E3 2016: In Sniper Elite 4, Fracturing Faces Feels Like Home

At E3 this year, I was finally afforded the opportunity to try out Sniper Elite 4, whereas I only watched it a few months ago at GDC. The demo was set up on Playstation 4 consoles, which was oddly unfamiliar because I played the previous entry on PC. Fun fact: I prefer to play first-person shooters on PC, so I had a bit of a moment getting acclimated with where everything was on the controller. Once I got that down pat, I was ready to die and fuck up repeatedly with the thirty minutes I was granted to (not) do so.

There’s something funny about playing a stealth game at a game industry event. Stealth and/or sniping could be your thing—it could be your favorite kind of action gameplay as it is mine—but once you have controls in your hands for a demo, your skills fly out the window. Much like when I first tried Sniper Elite 3 at PAX East 2014, it was rather embarrassing for a spell. Once I cooled off and stopped trying to rush things, to experience the totality of the game in one short session, I was doing… okay.

The level was set in a kind of forestal, mountainside area, notably by a really long bridge I was expected to destroy. I did not foresee actually getting to the bridge before I’d be shooed out of the room, so I just went for the basics. I began where every good sniper should: by lifting my binoculars and tagging enemies. Something I realized very quickly was that there were a ton of them across this massive level, and it was tough enough to get a feel for all the ones just in my vicinity. After spending too long right where I began and dying at the hands of a patrolman, I found a shadier place to lay prone in.

Familiar gameplay features presented themselves quickly. The enemies would occasionally load a cannon or something and fire it, providing adequate sound cover to mask my location when I’d take someone out. I used it for the first kill, watching a bullet from my rifle break its way through another man’s biology, replete with the cracking of skull bones and the crushing of various viscera. This felt oddly like home, like something I had missed, as morose as that sounds. I do like the x-ray kills, though it’s a strange obsession to adopt, for sure.

When I did mess up, enemy AI was certainly smarter than I recall from the previous game. When they just have a sense of your potential location, they will hunt it for quite a while—uncomfortably long, but long enough that it doesn’t feel spurious like many other stealth games. My job was to move to another position, of course, but not be seen. However, since I didn’t make any aggressive strides in scoping out the territory, I was found, changing my mini-map alerts from yellow to red. As if by hive mind, every enemy, including other snipers, knew my location and pursued me like hawks. I had no chance.

One of the other new features I tried out was the new, more informative binoculars that tell you what enemies are carrying if you keep looking long enough. I also got an better understanding for what “zeroing out the scope” meant, which I didn’t totally get during the preview I watched in March. Apparently, for those uninitiated in the world of sniping (which should be the norm FYI), it allows you to make it so the place where the bullet will hit is a little closer to the center of your scope, thus eliminating the need to move much once you hold your breath. And for fun, I took out a few enemy trucks, which also provides an x-ray “kill” and a superb amount of fireworks. You can really kill those things dead.

Of course, still playing as Karl, I have major reservations about how interesting he or his story will be this time around. If I recall correctly, he does have the stage presence of a lamp. Regardless, I’m looking forward to seeing how the sprawling levels affect gameplay and enjoyment. We’ll all find out when Sniper Elite 4 hits Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC on February 14, 2017.