I’m the sort of guy who usually takes the non-lethal option in games; I’ll get Fox rank in the Metal Gear Solid franchise, I’ll angle the shock baton just right to get through Deus Ex without a kill…but sometimes, it’s fun to forget all that, and just be an unrelenting force of sheer death. And so far this year, no game has embodied that feeling quite like Rebellion’s Sniper Elite 5.
Recently released for most current gen consoles and the PC (the version played for this review), players return as Karl Fairburne, the sniping legend from all previous games. Fresh off the boat from Italy (Sniper Elite 4), Karl finds himself back in France to help the Allies as World War 2 definitively turns in their favour. But as Karl infiltrates the war-torn countryside, he learns that the Germans may have something powerful up their sleeve to turn the tide – something Karl won’t let happen, even if his life depends on it.
The sniping mechanics the series is known for are back, and better than ever. Customisation options allows access to different scopes, suppression, and control options. Bullet drop feels fair and understandable based on conditions, and adds a nice bit of realism to how you perform. The X-Ray camera returns with high-detailed, destructible bone and organs for you to blow through with your shots. Killing Nazis has never felt so good.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to do it. The main campaign consists of nine main levels (with a 10th as DLC). Many of these levels are larger than previous Sniper Elite maps, allowing the game to show off the beautiful, yet tragic, war-torn countryside of France in full. Before embarking on a mission, players may select their loadout of rifle, SMG, pistol, and consumable items, each with those new customisation options to allow players to better tailor their weapons to their playstyle. More weapons, items, and customisation options are unlocked as players complete levels, side objectives, and discover workbenches, encouraging players to explore the decently sized maps thoroughly.
Whilst stealth is encouraged, the only penalty for loudly rampaging is having to deal with reinforcements who are well aware of your location. Should you have the option enabled, one such adversary you may find yourself against is the Sniper Jäger, an elite German sniper controlled by a human player. This player, entering your game via the Axis Invasion mode, is focused on hunting and killing Fairburne by whatever means necessary. Able to move around unhindered by the surrounding Germans, and indeed able to order them to be more vigilant, having this option enabled allows a regular mission to suddenly become a cat and mouse escapade. The first few times I was invaded, it was a really fun experience – sneaking around, looking over your shoulder to ensure you’re not being followed, and the moment you take the other sniper out is simply great. The mode has, unfortunately, been one I’ve had to disable often, though; soon after dealing with one Jäger, another would invade, and this continued without stop. I would implore Rebellion to consider making only one Jäger allowed per half-hour of play time or something. Having to watch out for another player so often simply slows things down.
But Axis Invasion isn’t the only way players can interact with each other. Sniper Elite 5 also has: co-op, where players may take on campaign maps co-operatively; multiplayer, where players may fight each other on unique maps (including with the option to force sniper vs sniper via an uncrossable barrier); and finally survival mode, where players must hold down bases in campaign maps against waves and waves of oncoming Nazis. Each of these modes has their own customisation options, allowing players to use a variety of characters and weapons, and level up their character with unlockable perks. These modes are a great way to casually blow off steam with friends, and even randoms have been good competition.
All of this does help one overlook what I would consider to be Sniper Elite 5’s failings. The graphics are good, but feel a bit outdated, and whilst control is decent, there are somethings I would remove if possible – if I vault a fence or window, I should not accidentally climb back in it at times without prompt. Explosions feel strong, but their impacts aren’t – seeing soldiers fly away, intact, from a mine they just stepped on feels a bit silly in a game unafraid to let you shoot their testicles. And whilst the soundwork on the game is good, the soundtrack itself is…barely notable. You definitely don’t feel like you’re in a WWII epic here. There is also one or two random bugs – most notably, killing a special target at the concrete pit the intended way doesn’t currently unlock the associated weapon.
But all that being said and done, these issues aren’t deal-breakers. The gameplay is far too satisfying for that – this game is one of the few to nail sniping, and the series’ new customisation options expand upon your options greatly. Sneaking around beautiful settings, alone or with friends, and offing swarths of enemies is simply good old fashioned fun. I would recommend you pick up Sniper Elite 5 if you can find it at a discount, and to be aware it is an offering on the PC and Xbox Game Pass. Good hunting, Fairburnes!