Without wishing to put pressure on Rebellion, they have got a lot to live up to with the release of the fifth game in their popular Sniper Elite series. You see, the last two games that I reviewed with a number five in the title – Gears 5 and Forza Horizon 5 – both scored a perfect five. Can Sniper Elite 5 keep the chain going?
It’s the story of Sniper Elite 5 which is the first hook; it has to grab us and drag us along to the finale. And fortunately, whilst the previous Sniper Elite games certainly did that, the fifth installment doesn’t disappoint either. Yet again, a Nazi has come up with a top secret super weapon that is invulnerable to everything except one man and a rifle, and so we, as the Shadow, have to find out the details and stop something called Operation Kraken, putting an end to its mastermind, a certain Officer Möller. Now, finding out what Operation Kraken involves is a big part of the story so I’m going to gloss over that part and just say that the saga is split over nine episodes, and there is no shortage of things to do and Nazis to shoot. In fact, the scene is perfectly set for a blasting good time.
Presentation wise and Sniper Elite – as a series – has always been pretty good, but as you’d expect with the power of the new generation of consoles to leverage, the devs have upped the game this time. The way the French countryside looks, and the ability you have to see for miles with the binoculars and through the scope on your rifle is all superb, whilst the series staple – the much vaunted X-ray shots – have had an overhaul. All in all, the graphics are truly impressive and those testicle shots are as wince-making as ever. With an achievement tied to hitting one from more than 100 metres away, you best get practicing! Sniper Elite 5 excels in how individual organs get minced by high velocity bits of lead; teeth and hats fly, and lining up multiple Germans before shooting a line of them with one bullet to save ammo is all very good indeed.
In terms of the audio and again Sniper Elite 5 is bang on (if you’ll pardon the pun) as the gunshots, alarms and piteous screams of Nazis as you kill them are faithfully reproduced. The Germans speak German, as you’d expect, and hearing them shouting “Hilfe mir” when you incapacitate them is very convincing, as is how their comrades will come and assist; it’s all a bit heartwarming. At least until you shoot the rescuer, getting two for the price of one again.
So, the story is good, the presentation is excellent and so Sniper Elite 5 pretty much hangs on how the game plays out.
Now, the first choice you have to make when playing the game is what mode you wish to play. There is the standard campaign, which can be played co-op if you have a handy friend hanging about; Survival, which pits a group of four snipers against twelve waves of enemies; PvP which is, in my opinion, a complete waste of time, and finally a new option called Axis Invasion – the most interesting proposition on the list, as it charges you with invading another player’s game before finding and killing them. In practice, this can happen from either end of the scopes, so to speak, as if you choose to leave your game open, you can be invaded.
Admittedly, this is fun, and hunting down real humans is a lot more challenging than finding and killing an AI sniper, but it does have a problem. The first time I was invaded, I decided to play it smart, and set up a perimeter, laying in wait for the enemy to appear over the horizon. The game had other ideas, however, and told me that it had detected that I was camping, and had shown the enemy exactly where I was hiding. Now, I’m fairly sure that in the sniping fraternity what I did isn’t called camping, but rather “doing the bloody job”, so to be punished for it seemed faintly ridiculous. Still, the constraints are there for a reason, I guess, and so the new mode is pretty good fun.
What isn’t though are the PvP modes and I’m not going to lie, they are pretty dreadful. There are the usual choices with Free for All and various team based modes, but honestly, they just don’t work for me. Sniper Elite has drilled it into me – all through the campaign and the games from previous – that to be stealthy is to be safe, but now it wants us to go charging about in a half-arsed CoD wannabe mode. It just feels wrong. Add to this some of the worst connections I have ever seen in an online game (and I played Bad Company 2 back in the day) and teleporting and jagging players are the least of your worries.
On the flip, Survival is a lot of fun and if you manage to either get four friends together, or find a gang of randoms who are communicating, it is very enjoyable. The basic setup is that you are given a command post, and have to defend it for three waves of enemies. Keep them out of the command point and you win, if they capture it you move on to the next one, and so on and so forth. Exploring the maps, identifying choke points before setting traps there, and finding places that you can set up overwatch on is very involving and coordinating with team mates makes it easier. It reminds of the Horde mode from Zombie Army 4: Dead War, which was my favourite mode in that game, and this is an interesting twist on the formula.
Finally, Campaign does what it says on the tin and takes you through the story of the game. The big difference is not only the scale of the mission areas but also the amount of emphasis that is placed on exploration. You are given basic assignments, but by hunting about and finding documents you can unlock extra objectives; completing these is integral to getting the best score from the missions. There are also assassination missions in which you are tasked with killing the target in interesting ways in order to be rewarded with extra firearms to put in the loadout, and to master. Gaining XP in the missions allows you to level up and unlock perks (Survival and PvP have separate skill trees to unlock nodes on), whilst the weapons that you use also have mastery levels, so there is always something to work towards.
Sniper Elite 5 is a triumph. The campaign is great, Survival is brilliant fun and Axis Invasion gives an insight into how other players think. PvP sits in the mix like a wasp’s nest at a picnic, generally being unpleasant and spoiling things, but ignore that and this is a quality title that demands to be played. If you like sniping games (and who doesn’t?) and want to blow the nuts of a Nazi at 100 metres, this is the game for you.
Sniper Elite 5 is the very definition of a no-brainer. Almost literally, if you can nail the headshots!
Sniper Elite 5 is available from the Xbox Store