Sniper Elite 5 Review
Northern France - 1944
Moonlight sparkles off the English Channel as I crouch in the dunes somewhere behind enemy lines. I’ve rendezvoused with the French resistance and I have my mission: recover intel from a bunker on the edge of town.
I look at my map and identify my target. 500m northwest. I sling my trusty sniper rifle behind my back and look for higher ground to scope out my surroundings. In the distance, I hear the sound of German artillery firing on my allies out on the water. I’ll take those guns out later, but for now… one mission at a time.
I sprint across a deserted road and crash through the bushes on the other side. I scramble up a hill and dive to the ground at the peak.
Taking out my binoculars I scout the bunker, cursing under my breath as I see the one thing I didn’t want: a guard standing outside. I’ll need to take him out if I want to get inside and liberate those documents from these Nazi scumbags.
Quick decision, do I sneak up behind him and take him out close quarters or do I keep to the shadows and use my sniper rifle? No, better to stay where I am, there’s an entire German army out there and I could bump into any of them when I least expect it.
But how can I take the shot without attracting unwanted attention? Then I realise something: If I time my shot, the deafening boom of German artillery will mask the sound of my rifle.
I take a quick range reading with my binoculars. 200 metres. I shoulder my rifle. It feels good, like meeting with an old friend. I peer into the telescopic sight and adjust the range accordingly. My target is right between my crosshairs as I trace his patrol route with the gun barrel. I’ll need patience for this– he needs to be in the perfect position at the same time as the artillery blast.
There is a boom. The guard stops walking. I hold my breath to steady my aim and slowly squeeze the trigger.
Got him… right in the testicles.
The Sniper Elite franchise has been going on for almost 20 years now, yet I’m constantly surprised how few people have played the games before. Sniper Elite 5 is the latest addition to the series and it seems like the publishers are determined to change things, with game number five receiving a much bigger promotional push than all of its predecessors.
Sniper Elite games have been consistently solid, but they always seem to lack something to truly put them amongst the great gaming franchises we all know and love. Sniper Elite 5, while it still has its problems, has tweaked the formula yet again and goes some way towards making the franchise as good as it has the potential to be.
SE5 takes the approach that “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, and if you’ve played any of the other games you’ll know exactly what to expect. The controls are responsive and sneaking around the map is as easy as ever. The sniping mechanic works well and there are plenty of loadout options, from a wide range of weapons to booby traps and distractions. Maps are varied and interesting and everyone’s favourite kill cam is back in more gory detail than ever. And as you might have guessed, there’s still the option to shoot Nazis in the unmentionables for bonus points.
The big change you’re likely to notice is that the developers have made the decision to move to an open world design. Past versions have been somewhat linear affairs; maps were designed so you really just moved in a straight line, completing missions one at a time as you go. SE5 still takes place over several different maps, but each one is much larger and you are given multiple missions which you can carry out in any order.
Apart from that, the changes are more subtle. Weapons are now much more customisable, there are new ways to traverse the landscape such as rolling while prone, and moving in and out of cover is easier and more fluid than in previous versions of the game.
One problem I find with games franchises is that often as new versions are released they get more complicated and move away from what the original was all about (I'm looking at you Assassins Creed). In the case of Sniper Elite, although there are plenty of ways to dispatch enemies in SE5, sniping and stealth are still by far the best way to play the game. Enemy AI is extremely unforgiving, if you’re spotted it’s practically game over-- The alarm is raised and what seems like the entire Wehrmacht appears, who don’t stop hunting for you until you’re kaput.
But on the other hand, this is where it can get frustrating. Sniper Elite titles are stealth games in the strictest sense of the word. Everything you do has to be carried out with caution. You can’t fire a gun without worrying about who might hear it and raise the alarm. Even silenced guns will be heard if you are too close to other people.
This is where the open world environment the makers have created can sometimes be at odds with the principles of the franchise. Open world games generally reward exploration and free roaming, which doesn't work well with having to be aware of your entire 360-degree surroundings at all times in case someone you didn’t even know was there blows your cover. For example, you might see a zipline on the map, which you’ll instinctively use without thinking twice. After all, why put a zipline in the game if you’re not supposed to use it? Unfortunately, at the end of the zipline is a German soldier that if you don’t kill immediately will spot you and raise the alarm. The problem is if you don't know they are there it's pretty hard to do that, and it comes across like the devs are punishing you for exploring the world they have created for you.
It can make things more than a little bit frustrating to be playing in a large and detailed open world environment and have to spend the majority of it crawling around in long grass and bushes.
There are other little touches in the game that this reviewer appreciated. One particular thing I liked was that when you lock onto each potential target you get their name and a little bit of information about them. Sometimes the information makes you a bit hesitant to shoot them. Some people even hate the Nazi party and hate being a soldier. One person’s bio said he was worried that if he dies his dad will start drinking again. Way to tug on the heartstrings, Rebellion. All I wanted to do was shoot Nazis in the balls; I didn’t want to have to make a moral judgement about it. But at the same time, I think it’s a really interesting touch and says a lot about the evolution of narrative in video games. We have become so used to game violence we are almost completely detached from what the characters we play are doing. To step back and realise “hang on I’m shooting real people in a real historical setting” was an eye opener. I even have to admit on a couple of occasions I went out of my way to knock out people instead of killing them if they seemed nice. There is no in-game benefit to this whatsoever, but it’s a neat touch that the game allows you to make the moral choice to use non-lethal methods to complete your goals.
The game also features multiplayer, and this is where Rebellion has made some excellent changes to the online experience. As well as the standard multiplayer deathmatch mode you also can drop into another player's single-player campaign. Players can call for assistance in their own game, and another person can enter to help them out. Alternatively in “Axis Invasion” mode you can pick an unsuspecting player and join their single player campaign as a German sniper. It adds another level to the game; you can be halfway through a mission when suddenly you get a message that an enemy sniper is hunting you. It adds another layer of intensity and urgency to the game.
Ultimately if you liked the previous iterations of Sniper Elite, you’ll only find this an enhanced and more enjoyable update. It may not convert sceptics, but this is still the best game in the series and it’s the perfect time to jump into the franchise in all its dirt-hugging, ball-blasting glory.
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