The Sniper Elite series doesn’t exactly hold many surprises, and it’s fair to say that Sniper Elite 5 is not looking to reinvent the wheel.
As a game about taking out Nazis in the most comically violent fashion you can from the end of a sniper rifle, you know what you’re going to get. But it sure does excel at what it knows, becoming something of a master in the genre that has seen a lot less competition over the years (remember when Assassin’s Creed was about assassinations?)
Karl Fairburne may not go down in history as iconic or charismatic a protagonist as Wolfenstein’s William J. Blazkowicz or even Hitman’s enigmatic Agent 47, but he knows how to get the job done and Sniper Elite 5 provides the player with even more agency on how to approach the mission.
For its fifth instalment, is leaving a trail of dead Nazis satisfying enough or has Rebellion managed to find new ways to get the pulse racing on that trigger finger?
Vive la resistance
After campaigns set in Berlin, Africa, and Italy, Sniper Elite 5 finally takes the fight against the Nazi war machine to France in 1944 with events overlapping with D-Day. However, Fairburne and the French resistance also learn of a devastating top secret plan from the top Nazi command called Operation Kraken, your goal being to discover what it entails and put a stop to it.
But while visuals and performances are about on par with what you’d expect from other big budget studios, the storytelling ultimately takes a backseat compared to the act of killing Nazis. Still, it’s hard not to admire how beautiful the environments are where you’re dishing out your ultra-violent brand of one-man justice, especially when playing on the latest consoles.
Just as with Italy in Sniper Elite 4, France is a beautiful sight to behold whether you’re sneaking through its scenic countryside or skulking through stately chateaus draped with Swastika banners. For a game that is best when approached slowly and methodically, it makes sense there’s a real attention to detail in the environments, from propaganda posters to one mission that sees you discovering a camp where Nazi spies are speaking in English, role-playing next to painted backdrops of Americana.
That said, the best way to admire Sniper Elite 5 is through your rifle’s scope, and the series’ signature kill cam returns as it follows your bullet speeding towards your target before it cuts to an X-ray for a spectacularly bloody execution as you watch it pierce Nazi skulls, pop eye balls, puncture lungs, and of course bust some nuts.
Did Nazi this coming
Despite the title, sniping is far from your only choice of action. The campaign’s eight missions might not sound like much on paper but given how large each map is, with plenty of optional objectives to discover along the way, as well as always one optional Nazi assassination target to hunt down, there’s a staggering amount of player agency in how you can approach the objective, with skill upgrades you can tailor to your play-style.
Do you want to be a ghost or go in loud? Take down targets from afar or up close? You can even opt for non-lethal takedowns for the first time, even if this rather diminishes the game’s USP. Still, it’s a welcome option for players more squeamish about treating Nazis inhumanely, though we’d like to quote Brad Pitt’s speech in Inglourious Basterds: “Nazi ain’t got no humanity!”
Sniping is also not always ideal, since you have to account for factors like the sound of the gunshot giving away your location, and subsonic rounds aren’t very common. Using objects in the environment to create noise to muffle your shots can also be a double-edged sword as the noise just causes nearby enemies to investigate. Nonetheless, this all keeps you on your toes so that you’re never just camping taking easy pot shots.
That said, we still find Sniper Elite 5 is at its best when viewed through a scope. In the event you’re out of rifle ammo or in too tight a space that you’re resorting to an SMG or pistol, the combat isn’t quite as polished as other shooters. That’s because while you’re controlling Fairburne in third person, weapons always cut to first-person. That makes sense for a sniper rifle but for other weapons it doesn’t feel as intuitive as a third-person shooter or as satisfying as moving around in a first-person shooter.
Although we weren’t able to test properly ahead of launch, Sniper Elite 5 does contain a raft of multiplayer options, which support cross-play across both different platforms and console generations and should provide more variety and replayability to the campaign missions.
There’s also a more multiplayer-focused survival mode, the game’s equivalent of a horde mode, as up to four players try to resist wave after wave of Nazi soldiers across three maps and prevent them from capturing your base. While solo play is available here, it definitely feels too overwhelming to go it alone.
Instead, our highlight is a new invasion mode, inspired by Dark Souls and Deathloop, where a player-controlled Axis sniper can invade another player’s campaign mission, transforming it into a tense and deadly game of cat and mouse. The Axis sniper has a bit of an advantage too as they can easily blend in with the other enemies or also command other Nazis to be on alert, enabling them to help you mark Fairburne if he’s spotted in the area.
Given the size of the map, you could also be very far away from each other, though using phones will help narrow down each player’s last location. It’s the tension in between that makes this mode more than the actual killing itself, which can be over in a flash, but with more weapons and cosmetics unlocked for the Axis player the more kills they make, it’s a fun and replayable extra. It’s also one players are free to opt out of, though defeat won’t completely ruin your day like in the aforementioned games, as you can still save your progress even during an invasion.
Sniper Elite 5 verdict
Sniper Elite 5 builds on the more open and larger environments of its previous instalment that while largely more of the same is nonetheless peak sniping, and offers a great deal of choice to the player on how they want to approach each mission – even if a well-aimed shot from afar remains as bloody satisfying as always.
Yet while invasions certainly freshen up the formula, it feels almost like there’s not much else left for Rebellion to mine from this WWII setting, and with the war finally turning the tide in France, this may make a fine conclusion. But then again, there’s always virtual Nazis that need dealing with, right?
A terrific sniping game with a lot of freedom in its large maps, even if it doesn’t progress the series much
Beautiful scenic locations with a lot of agency
Kill-cam as bloody satisfying as ever
Invasions are a tense addition
Other weapons don’t feel as good as sniper rifle
Not a particularly memorable story