Open ended stealth gameplay and great map design make for a solid experience in spite of noticeable flaws.
There has been a massive boom in the growth of emergent stealth-based gameplay in the last few years. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain revolutionized the way people think about and play stealth video games, and more and more titles are now trying to follow in their footsteps, such as last year’s Hitman. Sniper Elite 4 is another such game, and while it is not the kind of resounding success that will be remembered as a standard for the genre, it is still a solid, well-made title that fans of stealth games and of the series will enjoy a great deal.
What works best in Sniper Elite 4’s favour is the size of its maps. Each map is a fairly big sandbox arena with multiple objectives and side-objectives for you to tackle in a variety of ways. Make no mistake, this isn’t an open world game, and you won’t have the sort of freedom that just allows you to wander around aimlessly or even jump into vehicles. Each level is a focused forward march, but the only two points in each level that are pre-determined are its beginning and its end. Everything that happens in between is completely up to you.
"What helps is the fact that the map design in general is great. From hills and dense forests to urban cities and coastal towns, maps in Sniper Elite 4 offer a great variety of terrain and scenery, while also adding a sense of verticality and layers that hasn’t been present in the series up until now."
What helps is the fact that the map design in general is great. From hills and dense forests to urban cities and coastal towns, maps in Sniper Elite 4 offer a great variety of terrain and scenery, while also adding a sense of verticality and layers that hasn’t been present in the series up until now. There are multiple branching paths for players to choose from in each map, and how you get from point A to point B, as I’ve already mentioned, is completely up to you.
This sense of verticality, on the other hand, also brings with it new ways to control Fairburne, the protagonist of the game (and the series), and as a result, players now also have the ability to climb up ledges and make some basic jumps. These movements, however, usually feel jerky and stiff, and Fairburne doesn’t always move or interact with the environment the way you might want him to. A lot of times, in fact, there might even be instances when you think there are areas that you should logically be able to vault over or climb onto, but the game doesn’t let you because of its patchy, finicky mechanics.
What also doesn’t work is the general gunplay. Sniper Elite 4 assumes that most of the times, the gun you use the most will be your sniper rifle, and everything to do with that, from zooming and steadying your aim to pulling the trigger and the excellent, slick animations that follow are all excellent. However, apart from that, gunplay in Sniper Elite 4 feels, for the lack of a better word, loose and clunky. That’s not to say it’s completely terrible, and in a game that is focused more than anything else on stealth, and assumes that you won’t be going all guns blazing into enemy territory all that much, that makes sense. However, it still feels like a missed opportunity, not in that Sniper Elite 4 could have been an excellent third person shooter, but that it had the chance to be a great stealth game, which it is, while also having steady, solid supporting shooting mechanics, which it doesn’t.
"The game puts you in a sandbox arena and gives you a number of objectives to accomplish, and then simply tells you to go nuts."
The one thing the game more or less nails is the aspect it is, incidentally, built around. Stealth- no, better yet, emergent stealth. This isn’t a regular scripted stealth game, and that’s not really a surprise. Those kinds of games are becoming a thing of the past more and more each day now, and open ended stealth games with emergent, reactive gameplay are starting to become the norm, so the fact that Sniper Elite 4 tries something similar isn’t something that surprises me. But not only does the game try to have that brand of gameplay, it also does so with great aplomb.
None of that would work, though, if the game’s AI wasn’t any good, and happily enough, that is not the case. Enemies in Sniper Elite 4 are smart and vigilant with keen vision, steady aim and sharp hearing, and having your cover blown can often be lethal, at least on the higher difficulties. There are, however, instances when the AI starts acting up. There are times when enemies simply stare at you from short distances and fail to notice you are even there, or other instances when, while searching for you, they simply run past you and don’t even see you crouching in the corner.
As I’ve already mentioned, there’s a ton of options in almost everything you do, and how you complete objectives and accomplish tasks is shaped entirely by your decisions. There are, for instance, multiple ways to distract your enemies (such as destroying vehicles or using dead bodies), multiple ways to weaken them (such as killing their commanding officers as soon as possible to affect their morale), several ways to hide in plain sight (such as shooting your guns without suppressors while using ambient noise as camouflage at just the right time), and loads of out-of-the-box ways to kill enemies (up close and personal with awesome melee animations, or from far off by, for example, dropping crates or barrels on top of their heads). The game puts you in a sandbox arena and gives you a number of objectives to accomplish, and then simply tells you to go nuts. It gives you a truckload of options to choose from in almost everything you do and trusts that you will be able to take care of yourself with everything you have at your disposal.
"Another area where the game is significantly lacking is the technical department. The animations look jerky, and the lackluster quality of the visuals and the animations translates to cutscenes as well."
And that’s another great thing about the maps of Sniper Elite 4 and the game in general. There’s just so much to do. Now, when I say this, I do not mean the maps will be littered with landmarks or objectives or collectibles akin to an open world Ubisoft game. That said, there will be collectibles to collect, there will be plenty of reasons for you to go off the beaten path, and you will want to hold off on the main story missions for some time while you explore the map and complete the side quests and secondary missions that the game throws your way (of which there are plenty). Each map, in fact, can take anywhere from an hour to as much as three hours to finish if you choose to thoroughly exhaust everything it has to offer.
There’s also a progression system in here, which is at best serviceable and at worst barely even noticeable, making you wonder in the end why it even exists in the game to begin with. The experience and leveling system don’t have much of an effect on the game and how you play it, and progression is barely even noticeable. Given the fact that weapon customization and upgradation is done pretty well in Sniper Elite 4, the character progression system just feels shallow and shoehorned at times.
Another area where the game is significantly lacking is the technical department. The animations look jerky, and the lackluster quality of the visuals and the animations translates to cutscenes as well. Facial animations are hilariously subpar at times, and the lip syncing is simply not good enough. The voice acting is also quite poor, often almost cringe-worthy, and the fact that the writing itself is serviceable at best and ridiculous at worst does it no favours.
Sniper Elite 4 is a solid stealth action game. It’s not the next big thing in the genre, it’s not even something that people might remember a handful of years down the line. It’s mostly just following in the footsteps of titles that have paved the way for stealth games in recent years, but that is, for the most part, exactly what makes the game works so well. It has its faults, sure, and technically, it’s far from being a marvel (to say the least), but with great map design, excellent emergent stealth gameplay and a great deal of freedom afforded to players, it’s a game that all stealth fans should surely play.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Large, excellently designed maps; A great number of things to do and a great number of ways to do them all; Intense stealth action; Excellent AI, for the most part; Sniping feels awesome and the animations that follow are even better.
Movement feels stiff at times; Shooting mechanics don’t work too well; Lackluster visuals; Mediocre voice acting and writing; Shallow, unneeded progression system; Glitches.
Sniper Elite 4 isn’t a revelation, but it’s a solid game that shouldn’t be missed if you enjoy stealth games.