REVIEW OF SNIPER ELITE 5: At this point in the franchise’s lifespan, Sniper Elite has delivered its best game yet. This is in large part due to the influence of games like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and the Hitman reboots. However, a lack of faith in its basic sniping idea and a truly terrible tale detract from an otherwise engaging stealth experience..
Sniper Elite 5’s cutscenes aren’t what most players are interested in, but someone at Rebellion was determined to stuff as many into this game as possible, and they’re all, without exception, duller than the Nazis’ dead eyes. There is a distinct lack of individuality in the macho American commando/sniper in this video game, making him feel like he hasn’t even made it off of the assembly line. To give a Nazi killing machine some soul, BJ Blazkowicz from Wolfenstein does just that with his pool of self-analysis. Karl, on the other hand, speaks in cliches and I can barely hear a word he says.
That is, except for those times of inadvertent hilarity, such as when Karl utters “Nazi bastards” while a sorrowful accordion plays at the beginning of the game. Accordions! Is that clear to you now? Because France is the setting!
In Sniper Elite’s musical theme, there is a hint as to what level the game is working at. A young man’s perspective on the Second World War. As such, it isn’t an issue in the broad scheme of things, but it does stifle the game in terms of character development and tone—neither it’s tongue-in-cheek enough to pull off Hitman’s macabre humor nor serious enough to deal with the horrors of occupied France.
Every time I saw a member of the French resistance, I was baffled as to why they weren’t the center of attention. Why didn’t we have to rely on our wits and skills to defeat the Nazis’ huge war machine, instead of being some under-resourced sniper? What about a person who has a personal connection to the country? It seems like such an obvious way to liven things up, but for some reason, the show appears wedded to its discount bin action man.
As it stands, Sniper Elite 5’s tutorial is the worst part of the whole experience. At least you can start enjoying what the game does best: selecting a roost and shooting bad guys from far away when it finally opens up. It’s not an open world. Levels are linear in practice, despite how big the vistas appear. That doesn’t mean they don’t have options, but the more constrained scope of the game allows it to funnel players into fascinating barriers. A safer option would be to find a perfect hill and perform long-distance brain surgery from a safe vantage point, but you must take risks in order to avoid detection and reach hidden vantage points. Instead of feeling like an easy reward, you feel like you have to work for it.
With its setting on a tidal island-like Mont Saint Michel, which is highly guarded against the outside world, the third objective, Spy Academy, maybe the game’s high point and a demonstration of its best attributes. Even the most obvious sniper locations, such as a church tower, might be a dud, necessitating close attention rather than rote drills.
They may not be as good as the Hitman titles, but Sniper Elite 5’s levels are nonetheless enjoyable for more than just killing people. These levels, while not as open as they appear, are vast labyrinths full of minor choke points and surprises worth exploiting. Even if you manufacture an accident, the game’s AI doesn’t recognize it as such and sees each death as evidence that a sniper is in the area. Even though there is no real atmosphere or even a sense that these soldiers are doing anything other than waiting for you to show there, levels are more entertaining to exploit because of the different alternatives available.
During one stage, I had a mine set off by an arriving patrol car after taking out a local sniper while using the sound of a low-flying plane as cover—distracting the adjacent soldiers while I raced behind enemy lines. Despite how rare they are, they’re a treat.
Each of these levels is a huge maze filled with small choke points and surprises to be discovered.
Although this variation is nice, I get the uneasy impression that the game as a whole suffers as a result of its inclusion. It hasn’t excelled at any one thing, but rather has done a number of things passably well in many different areas. Call of Duty Modern Warfare’s All Ghillied Up and One Shot, One Kill levels come to mind when I think of the best video game sniping experiences. The design is linear and set-piece focused, but the emphasis is on stealth and patience, rather than slaughtering hordes of troops. Sometimes, Sniper Elite 5 appears to be ashamed of its sniping, as if it fears you would get tired of it. It isn’t necessary for a video game to replicate the entire process of staking out a single target, but surely they can have me do more than be secondhand. What about Sam Fisher?
Aims that kill
The use of an X-ray death camera feels like an attempt to glamorize snipers. Since the second game, it’s been the series’ trademark. Despite this, they continue to struggle to find their place in a game that lacks a meaningful tone. Is the delighted over-the-top grotesqueness of Mortal Kombat the intended effect? This isn’t possible with the kills, which are just too bland and uninspired. Perhaps a reminder of the pain you’re inflicting would be appropriate? Never mind that bursting testicles are treated with such mockery in this game. Many of the show’s issues may be traced back to the X-ray killings. Devoting all their attention to an awkward but noticeable trait instead of anything truly innovative, while failing to understand what they are trying to achieve.
A lack of thought is evident even in the skill trees, which provide benefits that have little impact on how you play the game. There’s a new weapon here and a little bit of extra health. The lack of truly diverse options makes it all feel like a rehash of the same thing. The game may have you spend more time in close quarters, but it’s not particularly good at it. Close encounters in Sniper Elite 5 feel sluggish even when compared to the decades-old Splinter Cell games. There aren’t any cracks in this wall.
The game’s blend of near- and far-reaching goals creates an uneasy sense of discord. Because, after all, it’s not called Sniper and Sneaking into Buildings to Grab Documents Elitist. What the game excels at is assessing shots, observing wind and distance, and estimating the correct modifications. Adding awkward close-quarters stealth to the mix only detracts from the good.
The act of firing indiscriminately
However, difficult options help bring out that good. Sniper Elite, like most recent stealth games, is overloaded with details. Assist with your sniper, tag and track your enemies, and know when they’re close to spotting you. Every time you take a step forward, the game gives you a set of training wheels to hold onto. Because of this, there isn’t as much suspense as there may be. Fortunately, this can be fixed by adjusting the difficulty.
The game can be slashed to the bone. Assists are non-existent and the enemies are far more intelligent. There is no method to follow your foes but to recall what you’ve seen. It’s more difficult, yes, but it’s also more engaging. I was bored to tears by the lack of friction or difficulty when I had so many assists on. In my opinion? You’ll have a more memorable time if you focus as much on being “genuine” as possible and take your time with the event.
Close encounters in Sniper Elite 5 feel sluggish even when compared to the decades-old Splinter Cell games.
However, these aren’t the only changes to the game. Co-op is back in Sniper Elite and it has a profound effect on gameplay, allowing for synchronized takedowns and coordination that adds a whole new layer to the experience. Players can even infiltrate other games as an Axis sniper in a new Dark Souls-like invasion mode. Real-life Enemy At The Gates tension can be found in this mode, as you are suddenly forced to slow down and fight against a human opponent instead of a little dim AI. A real player will not be fooled by a bottle thrown into the distance. It’s always possible to turn off the possibility of encounters with strangers lurking in the shadows. Nevertheless, I believe that even the game itself undersells how much these elements enhance the experience if you don’t play in multiplayer.
Sniper Elite 5 can be a good, even excellent, stealth game in the appropriate circumstances. It’s unpredictable enough to give it an advantage but too inconsistent to keep it. It has a good eye on the competitors, but it can’t quite hit the target.