With open worlds larger than ever, we appreciate the developers designing denser sandbox levels. Ever since the excellent GoldenEye on Nintendo 64, we’ve been a fan of the sandbox format: the idea that a single stage can be approached in a dozen different ways, whether it’s stealth, full-on combat, or a combination of both.
Hitman 3, and its World of Assassination Trilogy predecessors, has been the flag-bearer for this approach of late – but Sniper Elite has never been a million miles behind. The long-distance sightlines of Sniper Elite 4 made for fantastic gauntlets, where your ultimate goal was to become a ghost, picking off Axis enemies without them ever knowing you were there.
Sniper Elite 5 looks to be picking up the baton of Rebellion’s recent work, offering gigantic maps flexible enough to appeal to a number of different gameplay styles and approaches. As part of a recent hands on demo, played entirely on PC but comparable to what we expect from the PS5 experience, we were able to slip inside a French chateau in order to learn more about a nefarious Nazi plot. But we were impressed by the sheer number of approaches open to us.
With our demo time restricted, our goal was to get in-and-out of the majestic chateau undetected, working our way from surrounding farmland, across a moat, and through one of the antique building’s windows. Playing as seasoned series protagonist Karl Fairburne, our approach was well-planned and executed – but we had a little more trouble getting out.
Rebellion appears to be putting a big emphasis on preparation for this latest version of the long-running series. The equipment selection page – which appears before you sortie – is frighteningly dense, with a wide range of ammunition types, scopes, tactical equipment, and more to select from. We also noticed that, as we explored the demo level, we were able to unlock new starting points – potentially leading to plenty of replay value.
The Oxford-based developer has clearly been playing IO Interactive’s titles, because as you explore you’ll overhear conversations and discover documents which give you useful tips about the level. You can then choose to use these to advance your objectives, or make your own plans based on the intel you have available.
We’re not going to lie: we needed to save scum to get inside the chateau, but that seems to be accepted – perhaps even encouraged – on the standard difficulty levels, and we appreciated the ability to experiment. A bridge over a surrounding moat proved the trickiest challenge, but new traversal options meant we were able to dangle across the side of it and avoid attention. Of course, standard stealth gameplay systems apply, so we were able to toss bottles to divert attention.
We tried to play largely non-lethal, and so despite the game being Sniper Elite in name, we actually didn’t spend much time looking down the barrel of our chosen long-range armament. But we like that the game is diverse enough to accommodate so many different play-styles; you can, of course, use the sound of passing vehicles to mask the direction of your bullets, and when aiming down sights you’ll need to account for gravity and wind, so aiming ever-so-slightly above your targets is important, depending on the distance.
The character art isn’t especially impressive – Fairburne is clearly high-resolution, but wouldn’t look out of place on the PS3 – but the environments are promising. Rebellion says that it travelled all over France to nail the atmosphere, and the chateau is undoubtedly impressive: you can see the castle’s turrets lingering on the horizon, overlooking wide-expanses of farmland and dust tracks.
As alluded to earlier, exfiltrating proved a real challenge for us, but we managed to find a path out of the chateau, into a nearby garden. The AI, even on standard difficulty, is very adept and will sniff you out if you make an error. We ended up abandoning our largely non-lethal run in order to lob a grenade into the back of truck filled with oil barrels, and were treated to a slow-motion sequence of shrapnel flying everywhere.
So a less than perfect attempt, then, but the beauty of Sniper Elite 5 will be replaying over-and-over in order to learn the best approach possible. Rebellion’s not re-inventing the wheel here: you’ve played this kind of game from the UK team before. But when the foundations are this sold, refinement is really all that’s required: we enjoyed our brief tour of a traditional chateau, and if all of the game’s levels can hit the same highs, we sense we’ll be spending a lot of scoping out France this summer.
For full disclosure, please note that this preview of Sniper Elite 5 was based on an early PC build, streamed via the cloud. With all that said, will you be locking and loading Sniper Elite 5 this summer? Scope out some thoughts in the comments section below.