Sniper Elite 4 has found a new life on the Nintendo Switch and it’s one of the best-looking ports by far. Top-notch performance with gameplay on-the-go is enough to surprise veterans revisiting the game, just by how identically it works over a small console that’s showing some age.
Though Rebellion’s latest WW2 action game was released in 2017 for the beefier PS4 and Xbox One, the studio could have easily made it a launch title for Switch (released a month prior to the console). But patience was a virtue for Rebellion Developments, who opted to slowly shrink Karl Fairburne on the platform with Sniper Elite v2 and Sniper Elite 3 Ultimate Edition first. By trial and error in-house, this is how Sniper Elite 4 shaped up to be a match made in heaven with the Switch. Coming from the support of AAA studios, Sniper Elite 4 is another title which further legitimizes the Switch as full console gaming on-the-go.
Of course, the Nintendo Switch paints a near carbon-copy picture of Sniper Elite 4‘s setting as it did in 2017. Players rest behind the scope of legendary OSS sniper Karl Fairburne who is deployed into Italy ahead of an impending invasion by Hitler’s Nazi regime. This turns a select number of places including San Celini Island into Nazi-occupied battlegrounds and long-range target practice. The Switch port preserves the grounded, yet straightforward approach to Fairburne’s mission: get in, cause trouble, get out. It keeps the same level of depth as consoles, complete with sparing characters and enough lore through collectibles to capture the WW2 essence. Its campaign is lengthy according to play style, giving it adaptive pacing which especially works for gaming on-the-go. Yes, Sniper Elite 4 comes in a full package with its competitive multiplayer, survival mode and a progression with unlockable DLC equipment. By outright porting the entire game, Rebellion has also avoided the trap of handheld titles being scaled down in content.
I couldn’t help but find Sniper Elite 4 a more enjoyable, albeit different experience on-the-go. Its campaign levels are lengthy enough for burning commute and travel times. The more challenging missions can also be paused and suspended for instant pick-up-and-play, even if the Switch hasn’t been touched in a long time. But it truly shines through its highly replayable Overwatch and Survival modes which return intact from its console counterparts. In bursts, these modes work great for its shorter yet fast-paced arcade gameplay.
San Celini, the game’s first level, is chock-full of impressive terrain which flows with military checkpoints and urban villages. As a costal region, it’s also filled with eroded canyons players can use as vantage points. Over the Switch, the compromises in visuals are easy to forget as lighting and shadows are still vibrant. This is highlighted in other locations like Bitani Village, which how what’s left of a lively community after their Nazi occupation. Some buildings in the village are also explorable, with the Switch including nearly all of its collectibles and furnishing for that “world within a world” depth. Rebellion has also kept a considerable amount of detail on the Switch with bullet impacts and even blood stains in bushes after a stealth kill.
But eagle-eyed players might still be reminded of downscaling through blocky shadows and muddled textures on characters. The map-wide draw distance lets players see the glitter of the Italian beach before they zoom-in on a Nazi. This is where the Switch version dazzles with X-Ray animations which transition flawlessly. It’s still incredibly satisfying to see bullets fracture bones and organs, while giblets fly from the impact. The optimization does a great job of showing different pieces of scenery as your bullet travels across the map in real-time. The animation quickly goes back to gameplay so seamlessly, that skilled players can chain sniper kills on the Switch as they can do on console.
Sniper Elite 4‘s refined third-person stealth gameplay makes this one-man operation much more simpler. Karl Fairburne is at his most agile, being able to climb onto ledges and shimmy past obstacles. He can also perform more executions behind cover without being detected. But when players are detected, Sniper Elite 4 is less punishing for loud approaches. Players can even finish missions without using their snipers altogether and go in guns blazing in any objective order they like. Thanks to the Switch’s all-inclusive Joy Cons, Rebellion easily maps the game’s intuitive schemes from PS4/Xbox One. An extra perk on the Switch includes motion controls, which I found to be surprisingly useful for adjusting my aim (like a real sniper would). It was satisfyingly to aim down, then make tiny shifts before taking the shot. It’s a small feature which goes a long way for important shots while making the Switch version a bit more immersive.
