Sniper Elite is a series so confident in its execution that Rebellion doesn’t really need to reinvent the wheel. The latest instalment, Sniper Elite 5, takes the gravel-voiced Karl Fairburne and his immaculately shaped short-back-and-sides to Nazi-occupied France, where he uncovers a MacGuffin plot called Operation Kraken which threatens to turn the tides of the Second World War. Armed with his trusty rifle and unwavering willpower, the seasoned veteran embarks on yet another one-man crusade to halt the Axis – one pair of bollocks at a time.
While the core gameplay remains tried-and-true, the release’s eight sandbox stages are denser than they’ve ever been. There’s no doubt the British developer has been peeking at Hitman’s playbook, and the result is a versatile military crusade that shines in repeated playthroughs. Take the gorgeous Beaumont-Saint-Denis stage, for example, which has been inspired by the real-life tidal island of Mont-Saint-Michel. This architectural wonder is bursting with gameplay opportunities, spanning underground infiltration points to turrets that provide devastating sightlines – exactly how you approach is up to you.
The result is missions that have taken this author upwards of two hours to complete, and that’s without even doing everything there is to do. As you explore the surprisingly vertical environments, you’ll discover intelligence and briefs which can help inform your approach – and while there isn’t quite the same number of assassination options as Agent 47 has at his fingertips, you’ll be surprised by some of the possibilities, which include dropping chandeliers and overloading blast furnaces. The game’s missions are intended to be played over and over, with co-op and a new Axis Invasion mechanic – where rival snipers infiltrate your game online – adding to the replayability.
Of course, beneath the intricately designed sandboxes and cartoon killcams, the game’s beating heart rests with its gunplay. As you’d expect, bullet ballistics are once again taken into account, meaning you’ll need to account for gravity, wind, and weather before popping enemies in the eyes. A dense suite of customisable difficulty options mean you can determine exactly how realistic you want the bullet ballistics to be – and difficulty can be tailored across a variety of different elements. This means if you want deeply realistic gunplay, for example, but easier to manage stealth gameplay, then you can. It’s entirely up to you how you want to play.
This extends to infiltration points and areas of interest. You can enable options which will guide you around the surprisingly large levels, helping you to locate specific sections that will aid you in your mission – or you can go in blind and find them for yourself. The sheer scalability of the experience is a selling point, and when paired with the immense scope of the gameplay variety – spanning traditional third-person shooter all the way through to stealth simulation – it should appeal to a variety of demographics.
The game is a serious looker, too, with photogrammetry used to create some truly authentic scenery. A distinctly Parisian soundtrack helps enhance the presentation, although some mechanics like climbing lack the precision of more polished third-person shooters. The camera can also be a little loose, although we quickly adjusted to this after tinkering with the settings for a few minutes.
One neat trick is how the title takes advantage of the DualSense controller. You can toggle between third-person and first-person aiming options for all weapons, but while this is a button prompt on other platforms, Rebellion has used the PS5’s adaptive triggers to create a pressure point to differentiate between the two perspectives. It takes a little getting used to but it’s a smart inclusion which allows you to quickly transition between the two unique viewpoints. Haptic feedback is also well-implemented, allowing you to “feel” nearby sound masks, like planes flying overhead and generators whirring nearby.
While the campaign is thoroughly entertaining, the developer still hasn’t solved some age-old problems, like the fact that you can get totally overwhelmed after a simple mistake. Obviously the title encourages stealth, but it absolutely punishes any minor slip-up, and you will find yourself relying on regular saving unless you’re an elite operative. The aforementioned difficulty tuning can help alleviate this problem, but just be aware that the release is particularly penalising unless you’re permanently on-point. As a consequence, of course, slipping in-and-out of a level unnoticed is euphoria inducing.
There’s a progression through-line between all of the game’s modes, which extends to ribbons, medals, and cosmetic unlocks. A robust customisation suite allows you to tinker with your arsenal down to minute details like recoil recovery speed, and we suspect firearm enthusiasts will get a particular kick out of this. The online multiplayer suite includes a wave-based survival option and competitive skirmishes, in addition to the aforementioned Axis Invasion.
The Axis Invasion is a fantastic inclusion, which adds an entertaining layer to the campaign, but does come with some caveats. Effectively, when enabled, elite snipers from all around the world will be able to infiltrate your game, with their goal being to sniff you out and take you down. There’s a reward track attached to incentivise the mode, and the German soldier comes with unique perks, like the ability to influence AI allies. But while it’s fantastic fun, and genuinely adds replayability to the campaign levels, some oversights – like the ability to overhear Karl Fairburne’s commentary – stack the odds in the favour of the invader, and will need to be patched.
You can, of course, also play the entirety of the campaign with a friend – and an invader will need to take out both players in that case – while there’s a separate, horde-style co-op mode for up to four players which is as entertaining as you’d expect. The package is rounded out with a competitive multiplayer suite, which emphasises long sightlines and ranged combat rather than up-close Call of Duty-style combat. One neat trick is that it encourages snipers to move from their nest by offering multipliers to those who maintain killstreaks and relocate, which complements the gameplay style. In our opinion, the co-op and Axis Invasion modes are the highlights, but with crossplay available the competitive multiplayer should find an active audience.
Sniper Elite 5 knows exactly who it’s aimed at, and Rebellion is on target as always. The developer’s dense French sandboxes are hugely replayable, and look fantastic to boot. There are some sloppy gameplay mechanics, like the climbing and twitchy camera, but these are easy to forgive. A wide array of difficulty options mean both super-agents and rookies can eke something out of this title, and with the release accommodating so many different play styles, it represents a real bullet to our heart – or should that be balls?