It has been more than 16 years since Rebellion first introduced the world to Karl Fairburne, an elite sniper serving with the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. Over the course of the previous Sniper Elite games, Karl has served as the staple protagonist while players put his undeniable marksman skills to the test to rid Europe of the Nazis. His travels have spread across North Africa, Italy, and Germany, in the lead-up to Sniper Elite 5 placing Fairburne in the midst of the French Resistance of 1944.
Karl's skills as a marksman are limited only by the player's ability to plan and execute stealth-reliant tactical takedowns. Particularly gruesome shots lead to the ever-popular Bullet Cam, a slow motion cinematic that shows the bullet's path to its intended target along with an X-ray cutaway of all the gruesome damage. I had the opportunity to go hands-on with Sniper Elite 5 and rack up some of those bullet cams for myself, including the fan-favorite Testicle Shot.
What is Sniper Elite 5?
Sniper Elite 5 is a tactical third-person/first-person hybrid shooter with heavy emphasis on stealth and mission planning. Our protagonist, Karl Fairburne, is an elite sniper operating with the Allied armies who is tasked with uncovering Nazi intel in France as part of the resistance. Exploring the world as Fairburne, but aiming down your weapon's sights will kick the first-person perspective into gear. Sniper Elite 5's addition to go first person while aiming down iron sights is a first for the franchise.
As previously mentioned, certain shots can lead to a particularly gruesome spectacle where time enters slow motion and the camera follows the bullet. These bullet cam shots are the bread and butter of the Sniper Elite franchise, giving players an X-ray cut scene that shows exactly how and where the bullet hit its target. The physics for these X-ray cams have received a face-lift for Sniper Elite 5, with bullets now ricocheting in realistic and unpredictable ways as a result of hitting bones. Additionally, SMGs and pistols now trigger these X-ray cams with time being slowed to show a successive series of shots and the carnage they create. Everybody will be very excited to know that the coveted Testicle Shot returns, and Sniper Elite 5's X-ray cam does not disappoint.
Each chapter of Sniper Elite 5's story presents a semi-open world map where players can explore and engage with the enemies in whatever ways they deem fit. There are countless ways to approach each chapter's challenges, whether it be guns blazing or full-blown pacifist and everything in between. It's entirely possible to approach a mission and never eliminate any of the Nazis in your path, choosing instead to dispatch them using non-lethal takedowns.
Visiting certain areas of the map can unlock new challenges or provide the player with different tools for overcoming obstacles. A locked door, for example, may require explosives to blow open, or the player can take the quieter route and find a guard with keys that can be pickpocketed, instead. There's value to wandering off of the beaten path to climb up some suspiciously placed vines under an open window, too.
Customization leads the charge
Customization has steadily evolved in the Sniper Elite franchise. Earlier games saw players only having access to a marksman rifle and a pistol, but as Karl's adventures have advanced so too has his access to firearms. Sniper Elite 5 gives players the option to create loadouts to their liking with a marksman, SMG, and pistol all being available from the start of each mission. Additional equipment such as trip mines and grenades can also be added to your loadout. Karl, himself, is customizable with a collection of upgrades that players can unlock with skill points.
So many opportunities to customize your loadout can lead to disaster in a tactical game, unfortunately, and Rebellion has prepared for this by leaving a few workbenches carefully placed for players to interact with during missions. These provide the opportunity to completely customize your weapon — from stocks to barrels to scopes — all without having to give up your mission progress. Not all weapon customization is limited to workbenches, however, as players can pick up special ammunition types that can be changed on the fly via a radial menu.
While Sniper Elite 5's customization feels robust, it manages to be perfectly reasonable even for beginner players. Changes made by swapping out equipment is visually represented when making a change along with the pros and cons of using a particular component on your weapon. Changing a weapon's components do not just limit the way a weapon can be used, but it can also change the entire feel of a mission and the way players choose to approach encounters. This prevents mission replays from feeling stale, as various customization options lead to experiences and gameplay tactics.
In addition to default weapon loadouts, players can find and pick up a variety of weapons during their missions. Rebellion developers took weapon accuracy seriously during the production of Sniper Elite 5, calling on military historians to consult on the game's arsenal of weapons. The developers had the opportunity to catalogue an extensive collection of World War II-era weapons and vehicles to further enhance Sniper Elite 5's accuracy. Rebellion took special care while recording the audio effects for Sniper Elite 5, as well, paying attention to even the smallest of details such as mechanical noises and the sound of gunfire from a variety of distances. The attention to detail does a lot to help elevate the gameplay experience, especially when these audio cues can provide feedback on how well your plan of attack is working out for you.
More of the same, but better
Rebellion clearly has a formula when it comes to the Sniper Elite franchise, and for the most part it has worked for them. With a month left to go until the release of Sniper Elite 5, the game already felt incredibly polished and ready to put in players' hands. Part of this can be attributed to Rebellion's prior experiences with Sniper Elite, and the gradual changes they've made to the franchise that have paid off over time. Strict linear missions have slowly evolved into expansive maps with multiple solutions. Default loadouts have evolved into living classes that can be changed to suit your playstyle almost dynamically.
Unfortunately, during our hands-on time with the preview, we did not get the opportunity to try out one of the most understated features of Sniper Elite 5, the new PvP invasion mode. Not only can your friends join your game to cooperatively defeat the Nazis, but other random players will also have the option to invade your game as an Axis player charged with hunting you down. Drop in versus PvP is a nice shake-up to the franchise that could have the potential to make the biggest change to how players approach the Sniper Elite campaign.
Even with these changes, slipping into Karl Fairburne's story feels like putting on your favorite pair of well-worn shoes. It's comfortable, and familiar. If you're not already a fan of Sniper Elite's mechanics, then you're not likely to reconsider your opinion on a third-person tactical strategy shooters with this one. Those who are already fans, though, will find that Sniper Elite 5 brings back all the best parts of a solid stealthy shooter, with a few big improvements for good measure.
Sniper Elite 5 launched on Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC on May 26, 2022. The game was a day-one addition to both Xbox and PC Game Pass, making it even easier to convince your friends to try out the new co-op and PvP invasion modes with you.
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