Rebellion’s Sniper Elite franchise has seen much success despite some less than stellar bugs. The developer will be returning to the well once more with Sniper Elite 4, due to release in February 2017, but there’s plenty that’s different this time around. World War 2 is still a thing and sniping is still important but this will be the first Sniper Elite title on current gen consoles. What’s not to be excited about? GamingBolt spoke to head of creative Tim Jones and Rebellion CEO and co-founder Jason Kingsley about Sniper Elite 4 to find out more.
"Unlike Sniper Elite 3, where restrictions meant AIs “popped” into existence when you entered an area within a map, the enemy AI is persistent across the whole map and always active, and their behaviour is completely emergent."
Sniper Elite 4 will be the first title in the series to release only for current gen consoles. What has the leap in gameplay terms been like from Sniper Elite 3?
TIM JONES: You’re absolutely right to note we’re developing Sniper Elite 4 from the ground up for PS4, Xbox One and PC, because it’s made a huge difference. We’ve always wanted Sniper Elite games to feel like a sniper’s paradise or a sniper’s playground. With Sniper Elite 4 we’ll take that to another level.
There’s a lot of stuff that I’m sure we’ll cover in this interview – the scale of things, more choice and more variety for you as the player, more abilities – there’s a lot of stuff we’ve added and refined this time around. But one of the biggest things is that every single AI enemy is active across a map at all times – and these are gargantuan maps we’re talking about – there can be hundreds of enemies, not dozens! Unlike Sniper Elite 3, where restrictions meant AIs “popped” into existence when you entered an area within a map, the enemy AI is persistent across the whole map and always active, and their behaviour is completely emergent. This means you can take a pot shot at a soldier 700m away, and if it hits the wall next to him he’ll become alert to your presence and communicate that to nearby comrades.
You’ll see stuff like soldiers trying to assess if they can rescue a downed comrade, or a soldier might momentarily skive off, while another will be closely following the orders of an officer. And of course you can assess and exploit all of that with all the new tricks up your sleeve. To give you an example, you’re now able to booby trap corpses – and if you’re manipulative enough you can cause some real mayhem and destruction with that, even while you’re on the other side of a map. The increased power has meant we can make a whole raft of huge gameplay improvements – too many for one interview!
What is the premise for Sniper Elite 4? What role will players be assuming?
JASON KINGSLEY: The best place to start is the setting. Sniper Elite 4 is set in Italy, 1943 – and we’re excited about that because it’s somewhere World War 2 films, games and so on haven’t explored that much. And yet it represented such a crucial part of the war, as we’ll explore in Sniper Elite 4.
TIM JONES: As ever you are our covert agent and sniper Karl Fairburne. You’re entering Italy just ahead of the Allied assault, into Nazi occupation of what remains an unusually pristine landscape. Sniper Elite 4 immediately looks very different from the previous game – that’s something that Italy brings to the table. Lots of beautiful coastal towns, lush forests and so on, and it’s all unspoiled because the main invasion hasn’t started yet. But there’s major political unrest and tension in the country – things aren’t straightforward at all – and there’s a devastating threat lurking beneath that could stop the Allied assault before it even begins. It’s a really interesting setting.
With the shift to Italy as a location, what kind of enemies will players come across? Will there be new types of enemies to battle?
TIM JONES: We’re not going into too much detail yet, but there will be new and very challenging unit types to tackle, each with their own challenges.
"Choice is a big thing for us in Sniper Elite 4. We’re not going full Assassin’s Creed or anything but we are making much more use of the environment."
Will you be expanding the overall scale of the game? If so, how significant will it be over Sniper Elite 3?
JASON KINGSLEY: Absolutely, that’s one of the things we can do because we’re developing only for current-gen. So the smallest map in Sniper Elite 4 is three times the size of the largest one in Sniper Elite 3. And of course that’s huge for Sniper Elite because it offers you more distance, more scope, and many more possibilities. If you want to do things stealthily, or maybe mostly from distance, or all guns blazing or however, the larger maps offers you tons of different ways to approach your objectives. The maps are now far more traversable as well, so you’re not being funneled down alleyways, there are often caves, roofs, bridges you can scale that make the environments feel even bigger because Karl is that much more athletic.
What kinds of new mechanics can we look forward to this time around? Will the X-Ray kill cam be expanded even further from the third game or is there something else?
TIM JONES: Choice is a big thing for us in Sniper Elite 4. We’re not going full Assassin’s Creed or anything but we are making much more use of the environment. You can clamber across edges, pull enemies off ledges for a stealthy take-down, climb up and down vines and ropes in the map, and so on. We’ve not only got big maps but they’re maps you can approach in a number of ways. You can even use the environment creatively with your rifle, like shooting out the support beneath an enemy. Very cruel!
Then there are the smaller touches, of which there are plenty. I mentioned booby-trapping AI, but you can also do things like whistle to get an enemy’s attention, or take out an officer to learn the positions of all the soldiers in his unit. Talking of information, using the binoculars lets you learn a ton of further intelligence about soldiers, which you can use to your advantage.
