There’s something disturbingly satisfying about landing the perfect shot in Sniper Elite 4.
Maybe it’s how the camera pans around your bullet, Matrix-style, as it flies through the air to your target? The way your victim stays blissfully unaware that a lump of hot metal is flying towards them, faster than the speed of sound, until it’s too late?
Let’s be honest, though: it’s probably the gruesome X-ray effects that show your shots reaching their target - and confirming that yes, a skilled sniper really can castrate an enemy from three hundred meters away.
Developer Rebellion hasn’t trodden too far from the formula it established with previous series entries, but there’s actually more here than simply an unflinchingly twisted shooting gallery made up of Nazi soldiers.
LINE OF SIGHT
Rather than force you down a series of linear missions, or let you loose in one massive open world, Sniper Elite 4 instead gifts you multiple smaller playgrounds, all set around stunning WW2 Italy.
Each one has enough space for you to cause plenty of carnage, but not so vast that you get lost trying to make it from one side to the other. They’re roughly on par with Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes’ Camp Omega, which feels plenty large enough when each one is swarming with Nazi soldiers.
These wider environments are packed with tiny details, gorgeous backdrops and hidden routes to explore, so you never feel forced to take a particular path to your goal.
Sure, you could infiltrate that enemy compound and stick a dagger in an SS general’s back, or you could climb to a high vantage point on the hilltop opposite and wait until he passes by a window. One carefully timed shot later, you’re ready to hunt down your next target.
Waiting for a plane to fly overhead and mask the sound of your rifle only adds to the tension before you pull the trigger - especially when you’ve also got to take into account bullet drop and wind resistance.
Night-time excursions make a first appearance here, with the darkness making it easier to sneak around without getting spotted, but also making it more of a challenge to pick out targets from a distance. Pop a few searchlights and enemy troops will have a harder time finding you if things do go south.
PLAN OF ATTACK
You’re really left to play as you choose, dropped into each level with a selection of explosive playthings and a map showing the general location of each objective.
It helps that you have an expanded skill set now, shimmying up drain pipes, hanging off ledges and escaping out of windows. If you do get discovered and the enemy goes on alert, you don’t feel as trapped as you did in previous games. Sprinting away from danger still spikes your heart rate, though, and you won't be able to steady your rifle until it goes down again.
You’re fully loaded with TNT, mines and detonators, too, in case you decide stealth really isn’t going to work. It’s just as fun to go all Rambo, taking on everyone head-on, as it is to play the silent assassin, which helps distinguish Sniper Elite from that other open-world kill-em-up, Hitman.
There’s a reason you start each level with a rifle, though: the AI can be brutally difficult if you take the enemy soldiers on directly, and you aren’t a bullet sponge. Take a few hits and it’s game over.
The enemy is a lot smarter this time around, actively hunting you down if you take out one of their number. That’s why it pays to focus on the lieutenants - it’ll leave the grunts confused and they’ll be less effective later in the level.
Sound still plays a major part, with loud noises quickly giving your position away. You can't set up shop in one place and take out the entire map's roster of Nazis - they'll flush you out as soon as they hear the first shot. A small supply of suppressed ammo will keep you stealthy, but it runs out fast, and some levels don't have any at all.
READY FOR WAR
When most shooters are firmly focused on the future, heading back to World War II is genuinely refreshing.
The locations are beautifully realised, thanks in part to Rebellion only focusing on current-gen consoles. There’s a lot more going on here than in Sniper Elite 3’s African deserts.
That being said, crack sniper Karl Fairburne isn’t exactly the most charismatic hero. In fact, the whole story is a bit duff: it’s just not all that engaging, especially for players that never tried the earlier games in the series.
You’re given the briefest of backgrounds, then let loose on the opening chapter. Thankfully you can skip every cutscene, and the game is no worse off for it. It means you can concentrate on the gameplay, rather than the fairly bland story.
A lot of the objectives repeat themselves, too. Destroy this AA gun. Collect this important intel. Assassinate this Nazi general. You’d think it would get boring, but the addictive sniper mechanics managed to keep me playing after each successful mission.
That's true whether you play solo or co-op, although the story missions don't have any two-player specific addons or challenges to tackle - it's the same content, only you can bring a buddy along to cause more carnage.