Back in September we tried a little snippet of Sniper Elite 4, and more recently Gamereactor travelled to Rebellion's Oxford office to play even more of the game, which is the latest instalment in their sniping saga that's due out on Valentine's Day. Over the course of the day we played three modes on offer: a single-player mission, some multiplayer matches, and a few rounds of the wave-based Survival mode.
First up was the single-player mission, one that takes place early in the game and tasks you with eliminating high-ranking Nazis on an Italian island, before taking out an even higher ranked officer and getting out of there. As you may or may not know, the whole game revolves around protagonist Karl Fairburne who is assisting the Italian resistance against Nazis and fascists. This is the core of the Sniper Elite experience, something that became obvious when we played, as it's all about you as a lone sniper working to tactically dispatch enemies.
As you'd expect there are a number of challenges you come across when approaching the level, even when you're at a safe distance. For example, noise is one big issue and you need to cover your rifle shots with loud environmental noises (a plane jetting overhead, for example), or guards will easily be alerted. It's a returning feature that is used much to the same effect here as in previous games. The AI has also been improved dramatically, which is evident from the outset, and when we thought we'd killed someone efficiently and silently, we didn't count on the soldiers noticing someone was missing and trying to find him. This added another layer of depth to the game, and an interesting new challenge.
The x-ray kill cams are back and just as brutal as ever too, and it even extends to melee kills as well as shrapnel. Once again there are also plenty of gadgets, although this time the selection is expanded, meaning that there are plenty of tactical options if you'd like to experiment with how you assassinate your target. On top of all this there is an overhauled animation system, and so the shots, kills, and combat all feel satisfying in terms of how they strike enemies.
Visually, this is the best Sniper Elite has ever looked. The island we explored was incredibly detailed, but the style is more impressive. Rebellion has clearly worked to create that Italian and Mediterranean feel, and that applies to weather, lighting, and even the architecture. Instead of the light, sandy colours of Sniper Elite 3, there's much more variety here, and the change is nothing short of dramatic.
The most clear change regarding the environments from 3 to 4 is the scale, as 4 is noticeably bigger in every sense, allowing multiple ways to approach a situation, and of course longer distances to snipe from. This really reinforces this notion that the game is a sniper's playground in which those who want to explore can do to create the best possible experience, and the developers at the event really wanted to make clear that there was more verticality in this game, with plenty of towers to climb and get a vantage point from. Binoculars can also be used to see enemies and their weapons, so the added verticality is a most welcome change.
Hardcore fans will no doubt appreciate the detail that has been put into the weaponry as well, as Rebellion have clearly done their research into how weapons feel and how to reproduce that in the game.
"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," lead designer Paul Wright told us at the event, "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 take a lot of time to go into the authentic angle."
Mechanics and bullet physics are clearly important, and that's evident on the harder difficulties especially, where bullet drop, wind, and other factors dramatically influenced the experience.
The level we played didn't take too long to complete, but it wasn't by any means easy. Ammunition is a little scarce, so trying to gun your way through with pistols or automatic weaponry isn't a great option, and isn't helped by the fact that recoil and accuracy are often horrendous. If all the levels are like this one, then, methodical thinkers should love the challenge, especially with the addition of side objectives to complete in the levels as well.
In terms of multiplayer, we played a mode that involved capturing control points, and this is a very different beast from the solo experience (it's even a marked change from traditionally slower-paced modes like Team Deathmatch). Usually the emphasis is on making a slow, methodical approach, using mostly long distance weaponry and traps, but Control introduces a slightly higher pace, where quicker thinking is most certainly necessary.
The matches we played were exhilarating in a different, non-sniper way, but in part that's likely due to the conditions of the press event. All the matches were close, and control points provided great standoffs and showdowns, but when players can take their time in the comfort of their own homes, sniping will more than likely come to the fore more than it did during this brief introduction.
Multiplayer maps are just as nice to look at as they are in single-player, from what we've seen, and have a nice balance between open and closed spaces, and verticality is improved here as well. One thing we would say with the multiplayer, however, is that it got pretty repetitive pretty fast. Although there were slight alterations in maps, zone locations, and modes, there wasn't enough variation that we could see ourselves sinking hours into it, especially since it lacks the depth that other multiplayer shooters have in terms of weaponry and unlocks. If you like Sniper Elite's multiplayer, though, this is more of the same, but with some welcome changes.
Finally, Survival mode was the last mode we played, and this allowed up to four players to hold off on a position while waves of enemy soldiers approached, however, this isn't as simple as enemies that only want to kill you (although they do). Enemies also try to capture a box close to your spawn point that allows ammunition refills and such, so this also needs to be defended, as losing that makes situations much harder in the future. This box also moves around, meaning that you always need to keep relocating your position to ensure survival, something that really works to keep things fresh and exciting.
This variety also applies to the enemies knocking on your door as well. As expected, the usual grunts are the ones populating the lower levels, but as you progress increasingly powerful and armoured soldiers approach your position, and from all angles too, meaning that tactics (traps especially) and teamwork need to be deployed for the best results. As we found out, going lone wolf and getting downed wasn't the best thing for the team, especially since you can't move when downed.
Survival mode was great fun overall, and learning the maps and how to use them for the best results should provide a lot of entertainment, especially since Rebellion made it clear this is something the fans asked for. It's a bit calmer than multiplayer, but a bit more intense than single-player, providing a nice balance that allows both snipers and close quarters players to thrive and work together.
In short, we were very impressed with what we saw of Sniper Elite 4, especially in terms of single-player and survival, and although multiplayer didn't leave the same impression, it didn't disappoint either. Sniper Elite fans should appreciate the changes made, especially in regards to the campaign and the open-world approach, and news fans can just as easily climb aboard the Sniper Elite train, which is looking to be pretty impressive ahead of next month's release.