Sniper Elite has been around as a franchise for 12 years now, with the original gracing PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox way back in 2005. Since then, two more games have been released, establishing the series as a dominant force for those who love long range combat. The now iconic x-ray killcams have also helped cement Sniper Elite as a formidable series, and hence there is plenty of expectation building as we head towards the fourth game, which
we played when we visited Rebellion's Oxford office, allowing us the chance not only to experience a slice of the campaign but also multiplayer and the new survival mode. We also got to speak to lead designer Paul Wright about what's in store for us ahead of SE4's launch, and he gave some interesting information about what the development process has been like.
Gamereactor: What was your approach to multiplayer and how are you making it different to previous iterations?
Paul Wright: We have a loyal fanbase who play multiplayer and still play to this day Sniper Elite V2 and Sniper Elite 3. So that's always our starting base, it's the hard core fans, what do they want? So we iterate on the classics such as Team Deathmatch and No Cross and the stuff that we've released before. I think when we're looking at new multiplayer modes for Sniper Elite 4, the thing that was on our mind was to try and fill in that gap between proper stealth sniping and action, and come closer to the action aspect, but still retain the sniping model, which is why we came up with Control, which you played today. It can be played as a sniper, should you want to play like that, but it's very much a team-based game that encourages a bit more action, more use of items, and mid-range combat. It has quite a good mix, so we're quite happy with that. But we did want to expand our multiplayer audience and retain and iterate upon the hardcore that we already have.
In terms of co-op, in Sniper Elite 3 we had a two-player survival mode, and it was good but when we released Zombie Army Trilogy with four-player survival we thought 'yeah, this is a lot more fun, let's try and get that working in a sniper environment'. We got it working then we added our military AI to that system, and it just worked straight away. We had these waves of advancing characters using cover, approaching control points, and it's a very, very tough but really intense kind of game mode that we think suits the Sniper Elite franchise very well. So we're looking to evolve, we're looking to fill gaps, and make a really full package for Sniper Elite 4.
GR: What was the inspiration behind setting it in Italy?
PW: I guess reality played a big part in it. After the African campaign, chronologically, the Allies pushed the Axis forces back into mainland Europe. So following them up into Italy seemed quite a logical thing to do. But, where we wanted to set that was ahead of an invasion. We didn't want to have the bombed out beautiful structures of Italy, which in the timeline is going to happen in a couple of month's time, but we wanted to see all the architecture before it got hit and destroyed. But we also wanted to see the kind of cultural relationships going on at the time between the German and Italian fascists and the Communist partisans that were trying to overthrow them, and see how the Mafia fit into that... and how they all worked together before the Allies kinda stormed in pushed up through Italy.
So not only was the theme good for us, naturally, chronologically, getting ahead of the fight and seeing the architecture and environments before they were war torn was quite a different step. We had Berlin, that was destroyed in V2, the fight was already there in Africa in SE3, so it's got new avenues for us, and it's turned out really, really well.
GR: There's quite a few assassination themed games at the moment, Hitman, Dishonored. Would you say that any of these titles have influence Sniper Elite in any way?
PW: I think it would be a lie to say "no", but those titles that you've just mentioned were in development when we were in development, so you're probably looking a generation before hand, and then some. So games like the Hitman series do their stealth very well. We're not a full out stealth game, so we draw little bits of inspiration from games like that; Metal Gear Solid is obviously, going back to Metal Gear Solid 2, 3, and 4, were quite inspirational. Ground Zeroes was released when we were in development so it was both nice and scary to see some similarities there, and obviously Phantom Pain came out as well very recently. I think for me, my inspiration mainly is watching documentaries like World at War, watching movies, getting the inspiration from the human element of sniping, and trying to put that back into the game somehow. So, games definitely, I would say it was more TV and movies and real-world sniping where I get my personal inspiration from. Hunting is a big thing as well; you find stalking and hunting is part of sniping, and you may or may not have found yourself turning into a hunter when there's a guy and you're going towards him. Real snipers don't do that, you try to back off as much as possible, so there is that hunting and stalking element that again I get from various media and stuff like that. We're very honoured to be mentioned alongside Dishonored and Hitman for sure; they are inspirational to us, but we probably looked a generation back for our inspiration.
GR: Is being historically accurate important for Sniper Elite?
PW: Yes, absolutely. What I'm about to say, at the end I'm going to say 'it's a game'. But before that, we look at everything as realistically as we can, as authentically as we can, whilst making it fun to play. So with our weaponry, the first thing we do is we talk to experts about the weaponry that would be used in Italy in 1943, around that time, and then we ask them what could have been developed as well, what was potentially in development over the next year, and maybe use that as inspiration. We look at our vehicles and try and make them authentic. The landscapes, the environments that you play around in Italy, we have thousands and thousands of reference photographs which we've drawn inspiration from. The way Karl looks, even the way Karl moves, we went and saw a sniper and asked him about things you wouldn't believe: what position he would crouch in if he was going to snipe (which isn't a very good position to snipe from, by the way)... we take a lot of time to go into the authentic angle. But, sometimes we have to gamify certain things, and I think our fans accept that to a certain degree. Some of them won't; 'it must be like this, it must be like that'. And we really try to please them. But ultimately there is a game to be had, and we have to do something that needs a little wriggle room we will, but we really do try to keep it as authentic as possible.
GR: Can you tell us a bit more about the Authentic mode?
PW: Authentic mode is something that myself and the head of creative and CEO really want to give to fans who want as little gaming assistance as possible. They want to try and make it as raw and as realistic as we possibly can, without a detriment to playing the game. So our rule for authentic is that we try to remove that is an assist, and then we add certain things such as wind, gusts of winds, as well as a more aggressive AI (more than normal).
So we get scenarios where you just don't have any information. You don't know how many bullets you've got, you have to remember how many's in there. If you pick a rifle with an en bloc clip, you have to fire all the bullets before you can reload, you can't just mid-reload. Suppressed bullets, which we've introduced in Sniper Elite 4, they're not silent in Authentic, they only reduce normal noise by a percentage, which is what they do in real life (there's no such thing as a silent bullet, a suppressor just reduces the decibels down). We really change it, it's actually a game-changer. I personally wouldn't recommend it unless you're very comfortable with Sniper Elite. It's very off-putting, but we've got people who play 'Sniper Elite' difficulty level, which is nearly the highest. Go through it, want a new challenge and when they play Authentic everything gets stripped back to its raw essentials. It's very, very tough. If you can pull off a sniping shot over 200 meters in authentic, you're doing very, very well.
It certainly sounds like there's a lot in store for fans next month, and we're very much looking forward to seeing how all of this comes together in the finish product, especially considering the new setting and how the new gameplay mechanics will work. Regardless, there's a lot to be positive about, as we've mentioned in our preview.