Republished on Wednesday 31st July 2019: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of August's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Elite operative Karl Fairburne has busted more balls than Sasha Grey during a particularly intense bukkake session, and he's back to scope out more in Sniper Elite 4. This time the American's perfectly parted hair has eloped to Italy, where he must scupper an assassination plot involving the balding Dwight D. Eisenhower. A series of signposted twists, one-liners, and X-Ray kills ensue – but is that enough to keep Rebellion's latest release on-target?
The sequel certainly subscribes to the "evolution rather than revolution" philosophy, and aside from the obvious change in setting – Africa's expanses swapped for the idyllic amphitheatres of the Mediterranean – you'll need to dig a little deeper to discover exactly what's new. Artificial intelligence has been amped up significantly, for example, with the iffy relocation system from the previous game replaced by a new triangulation mechanic; snipe from one nest for too long and eventually the Nazis will pin you down, descending on your position and attempting to flush you out.
This is designed to be exploited: you can invite the enemies onto you, picking them off with traps or using the new traversal system to get the drop on them. The game doesn't quite have the obsessive attention to detail that you may expect from a high-profile PlayStation 4 title these days – the animations are awkward and the environments are littered with copy-and-paste assets – but the large sandbox levels are intricately designed, affording you a seemingly never-ending number of approaches.
From seaside fishing plazas to humongous rural viaducts, the locales are – as mentioned – bigger than they've ever been, and this means that you can pick off your prey from upwards of 600 metres. Sniper Elite has always been about the drama of a perfectly placed shot, and watching the game slow-down as your bullet travels from one end of the map to the other is among the most satisfying moments you can have here – especially if you're playing on the harder difficulties where the bullet ballistics more prominently come into play.
The game can be guilty of overloading the environments with enemies – later levels are so flush with footmen that your body count can reach triple digits with ease – but part of the appeal is trying to slip by these foes unnoticed, using the scenery and environmental sounds to mask your motions. When you successfully take out a sniper without anyone on the map realising, it feels like an achievement – and even if you make a mistake, the game gives you the tools to fight on and overcome the impossible odds you're up against.
The really neat thing is that each stage has optional objectives, many of which are delivered during pre-mission briefings where you interact with several non-playable characters. The voice acting ranges from acceptable to awful, but it's nice to get a bit of context for your mission – even if the story itself isn't much to write home about. When you're out in the field, it's up to you which order you tackle these tasks in and even what approach you take – it's nice to be given the freedom of a sandbox without the game feeling the need to go full-on open world.
That said, levels are so laden with collectibles that you may be fooled into thinking this is a version of Assassin's Creed. It's all optional content, but the game goes a bit over-the-top in this department, littering the scenery with stone eagles that you have to shoot, as well as letters, documents, and other similarly superfluous trinkets. Kills are also scored depending upon a variety of factors, and while this does encourage you to scope out the most creative kills, the title's obsession with XP gauges and weapon mastery challenges can feel a little too much – even if it can all be easily ignored if you prefer.
The game's definitely designed with replayability in mind, and this is evidenced by the campaign co-op option which allows you to play through the entire story with a friend. There are also multiple other multiplayer playlists, including a suite of competitive options that take advantage of Sniper Elite's unique form of third-person shooting. While we haven't had chance to experience too many of these modes in the game's pre-release state, it's clear that a lot of care has been invested into making the multiplayer stand out from the crowd. It'll be enhanced by free content drops over time, too.
Enormous, open levels augment Sniper Elite 4 with some of the best long-distance shootouts that the series has seen thus far. The under-the-hood improvements – paired with the idyllic Italian backdrop – do give this entry the edge over its predecessor, but if you've played one of these games before then you'll know more or less what to expect. Nevertheless, as far as ball busters go, it doesn't get much better (or wince-inducing) than this.