‘Sniper Elite VR’ review: Great sniping but very little else

Political power from the barrel of a gun

Sniper rifles have always been a staple of FPS games, but VR has had a mixed history. Maintaining a solid eyebox – the point where the lenses line up with your eye in the real world, here’s a good explainer –  without the three contact points of a real rifle can lead to a tough time landing decent shots. Rebellion’s Sniper Elite VR makes sniping simple but still retains the satisfaction that comes from aiming a shot with your very own arms, using your very own eyes.

You join WW2 as an Italian partisan fighter who happens to be a crack shot with a rifle. Each mission is a different part of a resistance movement against the German occupation of Italy, with players helping with a variety of resistance tasks: stealing fuel, assassinating generals, and shooting lots of dudes.

Sniper Elite VR. Credit: Rebellion Developments

The scoped rifles in the game are your main tools when it comes to achieving all of these goals, with several missions setting you into a nice overwatch position you don’t really need to leave. Here, you can become the perched, eagle-eyed assassin you were always meant to be. Fleshing out that fantasy of grim watcher-on-high are the scoped rifles – each of which is handled well, with a focus mode zooming the optic to take up your full vision and changing your big hand movements into smaller, more mechanical ones. This lets you make precise shots and eliminates the natural shake that comes from not pulling a rifle tight against your shoulder. And that’s useful since in VR, you’re just a floating pair of eyes and hands.

Many VR games have used sniper rifles in some form, but most come with some caveat that prevents you from feeling like you’ve ever really achieved any actual precision. Onwards and Hotdogs, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades use bipods attached to the world around you to provide a fixed anchor for the weapon to rest on. At the same time, Arizona Sunshine just lets the sniper rifle hang in the air with a blatant disregard for physics. Sniper Elite VR doesn’t need any of that – and its insistence in putting you in control of the gun leads to some of the most satisfying scoped shots that I’ve seen in VR.

Sniper Elite VR. Credit: Rebellion Developments

The X-Ray kill cams of Sniper Elite have always had a morbid fascination with showing enemy soliders’ guts and brains blow out in alarming detail… and when that crosses over into VR, it takes on a new, grizzlier form. In flat screen games, you usually have a good idea of what your round will hit as your bullet zips through the air and plants itself in a footsoldier’s eye socket, say.

In VR, this is less often the case: X-Ray kill cams can be surprising, with what you thought to be a solid shot to the chest taking out someone’s shoulder instead. It’s less of a gory celebration and more of a piece of feedback. It never feels like the game’s calculated a shot wrong, but maybe it’s insisting that you pulled the trigger too sharply and shifted a shot to the side a touch.

However, Sniper Elite VR, like its flat-screen predecessors, isn’t only about sniping. And this is where the VR game runs into trouble. Firing pistols and submachine guns (SMGs) does not work particularly well. Firing with the iron sights often leads to rounds landing higher than expected, and sometimes getting a firearm too close to an enemy can cause it not to fire at all. So at least there’s Focus Mode – available to all weapons – which can offset that somewhat. Focus Mode paints a reticule on what you’re aiming at that gets tighter the longer you focus when using anything without a scope. Often, this feels like the only way to fire a weapon with any accuracy reliably, urging you to just get back to that sniper and your precious nest.

Sniper Elite VR. Credit: Rebellion Developments

The game also features the option to be stealthy and avoid detection by masking your shots or using the silent Welrod to clear enemies in certain areas. While this is a nice layer that adds some variety to the action, there have been many times where an enemy saw me for a split second before I got them, prompting the entire map to start hunting me down. Not very realistic, let’s be honest. Any real attempt at stealth feels frustrating and archaic and often just feels like a slow way in before you go loud and really have some fun.

The controls for the game contain a good variety of options to ensure people are always playing in the most comfortable mode for them. However, a few options are missing. Smooth locomotion only has head-based directional control, (ergo: forwards is always the direction you are facing). An option for hand-based locomotion would certainly be welcome, especially given the nature of the game. Gripping items can be swapped between a toggle or hold, but it is a shame that they cannot be changed depending on the type of item you’re eager to interact with. Having weapons stick to your hand makes sense, but with objects like magazines or the bolt of a rifle, it gets irritating quickly. Especially if you’re pinned down in the middle of a firefight.

The game also has several comfort options, such as vignetting and snap turn, to ensure that whatever level of VR experience you have, you can enjoy the experience. This includes options such as automatic reloading, skipping doing it manually, which can be awkward at times. The X-Ray cam can also be altered to remove the sudden movement following a bullet penetration, or it can be disabled entirely.

Sniper Elite VR. Credit: Rebellion Developments

In the overall scope of where VR games are at in 2021, what has been learned, and what has thankfully been forgotten, Sniper Elite VR puts a good foot forward but falls short in several areas compared to the ever-evolving competition. After being spoiled by the highly interactive worlds of Half-Life: Alyx and Boneworks, Sniper Elite VR feels flat. The world around you is glued in place with nothing reacting to the player’s presence: rounds hitting around you are nothing more than pings on the geometry, your weapons clip through the scenery, and even interactable grenades are firmly locked in place until you grab them. Throwing grenades manually is pointless, with a trigger press giving you a clear trajectory arc for any attempt at even slight accuracy.

Weapon handling is another place where Sniper Elite VR falls short of its contemporaries; reloads feeling vague and clunky, waving a clip near the breach of your rifle is all you need to get it loaded, and – while rebolting after every shot can feel satisfying – it is hard to avoid having to look at the weapon to make sure things have gone correctly whenever you attempt the motion.

Pulling a pistol in a sudden close-up firefight feels like a death sentence since it takes far too much attention to perform such a simple draw. A vibration system is there to help you know when your hands are near an interaction point, but there is little context. An empty holster vibrates just as much as a full one, and the vibration itself is so constant and aggressive that it makes it unpleasant to have your hands anywhere near your belt.

Sniper Elite VR. Credit: Rebellion Developments

Sniper Elite VR is a good sniping experience for VR systems but compared to other games available, it falls short of being truly memorable. The seeds of something great are there, and if the game gets a sequel to clean up the rough edges, Sniper Elite could become one of the biggest VR franchises. But this is not that.

Sniper Elite VR is available for PSVR and PC. It can be found on the Oculus store and Steam. Reviewed on PC.

The Verdict

Sniper Elite VR shows promise and includes some of the best sniping in VR. It could have easily settled for being a shooting gallery but instead adds the movement and stealth you’d hope to see in a VR adaptation of Sniper Elite. However, it falls short whenever you don’t have a rifle in your hands.

Pros

  • Easy and enjoyable sniping
  • Variety of locations, weapons, and objectives
  • Fully featured comfort options

Cons

  • Awkward reloading and belt interactions
  • Unsatisfying stealth
  • Lack of interaction with the world around you
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