Sniper Elite VR is a hot mess of the series’ closest experience to date. Behind the scope, developer and series publisher Rebellion Developments were out of their element. It’s daunting to drop the console format Sniper Elite is known for. In this process, they managed to still make Sniper Elite VR recognizable with staple elements. But this gets lost in formulaic gameplay, a lazily written story and some of VR’s most frustrating gunplay.
I had a wonderful impression of Sniper Elite through its console form factors. I became especially excited at the idea of Rebellion bringing their latest experience into the VR platform. This opened up plenty of opportunities to marry gaming’s best shooting mechanics with Sniper Elite’s long range precision. I still credit Rebellion for trying new things – particularly with blessing Switch owners with ports. They also had guts to dabble in VR following the fantasy driven Arca’s Path VR. But Sniper Elite VR is still an early experiment for Rebellion – and it clearly shows.
Sniper Elite VR is full of Nazis and all the fascist enemies players can eliminate. But the game’s biggest obstacle lies in its horrible control scheme that carries Sniper Elite VR’s entire experience. It’s important that VR starts with incredibly haptic controls. Half-Life Alyx, Hot Dogs, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Arizona Sunshine and Robo Recall did this best with physics. But Sniper Elite VR lacks plenty of this – making every interaction in the world feel lifeless. Even Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond created some natural gun handling without me having to look at what I’m doing. It simply worked with my instincts – something Sniper Elite VR doesn’t reach with its Mosin Nagant.
The gunplay is still serviceable to some degree. Weapons can be pointed, aimed and fired. But it comes at the cost of fumbling your way through reloads. Missing shots from a lack of stability. Grabbing thin air when you’re really trying to grab a fresh ammo from your belt. Oh, and dropping weapons whilst holstering them. For some god awful reason, every object is incredibly tough to pick up from the ground. Here’s where the game tries to make up for interactions with a point-and-pull system. But players are required to do this with precision, making a simple task of grabbing objects a battle on its own. This happens more often than you’d think. Because players are dropped in with a limited ammo system. It’s bad enough to run dry on ammo in firefights. But Sniper Elite VR constantly interrupts the flow of VR gunplay with scrounging for ammo scraps.
These are just some of the control problems that will add up towards a tedious playthrough. Eventually, players will turn into swiss cheese from a hail of enemy bullets. Frustration ensues, pulling them out of a supposedly fun experience. I had a harder time finishing Sniper Elite VR from this lack of dexterity. It’s disappointing to see most VR games handle this with a standard. But Sniper Elite VR needs plenty of fine tuning in order to make the long distance surgery more comfortable. I do see potential in the game’s sniping system. Like its older console brothers, Sniper Elite VR puts most of its action over a scope. Players will have a decent time peeking through a glass scope. But that lack of stability doesn’t help in tense moments. Making matters worse are the horrible distances with every sniper scope. Some are too close, forcing me to play Where’s Waldo for a brief second before pinpointing an enemy.
Here’s where Sniper Elite’s signature empty lung mechanic is a saving grace. In VR, players can hold their left trigger and slow down time. This grows the scope and offers a closer peek into an enemy. In long distances, another reticle lets players adjust their aim. It’s an unlimited feature I kept going back to. It also gave me some (breathing space) as Sniper Elite VR’s overpowered enemies were piling on the stress. This feature lets me nail most of my sniper shots. It’s still incredibly satisfying to land a hit with one shot. There’s a rush in chambering another shot before fixing into the next target. With some practice, the shooting feels tolerable. But that’s as far as the serviceable gunplay goes on the game’s snipers. It helps that an unlockable arsenal lets players decide what scope works best for them.
Sniper Elite VR brings back the x-ray system. But it’s incredibly discombobulating for new players. There’s an awkward transition of following the bullet into enemies. It’s something which worked better over a console and TV screen. Rebellion awkwardly presents the x-rays with a still model of an enemy. Bullets still rip through detailed anatomy. But there’s a lack of impact and even time to see it before players return to their bodies. I kept the setting turned off in favour of seeing enemies fall on the other side of my scope.
The rest of Sniper Elite VR’s weapons are bigger chores to use. Players can access a variety of WW2 pistols, submachine guns and assault rifles. Rebellion has still managed to balance out the experience with some close quarter action. But each gun feels like a shrunken replica. Because these weapons are smaller, their moving parts are too close together. This gave me some real problems when I struggled to find the bolt or stabilize my weapon. These frequent weapon mishandlings were enough to get me killed a few times, setting me back across a big checkpoint (more on that later).
