Sniper Elite VR Review
You haven’t quite lived until you watch a bullet you fired smash a man’s teeth out in slow motion, observing them scream towards you in virtual reality. Sniper Elite VR delivers all the same core gruesome gubbins you find in the mainline games, just with pared-back visuals, a dodgy story, a more dated design, and bite-sized form.
You play as an Italian resistance fighter during World War Two. There’s some forgettable exposition in which a man named “Dante” seems to be your partisan leader — he’s mentioned to a worrying degree — but because it’s VR, your compatriots are amorphous blobs that all look alike. Not that you spend much time with them. In true sniper style, you’re off on your lonesome, hoping to climb some kind of tower and deliver the coup de grace to an army of Nazis — that’s what the series is about, after all.
The story is told via flashbacks, as your old-man future self reminisces in his garden surrounded by family. You don’t talk to them, mind, just that internal monologue thing. When these interims happen, you have a book stuck to your left hand, from which you can choose what level to play next, go through the options, look at the leaderboards, or change your loadouts. And there’s a wide variety of multicultural weaponry to choose from: German, British, Italian, Russian, American.
Once you’re in-game proper, there are objectives familiar to Sniper Elite players; assassinate, help, destroy, find. The real fun is in the name though, sniping. But whereas standard games in the franchise give you an open world and let you have at it, the VR version is more constricted (likely due to hardware constraints). There are a lot of narrow alleyways and blocked off doorways, making it feel like a guided experience, and even the more open outdoors levels aren’t that open. Stealth is important in these games, but this more up close and personal design means you end up rounding a corner to screaming eagle-eyed jackboots who want to shoot you. This is the game’s ultimate weakness — a game about sniping forces you to snipe at close range way too often. This inevitably leads to you whipping out a submachine gun and Ramboing your way through the bad dudes, forgetting this is a game about sniping with advanced ballistics.
Making matters worse, each of the eighteen missions is around ten to twenty minutes long on average. In most of them, you can just grab an assault rifle and full auto the majority of scoundrels who get in your way, chuck a couple of grenades for good measure, then pull out your rifle and sniper a baddie or two that is that little bit too far away for the machine gun treatment. There are checkpoints in the form of radios that you interact with sprinkled throughout the environments, but this design harks back to the old days, where if you die, you have to reload at the checkpoint because there is no autosave. This is frustrating when you’ve made it to your objective only for a sneaky somebody to get the drop on you.
The thing is, the sniping is actually good. It’s modelled exactly like the other games and racking the bolt back and forth on a rifle really adds to the immersion, but it’s just not incentivised. When you’re five metres from your target, why not use that shotgun they put in the game? All your weapons go on a belt and the finicky, not-tracked-well controls mean that trying to attach and use your inventory of grenades and pistols and ammunition from it results in you leaving a trail of vital items in your wake like a sneaky goblin. Grasping for your shoulder-holstered pistol in a crucial moment only to find it missing? It’s back there, behind the grenade and TNT you somehow dropped.
This all culminates in what Nintendo might call Sniper Elite Lite. It’s Sniper Elite with all the core mechanics that go with it, but it’s more bite-sized, more finicky, more dated. It feels like a carnival shooting gallery version of the mainline games. Obviously, a VR game isn’t going to be capable of the same things a standard game is due to hardware constraints — especially a game that runs standalone on the Quest — but the game’s very nature is constricted. Once you get past the gimmick of giggling and wincing at the gruesome, slow-motion sniper shots in VR, you’re left a bit deflated and a bit bored. After all, why implement advanced ballistics and sniper rifles when I can (mostly) run through the level in five minutes, dual-wielding pistols like John Wick?
Is Sniper Elite VR worth picking up? Maybe, but that depends on you. It’s definitely a Sniper Elite game, but it might not be the Sniper Elite game you’re looking for. There’s a very “Medal of Honor on the PS1/PS2” vibe to it, with checkpoints too far apart, guards being alerted far too quickly, and routes artificially blocked off, forcing you into sections that are too linear for a game about open-world sniping. But then again, you do get to watch that bloke’s teeth fly at you as he gasps his last breath.
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