STAFF REVIEW of Sniper Elite 4 (Xbox One)

Monday, February 13, 2017.
by Brent Roberts

Sniper Elite 4 Box art Throughout the years, the Sniper Elite games have taken leaps and bounds in terms of progression as they have tried to deliver the most realistic sniping experiences you will ever play on a console. Having originally only played the first game, I felt that premise was good; however, the execution I found to be substantially lacking. Now though, throughout multiple years and multiple evolutions, Sniper Elite 4 has launched, and like a fine wine, this series has only gotten better with age. In fact, I can say right now that this is going to be one of the predominant sniper experiences that you can find on the Xbox One console at this moment. Now without further ado, let's take a peek inside Sniper Elite 4.

Right from the opening menu you're faced with a few options to get your sniper experience going. These range from single player campaign, multiplayer, co-operative, and shooting range. Wanting to see how the bullet physics evolved I first loaded up the shooting range. Here you can take a variety of rifles out to the range and see which one feels best for you. When you enter the range (as is the case with every mode in Sniper Elite 4) you will have the choice to select the difficulty. This difficulty determines just how the game itself will react with your sniping. Bullet physics mean almost everything in this game, but as I was starting out, I selected normal which included bullet physics (which does include drop) and more.

As soon as everything loaded up I could see a dramatic improvement in the graphics and I started to head to the armory. It was here I went through the different rifles and noted the pros and cons of each. Once I selected my rifle I headed across to the firing range where I had the chance to hit both stationary targets and moving ones from a distance of 10 meters to over 150. Now there are somethings I have to mention up front.

First, if you have an Elite controller, you will want to cancel out the trigger lock for both triggers and I'll tell you why; Sniper Elite 4 combines a 3 stage aiming system where the first stage is just firing from the hip and is very inaccurate except at very close range. The second stage is a shoulder fire and this is what we've come to expect from a 3rd person shooter, and then finally you have your zoomed in scope aiming where you are able to pick off individual organs of your enemies. Now, should you have your trigger lock engaged you will never be able to go into the final aiming system, so you'll be limiting yourself to either hip fire or shoulder fire.

During my time in the shooting range I spent a few moments getting acclimated to switching between the 2nd and 3rd stages of aiming and I noticed that the game seems to hesitate just a hair when switching between the two which gives you a sense that the game is "locking in" the point of view you wish to use. But just getting used to the aiming modes and bullet physics is only part of the education, as there's one last major factor you have to learn to manage, and that's your breathing.

On the bottom right hand side of your screen you'll see a meter filled by a blue line which represents your stamina or "breath." When you are looking through your aiming sights you will see that this meter shifts to become a large meter on the left hand side of the screen. You can press in the Left Stick to hold your breath which will bring up a bullet targeting reticle which will tell you when you pull the trigger and the bullet will go there.

Now, as you continue to hold your breath, the meter will grow and the bullet targeting will substantially get smaller to indicate a more accurate shot. This mode is only temporary because as the meter increases to the top, it will change from blue to flashing red. thus reset all together and you will have to wait for the 'cooldown' period before you can engage in a precise shot.

This meter doesn't just deplete upon holding your breath, but it also depletes upon your character sprinting, but thankfully freezes at current levels while climbing or hanging from a ledge. This means that should you be sprinting away to a higher vantage point, upon your arrival you could find yourself out of breath and having to wait a few moments before you can start to acquire your targets.

I left the shooting range and decided to check out the other modes. Now given that this was an early review copy I could not find others to participate in any multiplayer or co-operative games; however, after going through the various menus I was impressed to see such a solid structure for both platforms of gameplay. In co-operative missions you can do things like spotter/sniper co-op or even tackle the main campaign missions together which could lead to some absolutely amazing sniping crossfire action. You have the option in both gameplay modes to er find a game in action or create your own through a private lobby system.

Multiplayer includes various modes such as Team Deathmatch and more, and both gameplay modes allow you to customize the settings such as level, difficulty and more. Even though I was unable to experience these modes due to the game simply not being out yet, I got the sensation that there has been tremendous focus to ensure the stability and entertainment in these modes is maintained for all players.

With the inability to find both multiplayer and co-operative modes I switched my focus over to the main campaign of Sniper Elite 4. Taking place during Hitler's rise to power and the territorial onslaught that the Germans had with their allies, the Italians, it's up to you to try and help your own allied nations overcome the growing terror threat and reclaim strategic positions in the regions to help liberate the neighboring lands and crush the opposition.

