I just bought a copy of Sniper Elite 4 after waiting for the price to drop, and starting to play through it, I'm struck by how consistently this series has evolved. After a stellar first game, Rebellion seemed to have floundered bringing it to the modern era, as V2 was pretty rough. Since then, however, they've been making steady improvements to the formula, turning a distinctly B-tier series into something that plays and looks like no other game out there. I think a lot of people have overlooked how much this series has improved.
The Sniper Elite series has been pretty polarizing, and for good reason. The first game came out back in the heady days of 2005, and was an incredibly hardcore sniping/stealth simulator. It's a really well designed game with lots of awesome, ambitious systems, but it's incredibly punishing; if you even think about running and gunning, you'll be shot down in a matter of seconds. I still maintain that if you're willing to patiently learn how the systems in that game work, it is, pound for pound, one of the best behind-enemy-lines war games ever made.
Sniper Elite V2 came out a full seven years later, and while it had some good ideas (i.e., modernizing some aspects of the gameplay to bring them more in line with standard third-person shooter conventions), on the whole, the level design was lousy. It's kind of a remake of the first game, but it loses a lot of that game's strengths. The maps are small and claustrophobic, 3/4 of the missions are set on the same gray, bombed-out Berlin streets, and assets are recycled like it's nobody's business. Arguably the single biggest improvement was the advent of a Mortal Kombat style X-Ray kill cam, showing your rifle shots ripping up the bones and internal organs of whatever unlucky Nazi finds himself in your sights.
Luckily, Sniper Elite 3 came out two years later and remedied most of the issues with V2. Instead of setting yet another game in war-torn central Europe, Rebellion opted to explore a much less familiar and much more colorful campaign: North Africa. The game's bright color palette makes the whole campaign much less dour than the first two Sniper Elites, and 3 adopts a much more fun and campy tone. Levels are much larger and allow for more exploration and multiple approaches to objectives. Some of the movement and non-sniping combat was cleaned up and streamlined, and as a result, 3 played much better than V2. The game was not without flaws, however; some of the mission objectives were frustrating (there's at least one escort mission) or confusing, and almost all of the substantial amount of DLC released for the game ranged from lame to worthless (and yes, I'm including the mission where you shoot Hitler in the balls in that).
This brings us, finally, to this year's Sniper Elite 4. I've just started this game, so I'm limited to my initial impressions, but so far it seems like Rebellion have realized what made Sniper Elite 3 succeed and have doubled down on those elements. The first mission in the game is about 3x the size of the largest mission in SE3 and offers huge amounts of freedom to tackle its main and side objectives. The game's set during another often neglected part of the war, the Italian campaign, and the Mediterranean setting is gorgeous. Enemies seem smarter and will banter with each other when not in an alert state. I'm very much looking forward to seeing the rest of what this game has to offer.
Also, a question: has anyone played the Zombie spinoff games from this series? I've always avoided them, thinking that they're probably cheap cash-ins on the Call of Duty Zombie mode's popularity.