 4's base stealth gameplay, the campaign is crammed with epic and explosive set pieces that are reminiscent of Hollywood, which should keep you hooked throughout its beefy story. Sniper Elite 4 is just pure fun, end to end.
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In addition to a stellar two-player co-op campaign, Sniper Elite 4 also features competitive multiplayer and a Gears of War Horde-like survival mode, allowing players to face off and strategize against waves of increasingly difficult enemies. Unfortunately, I haven't had much opportunity to try out the game's online modes, but I'll add an addendum here as soon as the servers are populated with players.
Sniper Elite 4 comprises a rich package of great content that should keep players coming back for more, particularly if you want to hit its completionist goals of optional missions, collectible objectives and more. Those of you who dare to try out Sniper Elite 4's punishing Authentic mode could easily lose dozens of hours to the campaign, where patience becomes absolutely critical.
I would have liked to see Sniper Elite evolve even further beyond its technical upgrades, gaining a little maturity perhaps, or going a little deeper on the game's simulation aspects. It's still a little uncanny when enemies ignore dead bodies after seeing them once, and at times, Sniper Elite 4 feels a little too familiar.
- Exciting, industry-leading sniper action
- Huge open world maps, tons of content
- Dynamic stealth gameplay
- Great engine, visuals, and sound
- Few risks taken with the formula
- Karl Fairburne could stand to be less one-dimensional
Still, Rebellion is on track to become an essential AAA studio with Sniper Elite 4. The bottom line: If you were a fan of previous Sniper Elite games — you have to buy this game. If you're a fan of stealth games in general — you have to buy this game. If you were holding off due to Sniper Elite's historical lack of AAA polish — you have to buy this game. Sniper Elite's fourth installment propels the series into the big leagues for the first time, and Rebellion deserves every shred of praise.
Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!