While the premise is historical, it does boil down to one simple thing, a massive sandbox full of enemies to kill and objectives too complete. After the first mission you are given what I'm calling a loading area where you will find various allies who, when you talk with them, will give you optional side quests to achieve during your mission. Then once you have acquired all your intel from available sources, you will proceed to one area of the map to start your mission.

Once you arrive in your mission area, if you press the back button you will see an overview of the entire map itself. In my gameplay time, I would plan my points of attack, and quite often I would find myself advancing to a certain point on the map where I would back track (sometimes all the way back to the beginning) and consult my map on how to traverse down a secondary pathway that would lead me to where I came from, but from a different vantage point which allowed me to seemingly create a pinch from both sides.

It must be pointed out that the enemy AI in this game isn't the brightest, but what they lack in overall intelligence, they more than make up for in numbers. However, they are substantially intelligent though compared to other shooters. For example, in one mission I tried to take out someone's liver and I missed, so this person dropped to the ground but wasn't dead. Another soldier found him, picked him up over his shoulder, and walked him back to what he thought was a safe area, where he set the enemy down and knelt down and patched him up, resulting in my downed target up and walking around.

So granted yes, there is a heavy dose of fantasy (last time I checked a sniper rifle round to the chest back in those days was pretty fatal), but you'll find that the number one thing that will give you away is sound. Your sound can give you away, but it can also be your friend if you figure out how to use it to your advantage. To do this I armed myself with my trusty rock, whistle, and combat knife. You'll see why I chose to bring a knife to a gunfight.

During the last mission I played I killed over 132 enemies, 117 of those were from knife kills. The way I did this was sound management and playing off some of the stupidity of the AI. The mission placed me within a small town so there were lots of buildings, and the town was adjacent to a neighboring church. Upon starting the mission, I pressed in my Right Stick, which brought up my binoculars (you'll be doing that A LOT of this), and using the Right Trigger I marked my enemies on my HUD and mini map on the bottom right.

Now I could go in guns blazing and leave a wake of bodies, blood and bullets, but I wanted to experiment and see if it was possible to go through a level, such as this, firing as few shots as possible. To do this I had to stick to crouching in bushes to not be seen (which was pretty hilarious when I had an RPG strapped to my back that was sticking out about 3-4 feet above the top of the bushes that no one seemed to notice). From there I would equip my rock and while hidden in the bushes, I would angle my throw to direct only one enemy at a time to get closer to me. Once they were within range I would switch out to my whistle and call them over to the bush (honestly if I were hearing a bush whistle I'd empty a clip into the bush before I went in there, but that's just me), where I would pounce and do an instant melee kill on the enemy and the body would automatically hide in the bushes. Step one complete.

The enemy AI will say something along the lines of "There's someone missing", and for some reason they knew that this fellow soldier went missing in this one bush that I happen to be hiding in (don't ask me how they knew because I have no idea). This is where things get interesting because you will either have one lone soldier coming, or, because the soldier looking frantic will draw other soldiers near him to follow along), a small squad of soldiers (the max I ever had around me was about 8 at once) will come along. If it's a lone soldier, all you do is wait in the bushes and when they approach, use your knife and pile up the bodies in the bush.

It is here where I would use some strategy. By now a section of the patrol unit was missing and this alerts the guards in the surrounding areas and they will go to where the last known location was. But I like my bush (giggity). So, I would see a small group of about 4 enemies headed my direction. This is where I switch out to my trusty rock and throw one away from me in a perpendicular direction.

Now all 4 enemies hear the sound to their side and turn and shift focus in that direction. All 4 enemies then take off in pursuit towards that area. During this time, I press in the Left Bumper and bring up my weapon radial where I select a delayed S-mine, and it's here that I hold down the Right Bumper to rig the body with this booby trap as I pick up the body and set him away from my bush.

The 4 enemies haven't found anyone so they start to spread out, but I want them together so I arm my trusty rock and this time I throw it back to where they were originally. Now they all run back to where the sound was but this time in the road they see a body of their fallen soldier. Alarmed by this all 4 start running towards the trap laced body. Now normally upon reaching the body, the first soldier would normally get caught in the blast and maybe the second, however, since I selected a delayed version of my mine, it allowed the few short seconds to allow the other 3 soldiers to catch up only to be caught in the blast. So I've already killed 6 enemies with one mine and two knife attacks, and no shots fired.

