As evil as it was hardworking, the Nazi war machine was always trying to move forward in the realm of scientific discovery. It’s something we’ve all read about, been horrified over, and seen covered in many different movies and video games, both in a realistic fashion and to an exaggerated extent.
The latest in a long line of Nazi focused war stories is Rebellion Developments’ Sniper Elite 4. Continuing its series’ penchant for open world tactical shooting and ever satisfying slow motion violence, it’s a full priced title that is looking to wedge itself into the current generation’s list of must-play shooters. Unfortunately, it doesn’t reach high enough to ever achieve that status, and instead exists as a middling trip back to the Second World War.
Going into this review, I was hopeful that Rebellion would show me why I was mistaken for passing on the previous three Sniper Elite games. However, while Sniper Elite 4 does have quite a few things going for it, an overuse of dated mechanics, some frustrating choke points and a broken save system make it tough to really write home about. I wish I could, though. I truly do.
Continuing the story of one Lieutenant Karl Fairburne, this new eight or so hour-long campaign takes us to beautiful Italy. It’s there where the Nazis have enlisted the help of an insanely intelligent scientist, in an attempt to create some of the world’s smartest rockets. Weapons that they hope to use against the Allies’ fleet of ships, including the one Winston Churchill is based on.
Needless to say, the stakes are high, and it’s up to us to try to put an end to these fearful developments. To do so, we’ll have a cocky American OSS sniper at our disposal, in addition to an armory of pistols, assault rifles and bolt action sniper rifles. However, while the risk is great and our hero’s stress level is high, his latest adventure’s narrative doesn’t carry a lot of weight or depth, and ends up feeling more like an excuse for violence than anything memorable.
What you need to know most, though, is that Sniper Elite 4 is a partially open world game. This means that every one of its eight missions is structured in a sandbox style, where you’re dropped in and given free reign. Want to immediately head towards the main objective(s)? Go for it. Or, if you’d prefer to take things slowly and wipe every enemy off of the face of the map, you can do that as well. Given how large a lot of these stages are, it’s possible to get lost in them for upwards of two hours.
This design is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because it makes you think, and doesn’t force you to do the same thing over and over again. However, on the flip side, it’s a con because the game’s checkpoint system simply doesn’t support such a structure.
These days, we tend to take checkpoints and automated saving for granted. Sometimes, though, these automatic aids fail us and put us in frustrating situations. This is what Sniper Elite 4 did to me, ad nauseam.
In fact, the most frustrating thing about this game wasn’t its love of cheap chokepoints, but its annoying and broken auto-save system. It saves at random — and by that I mean whenever it feels like it — and often puts the player at a disadvantage. Hell, I can’t even count the amount of times where I respawned in the middle of a firefight, just as a bullet was about to be shot into my digital arm by a nearby grunt. It happened a lot, and led to quite a few cheap deaths, including one time when it saved right before I was about to get shot by a sniper.
I get that video game development is tough, and that it’s not always easy to create perfect checkpoints. We all know that. However, this would’ve been a much more enjoyable game had it had set auto-save points, instead of saving at random and sometimes for almost no reason at all. Being able to save manually is an option, of course, but I assume that the majority of players will rely on autosaves. Regardless, the fact that you can save manually doesn’t excuse the poor autosave feature.
As you can imagine, stealth is a major key to success here, and something that you’ll want to strive for as often as possible. Sniper Elite 4 aids the player in this attempt, by offering traps and presenting opportunities to make kills look like accidents by rigging generators to blow or by making heavy objects fall onto enemies. Some stages will also allow you to mask your gunfire, by waiting for loud environmental noises that go off like clockwork. This isn’t always the case, though, leaving you open to the elements and limited as to how you can both use your rifle and avoid detection.
It was during those levels where it became obvious that Sniper Elite 4 suffers from a bit of an identity crisis.
On one hand the game wants to be this stealthy sniper experience, where tougher difficulties demand near perfection. Then, on the other hand, it’s designed like many other open environment shooters, and handcuffs the player in his attempt to be silent. This is added to by the sheer amount of enemies that appear during each stage.
Don’t get me wrong: Sniper Elite 4 isn’t a bad game. It’s simply dated and uninspired, and feels stuck in yesteryear, as opposed to coming off as a modern, 2017 game. It did have its moments, though, and there were times where I really got into the cat and mouse style of gameplay. The ever-visceral kill cams never got old, either, as it was always satisfying watching a bullet wreak carnage on an enemy’s skull, or his vital organs.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are other modes outside of the main campaign. There’s co-op for those who’d like to tackle the story as a duo, overwatch missions that make one player a sniper and another one an on-foot spotter, and a wave-based survival challenge. On top of those, you’ll also find a somewhat challenging shooting range, complete with scores to earn and medals to unlock, as well as a several multiplayer game modes. I must admit, though, that I was unable to find anyone to play with prior to release, making it hard to test out the multiplayer.
So, how does it look, run and sound? Well, the easiest way to answer that question would be to simply say “Okay.”
Like its gameplay, Rebellion’s latest tends to be a bit dated on the presentation front. It looks okay, sounds alright and runs relatively well on the Xbox One, but nothing about it stands out and it’s marred by performance issues. For starters, aiming at enemies while you’re prone and hiding in long grass can lead to very noticeable frame rate slowdown as the game tries to animate each individual strand of grass within your viewpoint. You’ll also notice some screen tearing, as well as an overuse of bloom and middling voice acting during cutscenes. That said, this isn’t exactly a triple-A game, nor does it come from one of gaming’s most well off studios. As such, it’s easier to overlook such things than it otherwise would be.
Needless to say, Sniper Elite 4 left me wanting. Sure, I had fun with it and enjoyed its campaign for the most part, but whenever I’d really start to get into it something would pull me away. Whether it was the unnecessary chokepoints, the insane amount of enemies, or the broken save system that made reloading checkpoints a game of Russian Roulette, something always got in the way of my enjoyment. As such, it’s not something that I can wholeheartedly recommend, especially at full price.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
- Long, immersive and open levels
- Lots of secondary objectives and challenges
- The satisfying kill cam never really gets old
- Suffers from an identity crisis
- Terrible save system and other performance issues
- Doesn't stand out, outside of its kill cam