Sniper Elite 5 Review: Off Target
Rebellion Developments is in the virtual Nazi slaying business. Judging from the number of entries in the Sniper Elite franchise, business must be booming.
Sniper Elite 5 is the latest in the long-running series of World War II third-person shooters. You again play as series protagonist Karl Fairburn; a legendary sniper known as the “Desert Ghost”. Fairburn is a generic tough-as-nails soldier, largely devoid of personality.
He has no distinguishing traits or characteristics, and he’d be tough to pick out of a lineup of gravely, middle-aged white guys that are the leads in most war games. Fairburn is fine, inoffensive, but also doesn’t develop, a theme that defines the rest of Sniper Elite 5.
Sniper Elite 5 Review: Off Target
Gameplay is a traditional mix of third-person action/stealth with optional first-person shooting. The sniping itself remains strong. Waiting patiently enough to line up a long-distance shot, accounting for bullet drop and travel is mentally engaging. Perfect shots give you the gory pleasure of the X-ray cam, as you see bones and organs shatter from a high caliber round. You do have the option to skip it if you are squeamish, but it’s over the top enough to be more entertaining than gross.
Most of your time isn’t spent sniping, however, and that’s unfortunate. Infiltrating small sandbox levels with multiple paths requires a lot of sneaking if you want to avoid being overrun by Nazis. The problem is that Sniper Elite 5 is a mediocre stealth game. Tired mechanics like hiding in tall grass, whacking enemies in the back of the head to knock them out, and throwing bottles to misdirect attention form the core of the stealth experience.
None of it is new or imaginative, and it doesn’t evolve over time. If you do alert the enemies to your presence, you can wait it out, or just hide behind a corner and knock out every soldier that comes running.
Hiding the best part, the sniping, behind the worst part, the stealth, is such a shame, especially because the missions do a nice job of mixing up the terrain, from dense vegetation to war-torn cities and sprawling chateaus. Timing shots while airplanes fly overhead to give you cover isn’t new, but doing so to knock the testicles off of a Nazi from 200 meters away to save France is fun as hell when you get the chance.
Mixing It Up
The missions themselves are replayable as usual, with different starting points, optional objectives, and collectibles to find. The addition of workbenches gives you a chance to customize weapons and loadout in-level. Finding the workbenches in each level is worth your time, as doing so also unlocks the upgrade parts themselves. It's somewhat barebones, but it does a decent job of giving you a reason to go off the beaten path.
Completing tasks earns experience points, which feed into an upgrade system. That’s all well and good in theory, but in practice, the rewards are largely not worth the additional time. None of the perks you gain from leveling up alter the way you play or turn you into more of a superhuman sniping machine.
Replaying levels just to engage the same poor stealth system, but in slightly different ways, isn’t very appealing. But there is fun to be had in the different assassination objectives. Similar to the newer Hitman games, levels often have built-in traps or other ways to eliminate targets. It’s a good laugh when you squash someone with a chandelier or take out a person with a known rodent phobia by using a rat-bomb.
There are some multiplayer elements to add intrigue. The entire campaign can be played co-op. Sharing supplies and coordinating to take down enemies is certainly more fun than crawling from point to point, wishing you could snipe someone without an entire battalion hearing you.
There are a few standard PVP modes for deathmatch aficionados, though the small scope and lack of meaningful progression makes it feel like it was tacked on to make a feature list, rather than a core component of the Sniper Elite 5 experience.
There is also an invasion system. At any point during a mission (assuming you are online and have not opted out), another player can join your game as Jager, an elite Nazi sniper. It’s fun to experiment with, as the invading player can get intel from the NPC soldiers, as they play a game of kill or be killed. It is not fun to be on the other end, however. Outside of unlocking some cosmetics and getting some trophies/achievements, there’s no real benefit to killing an invader, nor penalty for being killed. It’s more of a nuisance that will probably get you killed and sent back to a recent save.
Sniper Elite 5 Review — The Bottom Line
- Sniping is fun and satisfying.
- Strong level variety.
- Exploding. Nazi. Testicles.
- Mission built with replayability in mind.
- Lots of bad stealth.
- The most generic protagonist possible.
- Multiplayer is largely pointless and feels tacked on.
Sniper Elite 5 has some fun sniping action, but there are so many barriers separating the player from that, including poor stealth, a yawn-inducing protagonist, and a half-baked PVP system. There are points of fun separated by long stretches of slog, which is a difficult experience to recommend to anyone outside of series fans.
If you are really passionate about World War II shooters, are a dedicated Sniper Elite fan, or just really need to shatter some vertebrae with bullets, this could be worth a look. For everyone else, it’s probably better to set your sights elsewhere.
[Note: Rebellion Developments provided the copy of Sniper Elite 5 used for this review.]