“Is that a testicle shot? Nice one!”
A sentence as ridiculous as that is exactly the kind of thing you could only expect to hear at a preview for Sniper Elite 4, which I was lucky enough to get my hands on for an extended demo at E3 this year. If you couldn’t tell already, Sniper Elite’s infamously gratuitous x-ray kill camera returns in this fourth installment to the series, but development studio Rebellion have clearly been working hard to ensure that there is more to Sniper Elite 4 beyond this admittedly irresistible gimmick.
Series protagonist Karl Fairburne brings his particular set of skills to war-torn Italy this time around, tasked with eroding the German occupation by once again going behind enemy lines and eliminating a number of key targets with his trusty rifle. I jumped straight into the third mission of the game’s main campaign, the very structure of which immediately suggested that Rebellion have taken a more ambitious approach to level design this time around.
Instead of the more linear objective of progressing through an area before eliminating a human target, my mission was to take out an entire bridge, upon which sat a train carrying a ton of heavy artillery. This required infiltrating the bridge and placing an explosive charge, before making a swift exit to shoot the aforementioned explosive from a safe distance. Compared to previous entries in the franchise, this two-fold mission structure presented a new level of challenge, determined by the need to both infiltrate and exflitrate from the area without being killed, or preferably even spotted.
This mission was also much larger and more open than anything I had experienced in a Sniper Elite game before. There was a lot of ground to cover between me and my targeted bridge, and I had multiple ways of getting to either side of it. I decided to head towards the right, though not before whipping out my binoculars and marking enemies from afar to improve my situational understanding of the environment; a vital tactic for anyone familiar with the Sniper Elite style of play.
“Sound Masking” makes a welcome return from Sniper Elite 3; a feature which enables you to fire your rifle without fear of being spotted, masking your gunshot beneath the sounds of certain environmental noises. As it happens, the German artillery atop the bridge would fire off a number of rounds every few minutes, allowing me to stealthily take out the enemies who were blocking my path. As you might expect, the slow-motion, cinematic x-ray kill camera would play out whenever I landed a particularly gratifying shot. This staple feature is what has always set Sniper Elite apart from its genre brethren, and the disturbingly graphic yet endlessly satisfying mechanic has yet to lose its impact, even as this represents the fourth time players will have been able to use it.
By masking my sound, I was able to take out a number of enemies before I decided it was safe enough to start heading towards the bridge itself. Unfortunately, there was but one soldier who had happened to escape my eye, and it wasn’t long before he spotted me and quickly alerted his comrades. Before I knew it, I was under heavy fire; both at close range and by enemy snipers from afar.
It was at this point where I died. Fair enough. Mistakes are bound to be made in the heat of battle. Curiously, however, every time I reloaded the checkpoint, it would bring me back to the exact moment in which I died; a frustrating (and somewhat embarrassing) glitch, to say the least. The Rebellion team noticed my predicament, and emphasized that the game was still in pre-alpha mode, assuring me that it would release in a stable and polished state before its February 14th release date next year. Considering the amount of bugs that were prevalent in Sniper Elite 3 back in 2014, I sincerely hope they’re right.