Wednesday, April 27, 2022
If the previous Sniper Elite games have taught us anything, it's that Karl Fairburne is a one-man army, equally adept at taking Nazis down at close range as he is at shooting off Hitler's singular testicle from a mile away. Of course, the ability to blow away nutsacks remains intact for Sniper Elite 5, as does the same brand of robust sniping gameplay that's come to define the series – it seems that developer Rebellion isn't straying too far from the established formula for this fifth instalment, but, then, we're not sure we'd ever want it to.
Transporting the action from the battlegrounds of Italy, visited by Karl in Sniper Elite 4, the next chapter takes place in France, around the events leading up to and following D-Day in 1944. Attached to a US Ranger unit, our intrepid hero finds himself on what starts out as a standard sniper mission, which sees him liaising with a contact known as 'Blue Viper', before travelling alongside the French Resistance. Our hands-on with Sniper Elite 5 picks up during the game's second mission, as Fairburne and a few of the ragtag Resistance look to infiltrate the hideout of a Nazi general named Möller, discovering shadowy and potentially devastating plans for something dubbed 'Project Kraken'.
Möller and his Nazi unit are stationed at a spectacular chateau nestled in the bucolic French countryside, and it falls to you, as a crack-shot lone wolf sniper, to do what you're best at: blasting brains. Only, it becomes very quickly apparent that this is a particularly challenging mission, the run-up to the chateau's main entrance overrun with guards, its front courtyard offering very little in the way of cover or places to hide. It's inadvisable, then, to do what I decided to do – blow the nearest Nazi's head clean off, then attempt to leg it to the front door. Suddenly, what should have been a stealth mission turns into all-out warfare, which isn't exactly in keeping with the spirit of Sniper Elite, or, indeed, an advisable approach.
Nonetheless, Rebellion has provided more ways to engage in close combat, arming Fairburne with an arsenal of weaponry and customisation options, so you can have the tools to worm your way out of a firefight, should your best laid plans go awry. Sniper Elite 5 remains an experience that primarily promotes stealthy play, however, Senior Level Designer Lawrence Bartlett noting that the team has “looked at adding more and more sneaky routes” to the game's missions, although you've far greater variety when it comes to your default loadout. In the field, meanwhile, workbenches offer a place to unlock and apply weapon attachments, like scopes, iron sights, magazines, muzzles, stocks, receivers, and so on, enabling you to tailor a loadout to suit your playstyle.
Workbenches add a greater level of flexibility to weapon loadouts, as you can change things up on-the-fly. Weapons and locations alike have also undergone extensive research to ensure their historical accuracy and authenticity, Rebellion taking field trips to France in an effort to ensure that the game's rendition of the country during the Second World War is as believable as it possibly can be. Crucially, though, each of Sniper Elite 5's levels has been built with player choice in mind, Bartlett adding that there's a greater emphasis on “observing, planning, and executing your plan”, multiple routes and strategies providing plenty of scope for experimentation. Karl's ability to scale vines and other climbable surfaces also increase the number of traversal options at your fingertips, although you can also look for underground thoroughfares and other ways to avoid a head-to-head confrontation, if climbing seems like a bad idea.
One thing becomes abundantly clear, as we get closer to the chateau's inner sanctum – raising the alarm makes it infinitely harder to survive, as a seemingly endless succession of troops and heavily armed Jägers rush to your last known position. You might have more options at your disposal in SE5 when it comes to engaging enemies head-on, but subterfuge still proves to be the best course of action. The latter is a surefire way to get yourself royally messed up. And, although you can hunker behind cover, don't be surprised if you're quickly flushed out by aggressive, well-organised enemies.
While Fairburne is deployed into a mission location with scant resources, you can search officers for ammunition and other useful items, as well as useful intel or keys to otherwise inaccessible areas. Of course, carefully scouting the environment and making gradual progress, using hiding spots like tall grass or low walls, is a far better strategy than storming your way forward without a plan. New skill trees also lend some light RPG depth to Sniper Elite 5, enabling you to choose which of Fairburne's abilities (pertaining to his combat prowess, physical attributes, and equipment) you'd like to improve – it's a neat touch, which folds into the expanded weapon customisation, allowing you to further hone various gameplay elements to suit your preferred strategy.
That's ultimately where Sniper Elite 5 promises to outstrip its forebears, with a greater freedom of choice and increased depth. All of the usual elements remain present and correct, meaning there's no shortage of graphic slow-motion violence, care of the series' signature X-ray killcam, which showcases, in forensic detail, the puncturing of skulls, popping of eyeballs, rupturing of spleens, bursting of testes, and shredding of arteries. As ever, there's a strange sort of gratification that comes with performing the perfect headshot, only to be rewarded with a grisly, cinematic pay-off. Fundamentally, Sniper Elite 5 might be more of the same, then, albeit with a few tweaks and new additions, but we're most definitely ready to lock and load all over again. Bring on the headshots.
Sniper Elite 5 launches for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC on 26th May, available day one via Xbox Game Pass.
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