Sniper Elite 4 was a big reinvention for the stealth series that took it into a more open space. It was the first entry after Metal Gear Solid Vwhich redefined the genre, and the influences from Hideo Kojima’s last metalgear game showed. Sniper Elite 4 wasn’t nearly as polished or deep, but it was a passable alternative. Sniper Elite 5 is positioned as a more refined installation and while it is in some cases, it still seems like its aim is a little off.
The basics are still relatively on the mark, though. Aiming is smooth, as Karl Fairburne is able to aim and snipe slightly more efficiently than in past games. In addition to being able to empty his lungs for a more stable shot, it’s now possible to quickly snap into a first-person perspective with firearms other than a sniper rifle, making the whole arsenal a little more accurate and in line with Sniper Elite‘s whole schtick. It’s helpful since the crosshairs for these weapons are too large to get a reliable bead.
Fairburne is still able to crouch, crawl, and climb about as he finds vantage point in one of the game’s hills or perches. Rebellion Developments said it looked at adding even more of these options so players could better engage with its stealthy elements. The French château in one of the levels does show this off quite well, as the vertical nature of the building has all manners of vines and ladders strewn about it. While it would take hours to fully tinker around every corner of the level in search of these more concealed paths, there seemed to be enough of them to elevate it beyond a straightforward shooter. As it is in the Hitman games, one run is not enough to properly assess its depth and it seems to be somewhat on the right track.
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Rebellion claimed that this approach was deliberate and exploring can even offer detailed player-oriented additional narratives or items, although, given the storytelling chops of the series, the former might not be worth the extra time pilfering. But some of these conversations will also reveal more about the mission, which means that these out-of-the-way discussions might have useful gameplay benefits to reward those who sneak around. Players can miss these entirely, but according to Rebellion, it’s all part of the benefits of making such a sandbox.
“It is all about offering options to the player so they can approach each facet of the mission in a way that best suits their playstyle. Having watched a number of the recent play sessions, no two people approach the game in the same way and the sandbox nature of the gameplay enables that. While some players will want to be cautious and plan everything carefully before executing, there are others that are far more ‘run and gun.’ We want to offer options for all kinds of players.”
These options extend to the settings. Sniper Elite 5 has a stunning amount of individual knobs to tweak, from enemy resilience to throwing out a partially empty clip, so snipers can make the game as simple or as hardcore as they want. Sniper Elite 4 was also quite customizable, so these features aren’t entirely new, but it’s great for a game like this lean into its hardcore roots while also having the potential to appeal those outside of that niche.
One of those options is in its new Invasion mode that, like Dark Souls or deathloop, randomly drops in a human opponent that can stalk the host. While it wasn’t available in the demo, this has the potential to add pressure that AI simply cannot match, which meshes nicely with the tension inherent to being a sniper. Rebellion said it had been toying with the idea for a bit and liked the stories it was able to tell. For example, one invader during testing imitated the AI by walking rigidly along a path, which fooled the other player and spelled the host’s demise.
“Once you get the notification that you have been invaded the tension immediately ramps up. You start to question every move you are making and everything that you can see. It can completely change your approach to the mission and your playstyle.”
Whether it’s sniping at an invader or enemy soldier, shooting at long ranges is still a big part of the game, despite how the series has branched out over the years. Lining up a shot over a vast distance is still immensely rewarding mostly because of the franchise’s iconic slow motion kill cam that zooms into the action and lets players get an intimate look at stomachs popping and testicles exploding. Even though this system has been around since the first entry in some form, it still hasn’t gotten old and serves as a great, crunchy reward for nailing a target. Rebellion extrapolated on how it has advanced this brilliant system (which they compared to scoring a goal in FIFA) in small yet effective ways.
“For Sniper Elite 5 we have upped the realism and the grisliness as bullets can now deflect off bones causing even more damage as you also see more detail on the skeleton. For the first time you also get a kill cam for particularly awesome SMG and pistol kills which is easily one of the most requested features from our community. During testing, their inclusion felt like a natural evolution and provides great satisfaction when you nail a shot.”
Even though watching Nazi organs get pureed in slow motion is endlessly gratifying, Sniper Elite 5 is also letting players go the complete opposite way since it has non-lethal takedowns and ammo types. The stealth genre thrives on more choices, but these benefits might be more theoretical here, given the lack of a narrative justification for sparing a faction as evil as the Nazis. Stealth games like Dishonored or Hitman make the choice between killing and not killing a more difficult dilemma. But Nazis aren’t complicated and that’s one of the reasons World War II is an oft-used setting for the medium; the conflict has a clear and easy villain to slaughter that the game doesn’t need to spend much time explaining.
It’s jarring and there didn’t seem to be many noticeable gameplay-oriented reasons to pacify them, either, but those have the possibility to unfold over time as its sandbox and arsenal opens up. It does appear to solely be there as an optional challenge players can layer upon themselves if they so choose. That’s essentially what Rebellion said when asked about it, and, even though the team didn’t speak to the disconnect inherent to it, stated it found out during testing that not everyone wants to go on a mass murdering spree. Replayability and freedom were the primary drivers.
“The main reason for the non-lethal options is to give the player choice about the way they play the game. Sniper Elite 5 is a sandbox full of ‘toys’ but we want to leave it up to the player about how they approach each mission and scenario. We also want to encourage players to revisit missions and replay them with a different approach and play style, so non-lethal options add even further to this replayability.”
The sandbox itself still needs to be fully dissected, but there were some oddities that held it back. Enemy AI varies from pretty smart to painfully stupid or cheap. For example, throwing a body in an empty basement caused a cavalcade of guards to storm in from the top floors, which is as frustrating as it is unrealistic. Some parts of the levels have a lot of open space that is unengaging to crawl through and an easy way to get spotted by its hyperaware enemies. Weird hit detection, inopportune autosaves in the middle of firefights, fussy button prompts, and more oddities all contribute to an unquantifiable but ever-present layer of cruft that’s hard to shake.
Rebellion’s games are often flimsy like that, so it’s not surprising to see Sniper Elite 5 suffer from similar issues, even if it does seem like one of the studio’s better games. Its attempts to snipe Snake out of the throne of the open-world stealth genre are hard to ignore, as it is obviously borrowing from the last metal gear solid. But there are worse games to pull from and Sniper Elite 5 seems to have some of its own flair, even if it is sometimes obfuscated by a fog of jank. It just remains to be seen if that fog is thick enough to throw off the shot of this long-running sniper series.