There’s nothing quite like the feeling of patiently lining up the perfect shot in a Sniper Elite game. You line up the target in your crosshairs, hold your breath to slow down time and steady your aim and then if all goes according to plan when you pull the trigger you can sit back and enjoy some gloriously grotesque slow-motion slaughter as the series’ signature X-Ray Kill Cam kicks in.
The slow push of the bullet towards your target (a Nazi’s testicles, typically), followed by that sickening but strangely satisfying crunchy splash as the projectile bursts through the intended body part (his testes) is like the video game equivalent of the approach to a big drop on a rollercoaster. It's all quiet apprehension at first but the moment you reach the peak and things fall into place (aka when the bullet pops the testicles), the air explodes into screams of shocked delight and whoops of laughter.
It’s a loop that’s worked incredibly well for the series in the past and, as I found out when I went hands-on with Sniper Elite 5 late last week, it’s a formula that this new instalment is sticking rigidly to. But why would anyone want to change something that’s not broken, especially when it’s still so much fun!
In the video above, you can watch me play through Occupied Residence, the second mission from Sniper Elite 5’s campaign and it should give you a great idea of what to expect when the game releases this time next month. Along with plenty of those familiar ball-busting ballistics that we all know and love, there are also a few minor new additions to the gameplay, some of which seem to have been inspired by the Hitman series.
Taking place in France, 1944, Occupied Residence is a great example of how Rebellion is building on the semi-open world structure it introduced in Sniper Elite 4. Much like the previous game, Sniper Elite 5’s open worlds are small contained maps with multiple routes to your objectives that are often punctuated by areas that serve as perfect sniping and spotting nests. While the levels in Sniper Elite 4 certainly had a lot of scope for exploration and replayability, Occupied Residence feels much busier and more alive than anything that’s come before. Cars, trucks and motorbikes routinely drive along the roads, enemy patrols stalk the forest and the river that runs through it, there are farmhouses dotted around that are full of soldiers to avoid or clear out and of course there’s the sprawling Nazi occupied chateau in the centre. This palatial structure had such an intricate interior that it often felt like I was exploring a multi-levelled maze.
I only had time to do one run through the level but it felt like I'd barely scratched the surface of what there was to discover. For instance, in the small portion of the map that I was able to explore I stumbled across a locked tunnel led into the grounds of the chateau. It could either be stealthy unlocked with a key or blown open with explosives, which suggests there are many more winding routes and tactical choices buried within the scenery. Most interestingly I also discovered a campfire that allowed me to unlock a new starting location. Similar to the starting location mechanic from the Hitman trilogy, this would have given me the option to infiltrate the area from a new location the next time I attempted the mission - something which would undoubtedly offer up many new options for replayability.
That’s not the only new addition that seems to have taken inspiration from the Hitman series though, as our protagonist Karl Fairburne now has a new ability called Focus. Much like Agent 47’s Instincts Mode, or indeed the Listen Mode from The Last of Us, in Sniper Elite 5, Karl is able to enter a state of focus and highlight nearby enemies through walls. This isn’t much use outside but, as you’ll see in my video, within the tight corridors of the chateau it’s an invaluable tool for avoiding the many German soldiers who are on guard.
One new mechanic that I spotted but didn’t get to see in practice was the game’s Invasion Mode. While playing, a line of text on the bottom right hand of the screen told me that my game was ‘open to Axis invasion’, meaning that at any time another player could potentially enter the fray and try to hunt me down. As someone who absolutely loved Deathloop’s invasion mechanic, the idea of dropping into someone’s campaign and engaging in a deadly game of cat and mouse with them is really exciting to me. Considering the incredible amount of sniping opportunities offered by the intricacies of the Occupied Residence level, it’s something that could end up being both very exciting and potentially quite terrifying!
Worryingly there were quite a few bugs present in my playthrough which, considering the looming release date, suggests that Sniper Elite 5 might not be the most polished game on the market when it launches. This won’t come as a huge surprise to fans of the series as Sniper Elite has always had a bit of jank to it, but there were a lot of oddities with regards to enemy AI which proved to be very jarring. Also, as you’ll see in my video above, aiming with the pistol at nearby objects caused the crosshair to get confused and any bullets I fired at close range landed way off target.
While the core gameplay doesn’t feel like that much of an evolution from previous entries in the series, Sniper Elite 5 still looks like it’ll be bigger and better than the games that came before it. The tantalising tease of levels that offer up even more freedom than before means that people who want to go into this as a hardcore sniper will have just as much fun and emergent opportunites as someone like me who just wants to chaos their way through, chalking up as many nut shots as possible.