And yes, the X-ray kill cam! We know that a lot of fans enjoy it – though I’m always quick to remind people that it’s optional. But yes, we’ve made that even more detailed in Sniper Elite 4, but we’ve also added new X-ray kill cams. There are now melee kill-cams and explosive kill-cams, and neither of them is for the squeamish. The explosive kill-cams feature shrapnel and other things flying about, and you’ll see stuff getting lodged into enemies – it’s brutal, but as we’ve always said, World War 2 was of course incredibly, devastatingly brutal, and that’s something we don’t shirk from.
Can you tell us the overall play-length of Sniper Elite 4’s campaign?
TIM JONES: We can’t give you a number at this stage in development, and it depends on the player – their skill and their play style – but this could easily be the biggest campaign of the series so far. The maps are far bigger, there are more secret and side objectives and we also give you some great reasons to replay levels, or indeed get a friend to play with you in co-op.
"Typically, the console and PC versions are developed in parallel, but once the console versions are submitted the PC version typically gets a lot of specialist extra love."
What multiplayer modes can we look forward to this time around?
JASON KINGSLEY: We haven’t talked too much about multiplayer yet, but look at our recent games – Sniper Elite 3, Zombie Army Trilogy – multiplayer is always important to us. So far, we’ve said our campaign’s for 1-2 players, and we’ll have dedicated multiplayer modes – both co-op and versus. We have a separate Rebellion studio in Runcorn, near Liverpool looking after this, so it’s been a focus from day 1.
With all the different shooters out this year, when can we expect Sniper Elite 4 to release?
JASON KINGSLEY: We recently announced Sniper Elite 4 is arriving on PS4, Xbox One and PC on February 14th, 2017. We’ll have to start thinking about Sniper Elite Valentine’s cards. Who wouldn’t want that?
What kind of post-launch content can we expect in terms of future updates and DLC?
TIM JONES: Watch this space. We’ll certainly have post-launch content – again, look at how much stuff we made for Sniper Elite 3 – half a dozen free content drops with maps and modes. We also developed a whole new campaign after launch for the Season Pass which we hope gamers felt was great value for money We were always up front about what gamers would get after launch, and we actually delivered more post-launch DLC than we originally planned, so Season Pass owners really benefitted.
Please tell us about the PC build. What kind of visual improvements over the console versions will the best version have?
JASON KINGSLEY: Ha ha, well, you know we’re big PC enthusiasts at Rebellion. The studio’s had a long tradition of developing on PC – lots of people in the studio play on PC. I play mostly on PC. We don’t farm the PC version off to a porting house.
Typically, the console and PC versions are developed in parallel, but once the console versions are submitted the PC version typically gets a lot of specialist extra love. We want to make sure Sniper Elite 4’s playable on a range of hardware, though, not just the most expensive. And that it’s all scalable because of the power of our in-house engine, Asura.
You currently have two projects in development (Battlezone and Sniper Elite 4) Are there any other games you are working/researching on?
JASON KINGSLEY: We recently released Battlezone 98 Redux, a remaster of the classic real-time strategy Battlezone from 1998 – totally different to our virtual reality Battlezone that’s coming out on PlayStation VR at launch. But Redux was an interesting project – we worked with an outside developer and really gave the game a solid makeover that fans loved. And we’ve already announced that we will be working on more projects like that, both with internal and external teams.
"If you’re a fan of our previous games you’re not going to be disappointed, but I feel like this really could be the game to welcome new players too."
It seems like this would be a good year for Rebellion. Two big releases are underway. Tell our readers why they should be playing both of them?
JASON KINGSLEY: Because they’re both going to be great! I mean, with Battlezone it’s a virtual reality game, and I know I’m bloody excited about virtual reality, full stop. But I’m also really proud of what we’ve made – It’s not just an one-hit experience, it’s the kind of complete campaign experience gamers expect , even if in VR. We’re really hopeful it’ll be a launch title that a lot of PSVR buyers pick up.
And Sniper Elite 4 – well, if you’re a fan of our previous games you’re not going to be disappointed, but I feel like this really could be the game to welcome new players too. It’s funny that Sniper Elite still gets called niche in some circles – if that’s the case it’s a pretty big niche! But what you’re going to get is what Rebellion can do when we have no publisher and no-one telling us what do to or when to release it. The game’s already in fantastic shape and we’re still half a year from launch. We can’t wait to share it with you.
Are you guys planning to develop games for Scorpio and NEO? If yes, how much of drastic change it will be development wise?
JASON KINGSLEY: We’re not yet ready to talk about the new hardware I’m afraid, however it’s great to see that both Microsoft and Sony are making it clear they don’t want to leave those who bought consoles at the beginning of the generation behind. As an independent developer, we’re not tied to a platform, and we want our players to be able to play and experience our IP on their favourite platform wherever possible, so choice for us, is good.