This time last year, I was enjoying myself playing Rebellion’s Sniper Elite 3: Ultimate Edition on PS4. It was the first time I’d played the series, and I particularly liked its exquisitely detailed, x-ray kill-cam, which showcases your sniper shots taking down enemy soldiers in glorious, slow-mo, sniper porn-o-vision. So it was with grisly interest that I watched a hands-off demo of its sequel at GDC today.
This time out, the action is set in Italy in 1943, some time ahead of the allied invasion of the country. Your mission is to essentially clear the way for the major assault by completing a series of key missions that take place over a variety of locations, ranging from a picturesque Italian village to a mountainous forested region, all of which were described as “a sniper’s paradise”.
The demo I watched started in the Italian village, an environment that is three times larger than the biggest level in Sniper Elite 3, yet represents the smallest level in Sniper Elite 4. It looked gorgeous: A bright, sunny locale sitting on the edge of the Mediterranean, whose packed-together houses provided ample opportunity for the hero to stealthily sneak around looking for the enemy, which were everywhere. The hero is a lot more agile than his previous incarnation, and can climb buildings and hang from balconies and outcrops in similar style to Assassin’s Creed. Indeed, the first thing I watched was the hero swiftly clamber up the fascia of a house, hang from the edge of a parapet, whistle to a nearby guard to attract his attention, and then pull him over the ledge to his death.
He then pulled himself up onto the roof, snuck over to another nearby guard and used a takedown move to stab him in the back of the neck. The kill-cam showed the knife sliding into the back of his brain-stem. Delightful! From his new vantage point, the hero whipped out his binoculars, and scanned the environment. This showed objects that could be shot, including a crate of explosives at the feet of a couple of look-outs who were perched atop a high wall some distance away. Quickly changing to his sniper rifle, the hero took aim at the crate, which exploded and took out the hapless pair. The kill-cam again showed this in incredible detail, with shards penetrating the bodies and bursting internal organs as they fell to the ground.
Next up, the hero shot at a loose plank beneath a balcony upon which was perched an enemy soldier. The binoculars had identified it as a weak spot, and shooting at it caused the entire balcony to collapse, sending the unfortunate soldier tumbling to his doom. What’s clear this time out is that there are a lot more tools at your disposal to take down enemies, and you certainly seem to need them. The AI has been dialed up to react procedurally to what’s going on, and enemy soldiers will adapt to what’s happening in their immediate vicinity, including actively searching for you if, for example, they find bodies of their fellow men. That means that you’ll need to hide the bodies of your victims if you want to remain undetected. Or you can always leave them where they are and use them as bait…
Another element that’s new to the game is bullets that are affected by gravity. When shooting at someone from distance, you need to dial up the sight range compensator to take into account the expected drop of the bullet, adding additional depth and detail to the game’s shooting mechanics. It’s an interesting feature, and apparently what fans have been asking for.
Although I didn’t get to play it myself, Sniper Elite 4 is looking promising. Its environments are definitely a big step up from last year’s game. They’re far larger and more realistic than before, and seem to be a little more sandbox-like in nature, in that you have a myriad of routes through them, allowing you to improvise far more effectively than you could in Sniper Elite 3. Indeed, apparently some environments take a good few hours to work through, such is their size and density of enemies. The overall gameplay also seems to be more interesting and varied, with the hero’s repertoire of kills given a serious boost, and the kill-cam polished up to deliver plenty of great moments as you stab people in the face, shoot people though the eye, and generally cause all manner of horrendous traumatic injuries to the enemy.
No release date has been set as of yet, but expect to see Sniper Elite 4 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC sometime this year.