Including the zombie spin-offs, Sniper Elite 5 is the tenth game in Rebellion's series. In the 17 years since the first's release, the formula has changed a lot, but gruesome slow-motion sniper kills have always been the highlight. In the series’ first outing on the current generation consoles, that is no different.
As satisfying as the long-range headshots are, Sniper Elite 5 is just so far behind other modern shooters when it comes to everything other than the sniping itself.
While there are a few bright stops, the various frustrations throughout the game's nine levels make Sniper Elite 5’s original stop the Nazis at all costs story a slog to play through.
Clunky and Frustrating
There’s a line your character, Karl Fairburne, says about halfway through the story which I couldn’t help but laugh at. He says “any landing you can walk away from is a good one” after his plane crashes to start a level.
Ignoring the metaphoric side of his quip (a crash landing is, by definition, not a good one), I couldn’t help but feel like the same sentiment could be applied to much of Sniper Elite 5 that isn’t the actual sniping.
From the movement, both sprinting and walking, to the act of reloading, everything feels clunky. Karl can’t walk over anything that’s not perfectly flat, the camera switches suddenly from first person to third person while Karl reloads any weapon while aiming down sights, and trying to loot an enemy is like trying to thread a needle to get the button prompts to show when you’re standing over a dead body.
Sniper Elite 5 does everything it can to take the shine off the spectacular headshots (and admittedly, testicle shots) with its design choices.
Stealth is the aim of the game. The way you’re supposed to play Sniper Elite 5 is to take it slowly, tagging enemies to keep track of them and taking them out one by one with your sniper. But the game isn’t designed in a way that promotes that or makes it a fun way to play.
Clunkiness aside, the AI is simply not balanced enough for Sniper Elite 5 to be a good stealth game. Between 10 and 100 yards, the Nazis have eyesight I could only dream of, spotting me in a blink of an eye from behind cover or some bushes. More than once I said “but where are you seeing me from?” to my TV in frustration.
It’s not so much the good eyesight that’s the frustration, however. It’s more about how they react. They immediately open fire, crouching in the open on their own slowly taking potshots (most of which hit the target). Suddenly, you’re surrounded, the mini-map swarming with red circles as they hunt you down.
Alarms are ringing, enemies you were sure you killed start popping up behind you, and ammo is all of sudden in short supply. One small misstep and all hell breaks loose, and it takes ages for them to give up the chase.
Get up close, however, and the AI seem to lose this genius-level ability. They stand in the open, completely unaware you’re next to them, or fumble around for their weapon as you look directly at them. The contrast is so strange.
Nothing in Sniper Elite 5 is more strange than when you unlock the ability to use a medkit to revive yourself once after being downed. The enemy AI just stands there watching as you use your medkit (immediately getting you back to almost full health) and are surprised when you stand up and kill them back.
Much of the stealth frustration is down to the issues with Sniper Elite 5’s customization and upgrade elements. Sniping feels great, as it has done throughout the series, but too much work is required to get the best out of it.
The gruesome slow motion death animations are still immensely satisfying (at least for the first 100 times) and getting the perfect shots from miles away feels great as you sneak off into the shadows.
The Fun Is Locked Away
However, through the customization options and unlock system, as well as the level design, you’re almost persuaded not to get your rifle out unless you really feel you need it.
Accompanying their 20-20 vision, the bad guys can also pin-point the location of any gunshot within milliseconds. Your starting rifle, and most after it, are loud and disruptive. Shoot it and the aforementioned barrage of red circles and alarms isn’t too far away. If you want to stay quiet, you can’t really use it.
Silencers aren’t available until you find some very well hidden workbenches throughout the story, and the quieter Subsonic ammo is in short supply. Until you have the means to stay quiet or are far enough away from all enemies that you can’t be heard, the big gun is best left holstered.
Sneaking around 1940s France with a silenced sniper, picking off enemies one by one is an immense amount of fun, but Sniper Elite 5 rarely lets that become a reality.
Back Streets Aren’t the Place for Snipers
That’s also not helped by the level design. Sniper Elite 5 is a noticeably prettier game and the nine open levels are big, varied, and detailed, but they haven’t been put together in a way that shines a spotlight on the game’s USP.
Very rarely are you upwards of 100 metres from an enemy (the range at which most sniper shots begin to be inaudible). Honestly, you’re rarely more than 50 metres away. There are some big open fields in earlier levels, but tight compact streets and hallways aren’t the place for a master sniper to do his best work.
It makes no sense that Rebellion would make enclosed mission locations so more frequent. Castles and industrial complexes, which make up the game’s third and fourth missions, are the places for SMGs, not cumbersome sniper rifles.
And that brings me back to the issue it leads to. The other gameplay in Sniper Elite 5 simply isn’t good enough to be fun when stealth isn’t an option. You can fight your way out of sticky situations with your SMG and Pistol (or even use your rifle at shorter range) but it’s not a lot of fun as you stumble around the weapon wheel and looting mechanics.
IO Interactive’s Hitman games are joyous sandboxes for close-quarters stealth experimentation, thanks to the tools at Agent 47’s disposal and the often pretty brain dead AI. The short-range gunplay is far from perfect there either, but everything is balanced in a way that it still feels like a fun option if stealth goes wrong.
Invasions Are the Highlight
There is a shining light in Sniper Elite 5, though. The new Axis Invasion mechanics, which work much like the Juliana invasions in Deathloop, are a lot of fun. Another player can invade someone’s campaign playthrough as an elite sniper to try and take them out. Whoever kills the other gets extra rewards. It’s nice and simple.
Invasions are just another possible frustration if you’re the one being invaded - thankfully you can turn them off - but being the Axis sniper removes so many of Sniper Elite 5’s issues to showcase where the fun is to be had.
You don’t have to worry about sneaking past groups of Nazis and their laser pointer vision. You don’t have to worry about staying too quiet. You’re there with one aim and one target.
You can run around, figuring out the opposing player’s location best you can and then try and work out what your best vantage point is. Even if you’re spotted, you can move and reposition without being concerned about Nazis popping up behind you.
There are still tactical and stealth elements to it, since they’re core to Sniper Elite, but they correct the balance issues to focus on the fun at the heart of the series. The fun is there, just not everywhere you’d like it to be.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5. Code was provided by the publisher.