Sniper Elite 4 takes aim with polished environments and gruesome X-ray kills

Since Sniper Elite V2 introduced X-ray kill cams to the series, the ability to witness lingering, slow-motion testicle destruction has been something of sore point for players (in every respect). But while “nut shots” have floated to the surface in an otherwise serious, and rather ambitious, series, there are much greater horrors to be found in Sniper Elite 4. 

Take the occasion I loosed a shot at another sniper searching for my position, and watched as it skimmed the edge of the sights he was using and plunged into his chin, shattering his jaw into jagged splinters. Or the time one of my bullets carved a channel across the back of a hapless enemy, then ricocheted off his shoulder blade and deeper into his chest cavity. Or the panicked moment I was surprised by a patrolling soldier and watched as the knife I thrust into his heart ended its beating. It’s thrilling stuff, but it is horrible, too. 

Rebellion happily admits to exploiting violence for entertainment’s sake, but also wants every time you end a life to feel meaningful. If you really can’t stomach all the gore porn, it can be switched off, and the much improved radar system ensures you can keep track of enemies at all times and stealth your way through levels with minimum bloodshed. But for everyone else, Rebellion has tripled down on kill cam content by adding the aforementioned melee X-rays as well as some particularly horrendous shrapnel effects that result from explosive kills. 

But even more striking than all the bullets, and bits of metal and wood, is how much more polished this self-funded release feels compared to its precursor, even at this early stage. Enemy AI is considerably more readable: foes go out of their way to vocalise what they’re thinking, and alerted enemies make a concerted effort to search around your last known position. 

A greater sense of sandbox play is shored up by much larger maps—even the smaller ones are at least three times the size of Sniper Elite 3’s largest—and more elaborate topography. I only saw a small section of one level, but the area takes in a large military base, patrolling vehicles, and a huge valley spanned by a rickety-looking bridge—the destruction of which is your primary objective. 

You’re now able to zero your sights, referencing an earlier missed shot, in order to more easily land long-distance hits, and you’re much more agile—able to clamber up and down walls and dangle off ledges just as impressively as jokers like Nathan Drake or Big Boss. 

The environment is made even more malleable by the introduction of penetrable materials, so enemies hiding behind wooden cover are no longer safe. And you can booby trap dead bodies if you’d prefer to only get your hands partially dirty. But all of this is contrasted with a new feature of the binoculars: while first sight will simply mark foes, you’ll glean more information the longer you track them, starting with what equipment and weapons they’re carrying, and building until you have their name and personal details. Finding out a soldier joined the army to escape their abusive father might give your trigger finger pause before sending a bullet through their skull. Testicles it is, then. 

Rebellion has managed to apply generous layers of polish while somehow not smothering the idiosyncratic personality that sets these games apart. The release date has slipped to early next year, but snipers are patient creatures and I can bear it if it means the studio can further refine what already seems like an enjoyable package.

By Ben Maxwell.