Sniper Elite 4 may have come out in 2017 for the current generation of consoles, but feels like a completely new experience over Nintendo Switch.
The miracle console managed to bring Rebellion’s biggest game in the stealth action series without a hitch. These come from a trial of porting Sniper Elite V2 Remastered and Sniper Elite V3 over the years, giving the studio more than enough time to create one of their most flawless ports yet. Sniper Elite 4‘s mindless fun of sneaking into Nazi territory and making incredible long-distance shots are still there from the consoles. But I spent every minute appreciating my Nintendo Switch more for being able to run such a behemoth that runs almost identically to its PS4 and Xbox One counterparts. This is a port done right, with a gorgeous technique of keeping visuals and pitch perfect performance the same. Rebellion has unknowingly set a new bar for bringing already-enjoyable games on the Switch while letting fans take the definitive Sniper Elite on-the-go.
We previously reviewed Sniper Elite 4 a few years back when it was pushed to hardware limits over the PS4. It surprised by improving on nearly every aspect of Sniper Elite V3, which cracked the formula for part third-person shooter and a tactical WW2 stealth game with Metal Gear Solid V vibes. It’s important to keep the same feelings alive on the Switch, which became an easy part for Rebellion since Sniper Elite 4 is already a great game. New players and veterans were being treated to a unique shooter that becomes the biggest in the series. Sticking to consistency, players become legendary WW2 badass sniper Karl Fairburne, who heads into Nazi-occupied Italy at the height of global conflict. Waiting for him at each town are allied resistance forces who point him to sabotaging core pieces of Hitler’s grip over the European front. It’s a run-off-the mill WW2 story, but plays deeply on fiction for an enjoyable ride. There’s no room for disturbing horrors of WW2, which is what Rebellion nailed when making a fun-first game. Simply put it, Sniper Elite 4 just executes a strategic action game without overthinking (and that’s a good thing).
On Switch, Sniper Elite 4 runs like magic with Rebellion knowing full well what the small hybrid console can do. It’s an aged system from 2017, but manages to provide enough firepower for holding small open world worlds together. Unlike other attempts by studios to shrink a big game down, Sniper Elite 4 dodges all of the traps that come with it. From performance lags, to horrid drops in picture or crashes, none of these issues practically exist in Rebellion’s port. It makes compromises by switching to a 720p resolution, but looks indistinguishable next to the bigger console versions. This gives Sniper Elite 4 a jaw dropping factor throughout, right when players load into opening level San Celini. It’s worth noting that not worrying about performance means having more fun – something Rebellion understands once they send players off to wreak havoc on the Nazis.
As explained in my technical preview, I was completely mind blown by how much more comfortable it is to play Sniper Elite 4 anywhere without being shortchanged. The studio didn’t hold back with a special kind of dynamic resolution, which turns down much of the game’s graphics to boost performance. But the same engine from PS4/Xbox One gives Sniper Elite 4 highly acceptable visuals in today’s standards. Lighting blooms off large canyons while shadows from trees bounce off characters in dialogue. In a sniping game that obviously uses a long draw distance, and entire open-ended world is running on the Switch without making it explode. In fact, the console didn’t even break a sweat for processing glimmering shorelines, massive war cannons, dozens of Nazi troops and fully-explorable buildings at once. In real-time, the Switch’s upgraded CPU and Nvidia-based GPU found a way to work with Sniper Elite 4. Rebellion takes a big consideration on seeing what it can do with limited power efficiency. In other words, the game almost passes off as a sequel made from the ground-up for the Nintendo Switch and takes every advantage of what it can do.
This is evident with dynamic resolution, which is the biggest trap in making a Switch port. In balancing visuals for a stable frame rate, Rebellion successfully turns everything down to consistent HD settings. The difference of this port comes in how sharp it still looks, giving players clear line of sights for assassinating enemies from across a town. It’s crucial that Sniper Elite 4 made compromises in parts we barely noticed. Textures get a downgrade on more trivial objects like floors, rocks and enemies we regularly keep a distance from (so there’s no point in making a highly-detailed soldier). This significantly gives the Switch more than enough room to focus on smooth movements and running a seamless open world. Some blurring is shown in sunny horizons, but it doesn’t get in the way of any field of view when looking down a map. Like Mortal Kombat 11 on Switch, it also uses an X-Ray vision to show gory sniper kills on soldiers. Rebellion turns down the visuals during its prettiest moments, but just enough to clearly see blood, guts, bones and other sinew fall apart with a bullet. There’s nothing short of a technical achievement here, as Sniper Elite 4 somehow does all of this with a stable 30 frames per second. Even in the face of whole building being destroyed, my 2019 Switch never stuttered or broke the flow in any way. Believe me, I looked as closely as I could for a fault and found more issues with my own terrible aim at times.
