‘Sniper Elite 5’ review: right on target

Killer elite

Playing Sniper Elite 5 involves a sense of delayed gratification. The stealth shooter has long been the best place to go if you want WW2 commando antics, but with this fifth edition it’s taken a step up as probably the best current-gen stealth game out there, taking clear inspiration from titles like Hitman and Metal Gear Solid 5.

You can’t escape the deja vu, though. You control Karl Fairburne – one of developer Rebellion’s most popular characters, despite being as bland as porridge given human form – as he takes the fight to the Germans with a collection of weapons and traps. You will fire sniper rifles, you will blow up tanks with TNT, you will see a ton of grody X-rayed images as your bullets impact with human flesh.

Ignore the game’s title. While you are technically a sniper and you’ll always be toting around a rifle, the game is better described as a commando simulator. You have a stuffed bag of tricks to trap and deceive, even if most of them explode with varying degrees of magnitude. There’s the classic stealth mainstay of carting around and carrying glass bottles to distract enemies, there’s a little helmet on a stick you can use as a decoy to draw enemies in, and you can even booby trap dead bodies with grenades or a ruddy great big landmine. This sits alongside tools like bolt cutters, crowbars and even satchel charges, which can be used to fill in for intel or keys if you haven’t found the right person to drop them, opening paths that usually require intrigue and some investigation.

Sniper Elite 5. Credit: Rebellion.
Sniper Elite 5. Credit: Rebellion.

The game has nine different levels and each of them feel distinct and offer unique challenges: assaulting a German-held chateau often involves relentless close quarters gunfire, while another level has you helping U.S. Rangers escape after a disastrous airdrop before fighting a tank in a particularly memorable set piece. Snipers, it turns out, aren’t naturally well equipped for fighting armour, but clever use of positioning and gadgetry can help you overcome most obstacles.

It’s usually smart to use binoculars to scout areas before you bumble in shooting, and it reveals a ton of weird tidbits: you’ll find out useful things like the weak spots on vehicles and distance to target, but also things like their heart rate and even little snippets about their character: gaze at these people through the binoculars and you’ll see information on casual cruelty and affairs.

“Scratch one adulterer,” I thought to myself as my round explodes his testes – an accident, I promise – but these snippets of humanity are a bizarre addition, as if I’m worrying about whether this digital recreation of a Nazi might secretly be one of the good ones as 150XP pops up on screen as a reward for shooting him. If anything, it’s more harrowing as you scout out a sniper’s nest at long range and find out that his dog has just had puppies and he’s hoping to get leave soon so he can go home and visit them. Reader, I shot him.

Sniper Elite 5. Credit: Rebellion.
Sniper Elite 5. Credit: Rebellion.

The sniping in this game is pretty much the gold standard: it’s accessible and there are a variety of different assists that you can turn on. At normal difficulties, you can hold down the button to empty your lung and you’ll get a steadier shot and an aiming reticule will help you calculate for bullet drop and wind. If this feels too casual, you can whack the difficulty up to authentic and shun this help to try and ping people at long range, but I enjoyed Sniper Elite 5 the most as a power fantasy, slaying hordes of enemies with a variety of trick shots.

Each enemy has a variety of organs that will lead to an instantaneous death: anyone can shoot a Nazi in the head, but there’s something grim about taking them out with rounds to the heart, lungs, kidney or even intestines. Make a good shot and you’ll be treated to a slow motion kill cam that goes into x-ray vision to show the damage that you do with each round. This can trigger for sniper rifle kills but also for attacks with other weapons, even triggering when a land mine you’ve placed goes off and sprays lethal shrapnel around the place. You can turn this off if gore isn’t your thing, but it feels like an appropriate reward for landing a well placed shot, and even dabbling in co-op it was nice to occasionally see your partner’s kill cam.

There’s a decent collection of period appropriate weaponry to choose from, even when you move past the rifles: you can get your hands on a collection of submachine guns and pistols that have deep customisation options that will slowly unlock as you find gun customisation benches out in the world, but the real fun is with some of the heavier weapons you can get your hands on, like Panzerfausts, heavy machine guns and even an anti-tank rifle that is useful for smashing enemy armour but is effective at killing infantry, too.

Sniper Elite 5. Credit: Rebellion.
Sniper Elite 5. Credit: Rebellion.

We didn’t get to play any of the competitive multiplayer in the run up to launch, but the Invasion mode is a joy, letting players dive in as an Axis sniper. It’s similar to what you might find in Dark Souls or Deathloop, but it’s incredibly well done here, and it turns out the best way to challenge a sentient player with human intelligence is by pitting them against another sentient player with human intelligence. Both being invaded and invading is a fun time, but you can turn it off if you just want to play a low-key single player experience. This is going to be useful, because invasions are intense, pulse pounding affairs, and probably one of the game’s best new additions.

If it feels like this review has been glowing so far it’s because that most of the key parts of Sniper Elite 5 are exceptional. The combat feels tense and engaging, the levels are detailed and the mix of systems makes the game just complicated enough to be interesting. Sadly, the game is more than a little rough around the edges. Sniper Elite 5’s story isn’t so much forgettable as completely forgotten, but the real problems aren’t with the game’s design or structure but the quality of the content found within it.

This lack of polish is understandable – Sniper Elite 5 isn’t a AAA game despite how well it’s been put together. But running into invisible walls feels particularly jarring in 2022, and there are times when enemies fazed into the nearby wall and kept shooting. Elsewhere, I fell through the level a couple of times, and one pick up was located on top of a rooftop that I was completely unable to access. Trying to work out which waist-high walls can be vaulted and which are completely impassable is a thankless task, especially as you’re often trying to work it out while under fire.

This won’t hurt your enjoyment: I’ve played 30 hours of Sniper Elite 5 and it is my professional opinion that it is fun as shit, but it does hold it back from getting top marks.

Sniper Elite 5 launches on May 26 for PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, and PS5. This review was played on PC.

The Verdict

Sniper Elite 5 is excellent, genuinely. This is a bold step forward for a franchise that felt like it was treading water, and it’s one of 2022’s most essential releases. Bugs and missteps stop it from being a true GOTY contender, but fans of open-world stealth will be enamoured.

Pros

  • Great shooting
  • Well crafted levels
  • Tons of gadgets

Cons

  • Buggy in places
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