The setting: San Celini Island. The target: General Tobias Schmidt and four high-ranking Nazi officers. I climb up a crumbling tower to get a superior viewpoint, and take out my handy-dandy binoculars: Nazis, as far as the eye can see. Nazis by a truck. Nazis by a bivouac. Nazis by a villa. 30 seconds later — maybe 32 seconds — I exhale and make my way through and over multiple dead Nazi bodies to a group of bushes, an pull out my binocs, inhale, and do it all over again. It’s one pornographic, slo-mo butchery scene after another, until I line up an unsuspecting Tobias Schmidt in my sights, and let fly a bullet that shoots through the General’s eye.
Executing an eye shot on General Tobias Schmidt was as spectacular and satisfying as it sounds. Similar to Sniper Elite III, the main draw of Rebellion Developments’ World War II, tactical third-person shooter, Sniper Elite 4, is its long-range, slow-motion kills where you watch the bullet leave your gun, whistle through the air and crash into the enemy’s skull, neck, intestines or any other part of their body. It’s this X-ray carnage that is still the series’ highpoint, and it’s something I’m still not sick of seeing, despite experiencing it countless amount of times at this point. However, also like Sniper Elite III, Sniper Elite 4 is a bit rough around the edges.
At the start of the game you — Special Operations Executive agent Karl Fairburne — are dumped onto San Celini Island, the first of the ten stages/maps the campaign takes place over. Each one of these stages is its own open-world, a playground of carnage, full of different objectives to complete and different ways to approach each of these objectives. Do you want to sit back, and methodically take out one Nazi at a time, or channel your inner Inglourious Basterd, and go in hot, strapped, and ruthless? Or you could do a combination of both, as I often did: sitting back from afar until my cover was blown, then turning into a grenade slingin’ maniac. You also have the option of stealth: keeping close to shadows and in foliage, it’s possible to move through most of the maps/stages — granted it will require a dose of patience — and rack up those “Ghost kills” or bypass some enemies all together.
Depending on your playstyle, how collectible hungry you’re, and the difficulty you put the game on, “beating” each stage will vary, personally, I found that each took me about 2-4 hours. Speaking of collectibles, and other “check list” type things, there are a good amount. However, like many other games, this serves as nothing more than filler, a hook for OCD gamers (a recovered one myself), that I quickly lost all interest in pursuing, especially because none of it added to the story, or even the experience, in a meaningful way. The same goes for the uninspired side objectives. If you enjoy the “check list” type of gameplay loop, then there is more than enough to fill you up, but if you’re looking for something with a bit more substance, then you will be left feeling empty.
Despite run-of-the-mill side content, exploring each stage’s open-world offers up more than enough thrills, even if you just stick primarily to the main objectives. The gameplay loop is best described as the marriage between Far Cry and Hitman: where meticulously taking out an area of enemies (like liberating an outpost) meets the chaos that comes with an open-sandbox and a myriad of approaches. Sometimes it all comes together for the perfect sequence of carnage, explosions, and “oh shit” moments. Other times it all falls apart, but in a good way, and what ensues, is pure, unpredictable mayhem, and a whole lot of laughs.
For the most part, each map is a pleasure to traverse through, which in day of surplus insipid open-worlds, is actually quite an accomplishment. Despite at times feeling a tad lifeless, Sniper Elite 4’s Italian settings are well-designed and boast a prepossessing art direction, such as the villas of a southern countryside, or the rooftops of the colorful village of Bitanti. Alas, some of this is nullified by the game’s less than stellar graphical presentation. If there is one place where the game’s AAA inspirations plow into its lack of AAA funds, it’s in the graphical department. To put it simply, the game looks a few years old. Luckily, this is balanced out by the above mentioned visual design.
Another stumbling block are some of game’s animations, which at times look clunky and stiff. Controlling Fairbune is more or less never an issue, it all feels relatively smooth and good, but that doesn’t mean it always looks the same. Jumping — specifically hurdling over coverage — makes Fairburne look like some type of last-generation abomination. Most of the animations are mediocre, if not downright unnatural at times, but as mentioned above, luckily, controls and mechanics aren’t really affected. However, it does create a contrast between when the game is being played at slow-pace, versus when things get dicey and the action cranks up, which exposes the lack of polish and refinement.
The AI is not stellar either. Improved from the last title, the AI is still a bit to guarded and robotic, and able to spot you where it shouldn’t be. Sometimes something as simple as poking your head — from afar — was enough to get me spotted and foil my well thought out plans that up until that point I was assiduously carrying out. Beyond sometimes being far too vigilant, the AI is also sometimes just plain dumb. Even in the most hairy of situations where I was stuck desperately scrambling and relocating, it was still pretty easy to escape. This type of cat-and-mouse AI behavior often falls flat because of inadequate AI programming — and unfortunately Rebellion was unable to buck this trend.
Sniper Elite 4 is all about the gameplay, the moment-to-moment action, and the stories you create yourself exploring its sandboxes. That’s not to say there isn’t a story on offer, it’s just that it’s not the focal point of Sniper Elite 4, which is perhaps a good thing because what is chalked up is hackneyed, and brimming with clichés, and ungainly dialogue. Not to mention the tone is sometimes all over the place, and lacks identity. The game as it is screams for a more self-aware approach to tone and storytelling, but sadly what we get is something that is monotonous, and too serious in the face of its gameplay, which often emits more snickering than seriousness.
The story takes place ahead of a planned invasion of Italy by the Allies, who have gathered intelligence concerning Hitler’s latest wunderwaffe (wonder weapon). This is where you — Lieutenant Karl Fairbune — come in, as your task is head to Italy and investigate. What you will find is not just beautiful coastal Italian villages, but a country being crushed under Fascism and Mussolini for more than two decades. Political opposition has been crushed, hunger is widespread, disease and Allied bombings rampant, and discontent is growing.
Carrying out missions for the British Special Operations Executive, American Office Strategy Services, and Italian Resistance, you will encounter Italian troops, Fascist Black Brigade fighters, and even the Mafia on your journey. Oh, and of course, a shit ton of Nazis.
Complimenting the game’s campaign is the multiplayer and the Solo Survival mode. In the later, you single handedly take on waves of enemies in special arenas, similar to other survival modes in other games. Beyond a few intense moments — which naturally come with this type of mode — Solo Survival falls flat, mainly because it largely throws away being tactical, and leans far too much into the action, adrenaline-pumping side of the game.
Similar to Sniper Elite III’s multiplayer, Sniper Elite 4 multiplayer offers up large maps, crafted to merge together the three pillars of the gameplay: the tactical long-range shooting, sneaking through and behind enemy lines (which is improved from the last game via new transversal methods), and the run n’ gun close gunplay. Unfortunately how matches play out, is by favoring the later, which is extra unfortunate when you consider it is this department Sniper Elite 4 is the weakest. There’s a variety of modes to choose from — which is nice — however, none of them feel unique enough to really warrant you to sink your teeth into them. And this is a problem, when you consider the gameplay, and how it feels, certainly isn’t good enough to warrant your attention, in a crowded online shooter space, that is simply full of many better online shooters.
In single, isolated moments, Sniper Elite 4 is a great game. However, mediocre AI, a throw away story, and a lack of polish in some key places, prevent it, as an entire package, from being a great game.