As far as Switch ports go, Sniper Elite 4 does arguably better than other AAA behemoth franchises which have cemented themselves in the game library. The fun gameplay is balanced with some mechanics other studios have managed to successfully recreate on Switch. Imagine Mortal Kombat 11‘s own x-ray system, combined with Resident Evil‘s third-person movement. Add in Skyrim‘s open-ended design in certain areas. Top it off with BioShock The Collection‘s bulletproof 30 fps and we have a port which takes full advantage of Nintendo Switch‘s capabilities and knowing where to draw a line.
Ahead of possible Day One patches, Sniper Elite 4 on Switch actually feels as good as it gets at launch. Making it more impressive is how the Switch manages to create a seamless experience between X-Ray sniping a Nazi, seeing far distances and fast loading times without skipping a frame or hardware hiccups. This level of optimization was clearly important for Rebellion, who needed to somehow keep Sniper Elite 4‘s large open-world level designs alive on the Switch’s limited CPU. I was surprised to see it all play out under a single loading screen at the start of mission. Over the upgraded 2019 Switch, it took just 15 seconds on average to bring the entire map’s moving NPCs, destructible environments and chiseled Italian architecture to life.
To give you an idea on how mind-blowingly great Sniper Elite 4 is shaping up to be on the Switch, it’s basically jamming the entire PS4/Xbox One package without hurting the system when it runs on Docked or Handheld.
Rebellion has finally cracked the formula from its last two ports by Sniper Elite 4‘s rendering alone. Where 4 succeeded was overcoming v2 and 3‘s turbulent bottlenecks between CPU and GPU. These included problems like frame drops below 30 fps and creating an eye-hurting experience that took away from making smooth, precise assassinations. It’s worth noting Rebellion had to make some more compromises like downing the shadow, textures and lighting to prevent lags. But there’s just enough improvements made to appreciate a flat 30 fps under some beautiful coastal scenery in the game’s summertime. This is what makes SE4 Switch port identical to its current gen counterparts than previous installments. Believe it or not, I never suffered a crash, stutter, freeze or delay in my first few hours.
Much of my attention could finally be put to having a smooth, worry-free time when I took out Hitler’s cabinet and explored via side objectives. For the Nintendo Switch, Sniper Elite 4 works as naturally over its handheld mode as much as it does with Docked. Players can expect a 720 experience with portable and tabletop mode, which feel sharp enough to see objects across an entire map. The game relies on long-ranged precision, which makes the upscaled resolution on Docked mode a more comfortable session. But players will quickly see the compomises on HDTVs at 900p, making the port look more muddled than Handheld.
Critics were right to call out Sniper Elite V2 and 3‘s somewhat dodgy performance at times by putting the Switch’s energy on visuals over gameplay. As great as lighting and shadows looked over crumbled buildings, they also caused a beating on the Switch’s mobile-based CPU. Tasks like keeping the UI, smooth camera and gameplay added more stress. The biggest problem was draw distance, which decided how far players could see fully-loaded environments to save on performance. But in a game where very long distances matter, Sniper Elite v2 and Sniper Elite 3 Ultimate Edition had to max out their draw distances – thereby forcing the Switch GPU into overdrive by loading details even when players weren’t looking at them. Sniper Elite 4 on Switch chucks all of these problems away and preserves the fun gameplay by stability. Where 3 Ultimate Edition had struck a balance on gorgeous sun-bathed graphics and snappy gunplay, Sniper Elite 4 goes even further to make the experience buttery and near console-perfect.
I’m interested to see how Sniper Elite 4 evolves when it launches. Any possible post-launch patch would put a cherry on top of the game’s already-breakneck performance that doesn’t kill the Nintendo Switch’s battery or temperatures. Its online-based multiplayer and Overwatch mode would expand the scope from stealth to fast-paced third-person combat with WW2 weapons. The complete package does more to impress and adds a ridiculously light 6.1 GB to the Switch’s memory at launch. Much like the console that keeps giving, Sniper Elite 4 is nothing short of a promising step towards full games on-the-go.
Sniper Elite 4 launches for the Nintendo Switch digitally and physically on November 16, 2020 for $39.99 CAD.