Rebellion has done even more with the Switch version at launch. A Day One patch adds more stability to an already smooth game pre-launch. This good for measure update even sheds a few more seconds for loading times, which are worth a mention. Sniper Elite 4 features expansive open world maps that lets players approach objectives differently. For the small console, it manages to load an entire level as fast as 12 seconds. Where most Switch players wait in other ports, Sniper Elite 4 just keeps the momentum going for another new mission. Fast loading times ring especially true on portable, as players are always on the move in trips to work, outdoor strolls or public transportation. The impressive loading speed does portable games justice. It’s also an aspect Rebellion has mastered, where many studios have failed.
But Sniper Elite 4‘s compromises start to show with its stretched-out resolution on HDTVs. There’s no doubt the game can be played in a traditional console experience on Docked mode. This exposes more of Rebellion’s visual techniques players can notice as they’re playing. But even the studio anticipated this, and upscales the game into a higher 918p resolution. There’s a clear effort to keep the game in high definition with frame rate coming steps ahead. It doesn’t look anywhere near a like half-baked Sniper Elite game taken from other consoles. As such, you can snap the Joy Cons into a controller and play like everybody else in 2017. Switch players do get the last laugh in 2020 though, as Sniper Elite 4‘s biggest perk is going portable. With performance secured, the entire game is running without any training wheels or power cables. It’s a self-sustaining beast powered by the excitement of players, unicorn blood and some of David Copperfield’s DNA. In seriousness, Sniper Elite 4‘s portable or docked mode tailor the experience to how players want it. From sniping and laying down on a couch or using the Switch as a mini tabletop TV, it’s the most accessible version to date.
In asking how Sniper Elite 4 is as a game, Rebellion has answered this by leaving nothing to chance. The entire campaign, multiplayer, coop and survival modes are included just as they always have. It even makes room for players who want to buy the game’s DLC and additional levels (though I wished it would have been included with the price). One drawback comes from price, as crazier levels including the Assassinate the Furher DLC are behind a paywall. It’s a questionable choice for Rebellion, who have opted to give the base game in a port where most studios offered definitive editions. Nonetheless, Sniper Elite 4‘s reduced price can help offset costs that come in the DLCs, which offer some cool weapons and additional levels after beating the game. Players might want to take their time with the game’s lengthy campaign first, which actually comes close to 11 hours. It has ten levels, which are actually self-contained open worlds. Here, players are dropped in with a variety of main and side objectives. These can also be completed in any order, breaking a linearity that comes with shooting soldiers on-rails. But Sniper Elite 4 naturally avoids these tropes in favour of a Phantom Pain approach and gives players the full freedom. Almost no mission plays out the same way because of this intricate level design.
If you’re fast enough, this can be a game where guns can go blazing up-close but it’s discouraged. Stealth is in the art of Sniper Elite 4. Karl Fairburne sinks into his element when perched atop a high ground with his sniper at the ready. The game’s sizeable guards block players from reaching their objectives. This is where players have a luxury of picking troops off from a distance. But since players can literally snipe from across towns, there’s a giggle that can come with being safe and sound when Nazis are freaking out around their dead buddies. This feeling is what makes the Sniper Elite series fun, as players can bide their time and become a surgeon with their weapon of choice. The ultimate fruit of your labour comes from taking out a small army, getting the All Clear message and happily waltzing to the objective. Luckily, most of the objectives add a satisfying result. Seemingly meager tasks like blowing up a bridge include sniping the C4 and watching a massive bridge you explored get destroyed in real-time. Another job can include eliminating a high-ranking Nazi officer, which often comes with sneaking your way to the body for intel. These don’t come short of repetitive when players are in pursuit of making the perfect sniper shot. Without running through our initial review again, Sniper Elite 4‘s campaign is worth getting alone and actually outshines other modes.
