The brutality of war continues.
Shooters are an essential part of gaming and date back to the early beginnings of the medium. Through gaming’s evolutionary path, first-person shooters have dominated the market, where an emphasis on multiplayer and historic set-pieces has become a core principle of the genre. However, some divergence from the norm is a good thing, and the Sniper Elite series has transformed the WWII shooter into a tactical sniping extravaganza with an emphasis on stealth. Sniper Elite 4 is the third (non-Zombie) entry to make its way onto the Nintendo Switch, and this most recent release continues to create top-notch experiences despite some technical hiccups and a failure to innovate on prior iterations.
Continuing to masquerade as Karl Fairburne—American sniper—Sniper Elite 4 drops the player at the conclusion of the third title to carry on Karl’s bloody path across the globe. Heading north following his African campaign, Karl Fairburne makes his way to Italy to try and stop one of the top Nazi scientists from developing a powerful new weapon. Along the way, he gets help from an underground militia trying to expunge the Nazi presence, known as the Partisans, and together they push against the occupation. With all the high-profile targets we’ve become accustomed to hunting in the Sniper Elite series, Sniper Elite 4 carries on with this tradition while adding some interesting alterations to history. While this explosive path through Italy maintains the overall story and keeps the oft-straightforward shooter genre on its toes, Karl shows his lack of true star power in this iteration through an increase in dialogue and a closer look at what makes him tick. As a mostly gruff, no-nonsense protagonist, Karl captures that tough-guy persona regularly used in action titles, while failing to let him add any sort of substance to the path of destruction he’s unleashing. Beyond just his character, the cast presented and story on offer could easily be considered among the better ways to experience World War II in video-game form.
While the gameplay of Sniper Elite 4, and the series as a whole, feels similar to something like Metal Gear Solid’s more recent entries, it is otherwise unique in its portrayal of the WWII shooter. Mixing stealth, sniping, and—ultimately—player choice, Sniper Elite 4 presents large sandboxes filled with hidden documents, caches of supplies, and all the Nazis you could ever want to use for target practice. Even though the sniping elements take precedent, the use of automatic weapons, pistols, and shotguns offer alternative approaches to an otherwise one-dimensional set of ideas. Explosives and destructible portions of the environments add additional ways to change things up while making your way from objective to objective on each stage. Various difficulty and accessibility options turn Sniper Elite 4 into a master class in customizable experiences. Altogether, Sniper Elite 4 drops you into an arena, with potentially hundreds of enemies, allowing you to choose your path via stealth or brute force to achieve each of the objectives presented—a truly enjoyable undertaking.
Surprisingly, it holds up well in the graphics department, too. Although it is obviously a slight downgrade from the PC and other console ports, the Nintendo Switch version is free of muddy visuals and pop-in, even with the massive sandbox on offer. At times, frame rates can dip, and I encountered a bug where my character was stuttering after climbing a hill, but a quick save and restart alleviated those issues. Outside of some occasionally awkward character models, cutscenes look outstanding, truly showing off this realistic vision of Italy. When you consider the number of AI bopping around, Sniper Elite 4 is definitely a showcase in proper Switch porting.
Where the graphics really shine is in the slow-motion kill sequences that the Sniper Elite series is famous for, where—in Mortal Kombat fashion—your bullet enters the enemy’s body in gorey glory, splitting and spraying anything it comes into contact with. These graphic cutscenes are what sets the Sniper Elite games apart from the rest, but for those that wish to focus on the gameplay, they can be switched off to ease those weak stomachs out there. While simply a quick snapshot following a trigger pull, these scenes are fascinating and horrifying displays of what damage can be done to the human body with a bullet.
Offering multiplayer and co-op options, Sniper Elite 4 pads out the already dozens-of-hours-long campaign with the option to take your skills to the worldwide web. Overwatch and Survival modes allow for local or online friends to gather and blow up as many heads as possible, while also offering the opportunity to play story missions as a tag-team as well.
Sniper Elite 4 takes its perch as the marquee, non-arcade sniping title on the market. Through its strategic gameplay, disgustingly explosive kill cutscenes, and jam-packed sandboxes, Sniper Elite 4 satiates the need for a World War II shooter, while not getting dragged down by the norms of the genre. Even with some technical hiccups and a less-than-likable protagonist, Sniper Elite 4 achieves, takes aim, hits its mark, and then some.