Sniper Elite 5. I should know the drill by now. I mean, it’s in the name, the sniper part, at least. And yet, here I am, storming an occupied farmhouse chalk-full of Nazi infantry – armed to the teeth with high-caliber weapons, and on the lookout for me, a rogue trigger-happy hitman who just offed one their pals in cold blood – with my gun raised screaming C’MON THEN at the top of my lungs. There is absolutely nothing inconspicuous about my advance, as I peg it full-speed through swaying cornfields, making more noise than the mortar shells that have devastated the French landscape in the throes of the second World War. Seriously, I may as well be holding a megaphone and wearing a high-vis vest.
Worse still, the rallying cry noted above (that I’ve since stripped of expletives) was uttered by me in person, loudly, all the while forgetting I was still connected to the Rebellion dev team via voice chat, as I played through a preview build of Sniper Elite 5‘s early levels. In my defence, my reaction speaks volumes of the game’s credible and encompassing setting – but it’s also reflective of how I always ease myself into these worlds. I make no claims to be a top-tier marksman, but I’m capable enough when staring down the scope of an M1903 Springfield rifle once I settle in. Before I do, though, I like to push the AI as far as I can, causing as much chaos as is humanly possible as I go.
One to the head
Blast From the Past
Sniper Elite 4 review: “The murderous choice on offer is positively intoxicating”
Through this, I invariably wind up dead. Said human possibility doesn’t last long when you adopt a gung-ho approach in the sniping game. Instead, you end up laid flat on your back, more holes in you than a teabag, crimson oozing over the cold ground beneath you. But, I assure you, there’s a method in my madness. Because with each brutal death in Sniper Elite comes a new understanding of enemy behaviours, and how they react to a comrade’s demise or an attempt on their own life that doesn’t quite go to plan. You see, every time I break cover and go full James Bond-meets-Man On Fire on a hostile encampment, I take notes. That soldier ran this way. This one sounded the alarm, while those guys took cover before attacking. In Sniper Elite 5, it seems enemy AI is smarter than it’s ever been.
When I say smarter, I mean more realistic. Sniper Elite 5 extends the timeline of Sniper Elite 3 and 4 before it, this time set in France in 1944, with protagonist Karl Fairburne seeking out a French resistance outfit as part of a covert US Rangers operation. In doing so, one mission saw me infiltrating an occupied countryside mansion, Chateau-De-Berengar, in a bid to uncover intel on a secret Nazi project that could change the course of history. In practice, this meant scaling the eastern side of the building via some wall-climbing ivy, hopping in through an open window and stalking the halls to locate a general’s office, inside which I’d find the desired dirt. When written down, all of that sounds pretty straightforward, but, of course, in motion means tip-toeing around dozens of enemies, learning movement patterns, and choosing who to let live and who to murder on the fly with the stealthiest of knife kills.
And so, it was when weighing up the latter that I had my most intriguing encounter with a patrolling enemy. I’d just taken out two Nazi soldiers guarding a stairwell, and had allowed two others to finish their conversation before separating on the floor above. I tailed one into another room, slit his throat, before circling back to push the other out of an open window three floors up. With the coast clear, I set about locating the general’s office – but spotted a third infantryman, wide-eyed and frozen on the spot at the end of a long, windowed corridor. He’d witnessed both murders, but, instead of taking me out with one to the back of the head, he hesitated. Panicked, he about-turned and cried for backup, giving me ample time to crouch, aim, and fire a 30-06 Springfield Cartridge bullet into his skull and out through his left eye. The shot prompted Sniper Elite’s signature slow-motion X-ray death cam – billed as “more realistic and grisly than ever” this time around – and my target slumped to the floor in the most glorious and grim of ragdoll animations.
My triumph was short-lived. Because, who’d have guessed it, firing a bolt-action service repeating rifle in an enclosed space is damn loud. In the immediate wake of my Hollywood kill, the whole building was alerted to my presence, and my fate played out not too dissimilar to the scenario described in this article’s opening. But, what was magical about the set-piece was how real it felt. We’ve come a long way in video games from enemy AI magically knowing the exact location of players after being aggroed, but there was something so credible about this particular run-in that made me appreciate every other hostile exchange from thereon – especially when the same enemy opened fire immediately upon my next attempt at passing through.
Elsewhere in Sniper Elite 5, and it’s more of what we’ve come to expect from the series, only bigger and bolder. Its real-world-inspired in-game locations are gorgeous – owed to the developer’s use of photogrammetry – and are littered with more infiltration and extraction points than ever before. With more slopes, zip-lines, the aforementioned vines, and other climbable objects, there’s more variety to how you go about your business than ever before; all of which can be undertaken in solo and co-op mode. To the latter end, multiplayer is brimming with customisation options applied to its 16-player battles, but teams of three can also band together and take on waves of enemies in Survival mode. As Karl, players can call on other player-controlled snipers to help them out in specific situations, akin to summoning in the likes of Dark Souls and Elden Ring. And, perhaps the most intriguing feature of Sniper Elite 5’s multiplayer makeup, players can invade another player’s Campaign, again in something that sounds like invasion modes in other games.
If I’m wont to scream at the top of my lungs at AI-controlled enemies when making my advance, I shudder to think how animated I might get when facing off against an actual human being. I guess we’ll all find out on May 26, 2022, when Sniper Elite 5 lands on PC, PS5, Xbox Series X, PS4 and Xbox One.
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