ONE of the world’s premier Nazi-shooting games is back, and the fifth round in the magazine is a bullseye-scorer.
The Sniper Elite games involve the adventures of WWII Special Operations Executive sniper Karl Fairburne and his efforts to thwart the Nazi Menace one .30-06 bullet at a time. Famous for their X-ray slow-motion killcams when the player pulls off a successful shot, the games have developed a cult following and spawned the Zombie Army franchise in the process.
Sniper Elite 5, developed and published by Rebellion for PC (reviewed), Xbox and PlayStation, is set in France around the D-Day landings; half the missions are in the lead-up while the others take place afterwards.
The levels in Sniper Elite 5 are truly exquisite, nearly rivalling the Hitman trilogy in terms of detail. Sprawling levels covering everything from French Chateaux to bombed-out villages to U-boat pens and V-2 launch sites are de rigueur, and there are countless nooks and crannies to explore and hide in throughout them.
The difficulty is incredibly granular and I really liked that. As someone who knows how to shoot a rifle IRL, having the computer calculate the windage and bullet drop for me in the form of a red crosshair takes all the challenge out of longer-range shots – but that doesn’t mean I want to have enemies with lightning-fast reflexes or super-human hearing or be the victim of one-shot kills from elite troops (that’s my job in this game), and I can adjust almost every level of the difficulty to suit my preferences.
One small touch which really pleased me was the addition of non-lethal ammunition and attacks. Instead of blowing someone’s head apart, you can use your gun to knock them out – eliminating them from play, but also letting you ease your conscience that you’re not indiscriminately assassinating hundreds of people. Non-lethal options have an XP bonus, but also come with the risk that soldiers will find their unconscious comrades and rouse them – so it’s a good idea to hide your KOs in grass or out of the way. In fact, was able to complete a level without firing a shot or killing anyone, which is quite an achievement for a game like this.
The single-player campaign is already excellent (despite a by-the-numbers plot; obviously there’s a Nazi Wunderwaffen at play but this time there’s a special guest appearance by Imperial Japan!) but the addition of an “Axis Invasion” mode really ups the ante and the interest.
This mode lets you “invade” someone else’s campaign and play an Axis counter-sniper, hunting down Karl Fairburne (and sometimes another sniper, if they’re playing co-op) in an effort to stop them completing the objective.
Given the size of the levels, this is a surprisingly involved process, assuming the Fairburne player is trying to be somewhat stealthy. If they’re not, you just have to follow the gunfire and bodies then pick them off. If they are, however, it’s a tense game of cat-and-mouse that’s particularly rewarding when you finally get the upper hand and get off a successful shot.
One thing that did concern me was that, given the objective-based nature of the missions, is that as the Axis sniper I could just hide near one of the objectives and wait until Fairburn showed up, right? Wrong.
The game has a neat anti-camping mechanic that detects if you’re in one place near an objective too long – it displays an “Anti-Camping Warning” message on your screen and then provides your location to the other player, essentially forcing you to move.
Obviously determined players are going to find a way around this, but it’s a good attempt at dealing with what could otherwise be a serious issue. The “invasion mode” can also be disabled, if you’d prefer to focus on the objectives without the headache of another player hunting you.
You can also play the game in a co-op mode, which lets you and a friend tackle the main campaign or the survival mode together. This opens up even more tactical options, including being able to take down multiple targets simultaneously, one player creating a distraction to draw attention from whatever the other is doing, or simply being able to complete the objectives faster since you can each tackle a different one.
While most of the game is excellent, there were still a few mis-fires too.
In each level, there’s a special assassination target which, if you take out in a particular way, will unlock a new weapon. Some of these special goals are pretty straightforward, but some of them require the co-operation of the target and without that, can’t be completed. For example, in one level, I had to assassinate an informant and had been provided with a “Rat Bomb” (a dead rat with explosives in it). The idea was to plant the device where the target would see it, go “A rat! I hate rats!” and shoot it (the irony), triggering an explosion and killing them.
Except he just stayed in the office of the building, ranting about rats everywhere but not actually leaving the room (no matter what I did, including reloading an earlier save), necessitating elimination via a more traditional method – and no unique weapon reward as a result.
The scale on a lot of the levels seems off too. You’ll see a target that looks like it’s miles away (even through a scope) and you’ll get set up, compensate for windage and bullet drop, sight up target, and fire, triggering the awesome slow-mo X-ray killcam, then discover the target was only 200m away. 200m is not a particularly long-range shot with a scoped rifle, even from WWII.
The game really needs proper long-range sniper opportunities, much like Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts 2, which had 1km+ shots.
I also didn’t think there were enough guns in the game, and felt quite restricted in my loadout options as a result. Between the previous four Sniper Elite games, the Zombie Army games, and Strange Brigade, Rebellion have done the modelling for most of the major guns of WWII (and quite a few others) so not seeing most of them in the game was rather disappointing.
I also found the whole idea of “temporary” guns in Sniper Elite 5 just silly; guns you pick up from enemies can’t be reloaded or kept; once the mag runs out you ditch them and go back to your regular gun.
If I shoot a German soldier and take his MP-44, why can’t I keep reloading it with scrounged magazines from all the other German soldiers carrying that gun? Why is it I can take the ammo from that captured gun and use it in my SMG, even though they’re totally different calibres?
Yes, I know I’m probably overthinking a video game, but “magic interchangeable firearm calibres” is one of those “breaks the immersion” things for me, especially in a game that’s otherwise trying to be fairly realistic.
Broadly, however, Sniper Elite 5 is outstanding – it’s easily the best game in the series and offers a rich, rewarding and replayable adventure which can be as easy or as challenging as you like. The levels are well-crafted and detailed, the payoff when a shot or trap comes together is extremely high, and the ability to play from “the other side” is a welcome feature too. Even though there’s only eight “full” levels, they are enormous and will take around 20 hours to get through based on my experience – and that’s not counting the other game modes available.
There’s not much out at the moment on the Big Games front so now is the ideal opportunity to load up and dial in your scope for Sniper Elite 5 – especially since it’s also available on Xbox Game Pass. Even if you’ve never played one of the previous games, this is an extremely accessible and worthwhile game which is definitely worth playing if you’re a fan of WWII or shooting games.