We can’t all go around punching Nazis, Neo- or otherwise, no matter how much some people wish we could. But everyone who gets their eager mitts on this fourth main instalment of British indie studio Rebellion’s Sniper Elite series can absolutely, positively look forward to blowing some Nazi nuts clean off their wicked bodies.
Ever since the second game came out in 2012, that’s been the series’ USP: grotesquely moreish close-ups of high-velocity ballistics breaking enemy bodies, courtesy of an X-ray-style kill-cam. Never mind that you can get your basic sniping kicks in all manner of other shooters. Here, a successful zoom and a calmly squeezed trigger is rewarded with an explosion of gore, as an enemy brain turns to mush inside a shattered cranium, or a pair of testicles burst with legs-immediately-crossed ferocity.
But if you come for the slaughter, do you stay for the story? Sniper Elite 4 has one, wrapped around a generous cluster of missions set within expansive open areas with rich environmental variety and, more pertinently, plenty of cover spots for long-range head shots. But it’s not that compelling, not beside the moment-to-moment action that really has this game singing.
You are the couldn’t-be-more-generic Karl Fairburne, a thick-jawed avatar like countless gaming protagonists before him — all growls, scowls and magical back-sticking guns. An agent within the American Office of Strategic Services, a very real World War II intelligence agency, he’s sent to Italy in 1943 to assist local rebels with combating the invading Nazis. But helping them is only half the picture — across the game’s campaign you’ll learn about a new weapon Hitler’s been developing, which you then have to stop reaching mass production. It isn’t going to be easy. This isn’t a gung-ho action adventure, and you simply can’t rush in. Moving slowly, sticking to cover, choosing your shots when the sound will be masked by passing planes — very strategic murder yields the best results. Get spotted, and Karl really can’t stand up to much punishment before he’s KIA.
Thankfully, he’s not alone in taking on the fascists. Before each mission, Karl can talk to supporting characters such as rebel Sofia and creepy Colonel Weaver. These conversations unlock side missions — so as well as taking out a prime target, you’ll also be locating items and equipment, and clearing out checkpoints, slowly easing the oppression of the Resistenza.
Before long, each stage’s map is dotted with multiple markers — and scouting ahead with binoculars tags further targets, immobile and moving, leading to a cluttered UI. But to play the perfect game you really have to grab and gut everything, acquiring dozens of collectibles, which is a distraction from the raw thrill of the appealing elevator pitch: stay in the shadows, eliminate everyone wearing a Wehrmacht emblem, then get out alive.
And this is a game of uncommon risk and reward, high-tension drama that will have you holding your breath as Karl does his, to steady an aim and make that bullet fly true. It’s fabulous when bodies are falling and the enemy has no idea where you’re hiding, and a genuinely fraught experience when Karl’s position is compromised and rushed by overwhelming forces. In those moments, Sniper Elite 4 absolutely excels. It is, truly, an elite sniping simulator. Just don’t expect a great deal more.