Sniping is said to be the most personal type of killing. While other war fighters pull a trigger or press a button without ever really knowing their victims, a sniper has to study their target, gets to see them up close and learn their movements before striking unseen. Perhaps is this mystique which means that sniping is such a popular activity in modern shooters? Or perhaps it's the fact that it takes a great deal of skill to take out an opponent from the other side of a map?
One of the enduring sniping game franchises is Sniper Elite, the first game of the series being released back in 2004. Featuring a mix of long distance sniping and close combat in open, sandbox style maps, set around the events of World War 2, the series has proved popular with fans and lead to three sequels, the latest being Sniper Elite 4.
Sniper Elite 4 closely follows the style of the previous three games. Each large level has a number of objectives and it is up to you to decide what equipment you need to take with you and how you will tackle each one. They may be simple kill objectives or more complex objectives such as finding items or destroying equipment. Your main weapon, as you would expect for a sniping game, is your rifle and there is a sizeable collection to choose from one you have unlocked them by meeting objectives or finding them during a mission. Likewise, there is a selection of submachines guns, pistols, melee weapons and explosives which gives you flexibility on how you will dispatch your foes.
Sniping, especially at range, is a satisfyingly challenging experience. Each rifle handles slightly differently and bonuses are applied depending on how and where you are shooting from. Some guidance is given, with a sub reticle which indicates where a bullet will land once gravity and wind has been taken into consideration, but it can be a challenge to be on target at extreme distances. Care must also be taken as shots alert the enemy, causing them to try and locate your position (silenced ammunition can help, but missed shots will still alert the target) but you can mask the noise of your shot if background sounds such as backfiring engines or low flying aircraft are loud enough. Further complicating matters is your characters ability to hold his breath; holding it for a long time or running between locations causes a rise in heart rate which degrades your ability to aim, forcing your shots to be swift and decisive.
One of the most well known aspects of the Sniper Elite games is the "kill cam" which was introduced in the second game. This camera mode rewards carefully placed shots by following the path of the bullet before it plunges through an anatomical cut-away of the target showing you the exact effect your shot has on a human body. Bones splinter and organs burst as they are punctured providing a close up and very gory view of your actions. Sniper Elite 4 takes this even further with kill cams for deaths caused by explosions, environmental kills (such as dropping items on your foes) and close combat kills.
The maps themselves have been massively increased in size and now feature night combat as well as more vertical levels (verticality) than before. Fortunately your ability to move between them has also been improved, making getting to the perfect sniping location, taking them out at close range or evading the enemy easier too. However, the game's AI has also been improved and the enemies act and react more realistically than ever and although this adds to the challenge of the game, it's not perfect, meaning that they can still be fooled if you choose to do so.
A new multi player mode allows you to play together with a small group of friends, either working towards an objective or just trying to survive in a new "hoard" style mode. It's a nice addition, although some liberties seem to have been taken with the game play to allow the game to remain balanced.
Sniper Elite 4 is an evolution of the Sniper Elite franchise rather than a revolution. The story is pretty forgettable and the characters feel like something from 1950s British comic, but the game play is solid and enjoyable. If you enjoy sandbox shooters, stealth games or just enjoy punching Nazis then Sniper Elite 4 is likely to appeal.