Once the campaign is done, a progression system imbues Karl Fairburne with more perks for an even smoother sniping experience. Abilities like increased breath and closer zooming can go a long way for hardcore players. Others include unlocking weapon upgrades with skill points and expanding the arsenal from which you dispense freedom from. The progression translates into some highly replayable modes, including a shooting range which tests your aim in far targets. With the Nintendo Online subscription, players can access Sniper Elite 4‘s multiplayer mode that turns the game into a Hang-Em-High deathmatch. It’s a unique, refreshing take on WW2 online shooters but everybody fights from cover and long distances. Other sub-modes in Multiplayer put the snipers away in favour of some traditional third-person firefights which still feel pretty definitive for the genre (think Fortnite‘s controls with Call of Duty WW2). Players can wreak havoc on the Nazis with a friend in coop, which can quickly turn into a little contest of seeing who can clear an area faster. But the entire campaign can be tackled with a partner for another layer in gameplay. Survival is a more fast-paced experience where players defend a radio in a town full of angry Nazis. Players can choose a character they’ve met in the campaign, relying on a mix of sniping and assault rifle ambushes to stay alive.
Sniper Elite 4‘s gameplay translates like a marriage with the Nintendo Switch‘s controls. Unlike other handhelds, the Joy Cons have every type of button other couch controllers have (down to the L3 and R3 functions). Players have the same exact third-person control schemes for moving around, making Karl Fairburne a natural fit for portable hands. If anything, the third-person experience feels a tad more immersive as players are closer than ever over the Switch. As a stealth game, players can harness their crouch to sneak past Nazis. But beware: sprinting, gunshots or running out of breath can alert enemies. As a last resort, silenced pistols like the Welrod can put a well-placed stop in a guard’s tracks before they see you. A deadlier Karl Fairburne can now climb certain buildings to reach objectives and hide in bushes. He is also more agile than ever and often jumps across obstacles to maintain higher ground. Players have more range to perform their own maneuvers, exercising freedom in a game that offers it. Other guerilla techniques including mines and grenades can take mobs of Nazis out at the cost of detection. All of these mechanics are serviceable, if not refined for the Nintendo Switch‘s control scheme. There’s not much to say about its identical mapping to other consoles – and that’s especially great in a port.
Much of the gameplay is reserved for the legendary sniper shots that can make players howl with delight. Sniper Elite lives up to its name by putting combat in seemingly impossible shots. A simple to understand mechanic lets players adjust their distance for bullet velocity. A typical breath system steadies a shot before the trigger is pulled. But everything becomes stunning when an animation shows a bullet travel across distances towards their targets. This unveils an X-Ray of your victim as the bullet slowly travels through their anatomy with painful details. A perfect shot will show rarer black-and-white versions of the X-Ray kill for an absurdly satisfying moment. It’s one of Sniper Elite 4‘s grittier moments when everything else is PG. Players might feel this change in tone refreshing and juvenile once they cause trouble with their sniper rifle. In short, Sniper Elite 4 makes sniping incredibly fun over the Switch.
Rebellion has crafted one of the best ports on Switch, even taking steps to surpass 2K’s BioShock Collection or CDPR’s The Witcher 3. It’s clear that a great consideration was put into making Sniper Elite 4 a no-compromises experience for handheld players. The same graphics, combined with identical 30 frames per second gameplay are incredibly impressive over the Switch’s aging hardware. But Rebellion has also created the port in-house, for a specific reason that they’ve studied the console extensively (down to its motherboard). This gave the studio full control over running a massive romp like Sniper Elite 4 on Nintendo Switch. Nice little details including the mysterious front speakers are used in radio calls to HQ. Joy Cons vibrate with a heartbeat to accurately immersion under the scope. They’ve even added a fan-requested gyroscope feature to make the Nintendo Switch version its most accurate sniping experience yet. Returning owners of the game won’t feel shortchanged, mostly because Sniper Elite 4 will blow minds as a technological marvel first and an mindlessly fun game next.