It’s been almost five years since we’ve had a new Sniper Elite game, and it’s safe to say it’s what developer Rebellion does best. They’ve dabbled in other experiences like Strange Brigade or even Zombie Army, the spin-off of this game. Still, none feel as slick or as polished as Sniper Elite. That being said, Sniper Elite 5 represents a major turning point for the franchise. It’s easily the best the developer has put out, but it’s also an indication that the series is perhaps in need of a bit of a refresh. And that all starts with its setting.
Sniper Elite 5 continues to follow hero sniper Karl Fairburne a year following the events of Sniper Elite 4. The US Rangers have tapped Karl to assist in weakening the Axis defense. It’s about a year after the events of the fourth game, and most of the major events take place around D-Day in France. Eventually, Karl contacts members of the French resistance before uncovering a secret Nazi plot – Operation Kraken – which he must both investigate and ultimately destroy.
There are some great attempts here to make Sniper Elite 5 more attractive, including introducing some more memorable supporting characters than ever seen before. Still, the truth is that the game’s plot is a little bit too pedestrian. We’ve perhaps had too many games take place during this conflict, and there’s really only so much you can do with it before it all feels like a retread. It’s a story rife with stereotypes and tired war conventions that I struggled to empathize with.
Thankfully, Sniper Elite 5 as a game is much better than the story it’s trying to tell. While it’s a fairly typical third-person shooter at a glance, there’s a lot to be found in each of the game’s wide-open levels. Continuing the design philosophy that I really appreciated in Sniper Elite 4, every level feels like a mini open-world. Large, sprawling and most importantly – alive. Each level is filled with things to uncover, whether main objectives or smaller optional objectives that provide greater experience rewards. There’s a lot to do in each level and they’re clearly built for replayability to, as each one has multiple entry points that must be unlocked and heaps of intel and collectibles to uncover.
Intel is the most interesting aspect here. In my first run of the first level, I found a radar tower that I had to destroy. The most obvious way the game led me initially was to scale it and use satchel charges to destroy it. Another way, however, came up on a repeat playthrough where I grabbed some intel from a dead body (or maybe somewhere else, I can’t be sure) and was instead given the location of a breaker box that would short the radar entirely without the need to collect explosives or scale it. It sounds minor, but it feels like a more natural progression from what Sniper Elite 4 offered and clearly highlights that there’s a lot more freedom in how you can approach your objectives.
Of course, the game is called Sniper Elite, so it would be remiss of me not to talk about the sniping. One thing I really appreciate about Sniper Elite 5 is how it allows you to customise the realism of how everything works. There’s an incredibly robust custom difficulty system that allows you to adjust how enemies behave, how much damage they’ll take but also other things that offer a more realistic sniping experience. The world is designed so that you’ll have to handle aspects such as bullet drop distance and wind into account, but if you want a more arcade-like experience, all of these features can be turned off. The result will appease both those wanting a more simulation-like experience with the game’s shooting or those who just want to line up the perfect shot and worry about nothing else with a less realistic, more game-like experience.
The X-Ray kill camera returns, too, as do options to either decrease or increase their frequency if you so wish. I thought I’d grown tired of this aspect, but it honestly never gets old. To line up the perfect shot and watch the bullet shatter the bone of your opponents or rupture their organs is a bit macabre but endlessly satisfying. The X-ray aspect has been expanded now, too – so sub-weapons can trigger them, too – but I’ll never get tired of watching a bullet pass through an enemy’s brain before splattering out the other side of their skull. I probably sound a bit unhinged talking about this, but it’s one of the most simple yet effective ways to make the kills in Sniper Elite 5 so gratifying.
Progression is similarly handled quite well. You are given a player level that raises with the completion of objectives and the achievement of specific kills that award you skill points. Points can then be invested in three (very modest) skill trees to improve how your character plays. Guns are also very customisable, and rather than obnoxiously tie these to grinding or levelling up, customisation parts are unlocked by finding gun workshops located on each level. Progression is fairly typical on the multiplayer side of things – level up to unlock load-outs, skins, and perks from one of four specialist classes.
While the open-level design is to be admired, and the kills are always so satisfying, some aspects of Sniper Elite 5 feel like they’re still stuck in the past. For a game that emphasizes exploration and openness, I can’t count how many times I’d go to run through a bush or past a fence and for it to be an invisible, impassable wall. This kind of game design feels, quite frankly, quite dated and is what’s really holding Sniper Elite 5 back. Too often, I’d be running from vantage point to vantage point, in a rush, and be stopped by a barrier that simply feels like it shouldn’t be there. I was frustrated with this in Sniper Elite 4, and it’s a shame to see it hasn’t been rectified here.
That being said, it’s admirable to see how many different ways you can play Sniper Elite 5. The whole campaign can be played with another person in co-op. The open nature of the level design lends itself nicely to splitting up and getting stuff done if you want to be efficient. I find it more fun to have one player on the ground and another spotting from a distance as a sniper – but that’s what makes Sniper Elite 5 so fun – the choice really is yours. More interestingly, another player can also invade your game at any point as an enemy sniper (though this can be turned off if you want a traditional experience), and it adds just another element to the already layered campaign.
There’s a suite of competitive multiplayer modes available too – though I didn’t spend much time with them during the pre-release period – they’re bound to appeal to series traditionalists as they return from previous games. Survival mode allows up to four players to take on waves of enemies and feels weirdly similar to Rebellion’s spin-off series, Zombie Army, sans Zombies. The other typical modes are here – free for all, team deathmatch, squad match and no cross modes. Squad match is the newest and has four teams of up to four players, whereas team deathmatch has two teams of eight battling each other. No-cross returns from Sniper Elite 4 and has two teams battling it out across long distances, separated by an impenetrable barrier to keep things fair and ensure its truly snipers only.
Sniper Elite 5 is easily the best looking of the series thus far in terms of presentation. The team at Rebellion has used photogrammetry to bring many of these locales to life, and the result is something that looks both realistic and crisp. The game runs at a very smooth sixty frames while looking beautiful on the PlayStation 5. While the original score is quite pedestrian, I appreciated the subtle accordion added to the music to really sell the idea that you’re shooting Nazis in France, even if it does feel a little on the nose.
THE PLAYSTATION 5 VERSION WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL COPY OF THE GAME WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Sniper Elite 5 is undeniably a better game than its predecessors. Every level is packed modestly with things to do, and the kills are endlessly enjoyable. But some antiquated design choices, a done-to-death setting, and a ho-hum story keep it from reaching its full potential. It’s a shame too, because at its core Sniper Elite 5 is one of the best Sniper experiences you can play right now, it’s just everything else that’s letting it down.