As mentioned, Sniper Elite VR’s Nazis are like Terminators. Most can go down with a decently aimed sniper round. Others fall limp after two STG-44 hits. Many can see you from 200 yards away and send machine gun rounds to you instantly. Their aim is arguably better than yours, making firefights feel incredibly jarring. Sniper Elite usually understands that players are untouchable from distances. But the VR game throws logic out the window and punishes players from a distance. There’s a lack of variety with enemy types. Standard soldiers come with infantry and officer skins. Snipers are perched from a distance with Ghillie suits they magically stole from Captain MacMillan in Modern Warfare. Despite the different looks, they all go down the same with a sniper round.
“Sniper Elite VR’s shoddy controls are only made far worse by a low quality campaign.”
Sniper Elite VR’s shoddy controls are only made far worse by a low quality campaign. The game still has a respectable straight-to-the-point approach. Players are thrown into a variety of warzones in a Nazi occupied Italy across 1943. These missions are all the same in getting in, clearing areas of soldiers and making it to the other side. I appreciate the lack of padding, cutscenes and story dumps which can pull me out of the gameplay. The real issue comes from each level not having any substance. They don’t connect with each other while no stakes are established. It’s a far cry from Sniper Elite 4, which fixated on hero Karl Fairburne as he systematically tore down the Nazi machine in steps. There isn’t any of that in Sniper Elite VR, which instead tosses flashback after flashback at you.
On death, Sniper Elite VR uses a radio checkpoint system that’s far too scarce. Rebellion should have stuck to auto checkpoints to accommodate for new players. That’s because the inconveniences with controls can cost players half of a level. This required me to replay chunks of the same thing more often than needed. Of course, enemies still hold their ground as superpowered sharpshooters that can detect you instantly. Sadly, this is a Sniper Elite game where stealth doesn’t work better than running and gunning. Even when checkpoints are offered, players can’t use them if all the enemies aren’t cleared – something that ruins the radio’s purpose.
Sniper Elite 4 used an open world, giving players plenty of options for tackling missions. Sniper Elite VR takes on a traditional linear menu of levels. You go from point A to B clearing out areas of Nazis. These are shorter levels which can last as much as 20 minutes a piece. But Rebellion has done a good job of pacing out their sniping and close quarter missions. Players will have their fill of staying still, perching on a roof and sniping all the Nazis to heart’s content. Players will also get opportunities to roam around streets and mow down grunts. These come with a few occasional objectives to sabotage, unlock or blow something up. But that’s as far as Sniper Elite VR’s missions can go – stretched across various locales.
Driving these memories is a brand new character. Players become a forgettable Italian resistance fighter. But there’s no real impact with Sniper Elite’s universe. Karl Fairburne casts a large shadow over players as they just exist to shoot. They are also disconnected from Sniper Elite VR with a lack of supporting characters. It’s a bit haunting to be around so many enemies without allies interacting with me. Here’s where the game lacks such dialogue to bring the story together. There’s absolutely no character arc, shared goal or even emotions to bring Sniper Elite VR’s story full circle. It’s disappointing to see the series’ latest entry lose story substance as the poor gameplay takes over. Medal of Honor Above and Beyond made a decent attempt of making players work with a cast of characters. They accompanied players while giving life to a trip back in time. Of course, Sniper Elite fans will be disappointed to learn it’s an old man giving flashback lines. That’s as far as it goes for dialogue, amid the frantic German chatter from enemies.
I will hand it to Rebellion for giving players a healthy dose of set pieces. Players can choose from 18 replayable missions across Southern Italy. It’s fun to drop into train stations, armories, enemy strongholds and towns in mere hours. There’s plenty of refreshing scenery to bask your eyes on in PCVR. It helps that Sniper Elite VR is beautifully rendered. Rebellion has clearly flexed their muscles with fitting high-fidelity graphics in the Switch and less powerful platforms. VR isn’t any different, but Sniper Elite VR shines every location with some neat details. Players will definitely be convinced they’re walking around in 1943. The game’s sheer variety of set pieces are enough to call this a WW2 package.
Though I still prefer Medal of Honor for using its environment for cinematic events. Sniper Elite VR cheaps out by throwing an explosion or two at players. Each set lacks that story-driven script, or scripted moments for that matter.
Players not expecting much story will still have some fun. There’s plenty of single player mayhem to go through at six hours minimum. But I doubt players can go through Sniper Elite VR in one session from its setbacks. I still respect Rebellion for crafting a relatively full length adventure. Like Sniper Elite VR’s console predecessors, there’s more value for a reduced price. The experience barely captures Sniper Elite’s features on another level. In VR, Rebellion suddenly forgets to preserve what made its console games great. Instead, Sniper Elite VR feels like a soft proof of concept of what can come.