There are other ways you can adapt your gameplay to the situation. For instance, later on in that same level I managed, through a lot of walking and observation, to find a back entrance into a compound. Standing upright and running by the ladder going up into the compound I had triggered a total of 5 enemies alerted (running upright = lots of noise), so they sent one unlucky guy to come down the ladder and check out the noise. Hiding back from the ladder I called the guy over and used my knife to take him down. From here I applied the booby trap method described earlier and managed to get three out of the remaining four soldiers.

The 4th soldier got scared and flew back up the ladder and took a defensive position focusing on the ladder itself. During this time, I decided to plant a mine at the bottom of the ladder and use my whistle to draw him in and sure enough, like a moth to a flame, as soon as his boots hit the ground he was a stain on the wall.

This type of environment manipulation plays a critical role in Sniper Elite 4 and will serve a vital role in keeping your presence very low. There are numerous types of soldiers such as regular infantry, snipers, radio beacon transmitters, officers and more, and each of them carry with them not only details about them, but possible items and weaponry as well. You can find this information out through the binoculars. When you tag an item or an enemy with the left trigger, if you leave it in focus you will start to compile information on that target. This is incredibly useful since, for example, if a soldier who uses a radio beacon sees any disturbance, or you, then they will call in for reinforcements and that's when your day goes from bad to worse, because those can consist of Panzer tanks and other military vehicles that aren't so fun to play with. Sniper Elite 4 is far more of a strategic gameplay experience than a mindless shooter.

So, we've established that this game is incredibly fun and an intense experience, however there are a few drawbacks that take a shot or two at the game itself. First have to be the graphics. Sniper Elite 4 is a beautiful game with incredible water and lighting effects, and physics that can be incredibly fun. Trucks for instance have about 3 timed explosion tiers: the first one which destroys the truck, then the engine explodes, then the cargo. One time I killed an enemy soldier by blowing up the truck and when his fellow soldier came to check on him the second explosion hit which caused the door to fire off and instantly kill the second infantryman.

However, if you find yourself rapidly trying to change your vantage point, or even run for that matter, you'll find tremendous amount of screen tearing and it's very disorienting. You almost find yourself deliberately playing the game at a slower pace that you would want just to prevent that from happening and it seems to hinder the fluidity of the game's combat. Now, this is a huge issue since acquiring targets requires you to adapt to your environment and conditions in combat and if you're being disoriented because the screen is tearing, then that's a pretty major flaw.

Another flaw comes in the gameplay. With only a few quick-select slots, but a massive selection available from the radial menu, you find that the quick-selection slots are pretty worthless since the game pauses during your radial selection. I know that the game is trying to make you prioritize what you want at your fingertips and how snipers only carry essential items; however, when you force a balance between items, traps, and weapons, you quickly realize that all of these items are essential yet there's no way to select a different set of "quick select" options, so back again you go to the radial menu. This again creates a disorienting pause effect in the gameplay, and while I used it at times to tactfully plan my next few moves, I felt again that this was a massive setback to the fluidity of the game. This is why I stuck with my rock and whistle and controlled the environment.

There are some other light RPG elements though found within the game that adds to the game's enjoyment. For instance, when you hit various levels of experience you can unlock various perks for your sniper, such as decreased fall damage, increased heart rate recovery and more. Plus, every weapon also comes with its own set upgrades that require some certain criteria to be met before it's unlocked. In my case I used my rifle and its criteria were:

- 1. - Total Kill Distance = 10Km. (Completing this upgraded my rifle's damage)

- 2. - 25 Environmental Explosion Kills. (Completing this upgraded my rifle's stability)

- 3. - 10 Liver Shots. (Completing this upgraded my rifle's zoom)

- 4. - Mastery: 25 Double Kills (This can only be completed once the first 3 criteria are completed. Upon completion you're awarded a mastery skin for your weapon and a nice achievement for mastering one weapon.)

Sniper Elite 4 has come a long way from its first initial iteration and the evolution between games is night and day. This current release has the largest maps you will ever find in a Sniper Elite game. The combat is done in an incredibly balancd Fight Vs. Flight manner, and despite the flaws in the graphics and some gameplay issues, the game is an incredibly enjoyable experience from start to finish. Every mission in the campaign has tons of collectibles to find so you'll be enjoying the exploration as you traverse all types of terrain at all points of day and night. While multiplayer wasn't available at the time, if it's execution is carried out with the same detailed precision as the game, then expect that to be a major source of hour draining fun. It goes without saying that Sniper Elite 4 set its mark high on delivering a fairly incredible experience, and despite the few faults, it has hit that mark dead center.

Please fix the screen tearing and provide some increase quick selection options for the user.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.9 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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