Sniper Elite Series Retrospective

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#1 Edited by Notkcots (94 posts) -

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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#2 Posted by notnert427 (1929 posts) -

I've been waiting to pick up 4, and probably will when it gets to be around $20 or so. I almost pulled the trigger (har har) during the last Xbox games sale.

I enjoyed 3 quite a bit. It was a better and deeper game than you'd expect in a lot of ways that just needed some tweaks here and there to make the gameplay a little more fun and fluid. It looks like 4 fixed several of those issues, and that it went more HITMAN on some things (which is welcome). I'd appreciate your further impressions on it.

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#3 Posted by DanishingAct (322 posts) -

@notkcots: I picked up the zombie one pretty cheap a couple of months ago on a psn flash sale after enjoying the third game. Not a super deep game, but I had a good time running through the campaign with some buddies. The hoard mode is good for a couple of laughs too. Solo would be pretty boring.

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#4 Posted by Brackstone (662 posts) -

I haven't played the recent entries (they look really good though), but it's interesting to me that the first game is held in such high regard. It's one of the only games I never finished because of how much I hated it. The basic sniping elements are great, but everything else was terrible, and levels started getting more claustrophobic, something the mechanics were simply not up to. Hearing that the sequel was somehow worse for that astounds me.

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#5 Posted by deactivated-5a48049f850e3 (81 posts) -

@danishingact: I tried to play that game alone I think the sniping gameplay did not fit the zombi setting too hard to be stealthy just hordes of zombies after you.

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#6 Posted by deckard (145 posts) -

4 is the only one I've played, and it's pretty great. Based on this retrospective I don't think I'll go backward in the series though.

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#7 Posted by DanishingAct (322 posts) -

@bonelesszombi: yeah, stealth is not really an good time. The entire idea is really weird. Wouldn't recommend it unless it's on sale and you have a few people to play with.

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#8 Posted by hans_maulwurf (591 posts) -

I think this series actually now more than ever is one of the few remaining AA/B-tier games, which is part of its fascination for me.

Never could get into the first one, whereas 2 and 3 kinda blur together for me. I think the most recent games have all been good, not great games that are fun to play through once. I haven't played 4 yet, but judging from what I've seen and heard it sounds like it's not a big departure from that. Which is fine. Just like Yakuza, I don't need these games to reinvent themselves all the time since they are the only games doing the particular thing they are doing.

I will throw in a dark horse contender for best behind enemy lines war game ever, though: Commandos: Strike Force. As a fan of the isometric commandos games, that game did some interesting stuff translating the feel of those games into the shooter perspective.

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#9 Posted by Capum15 (5945 posts) -

4 was my jumping-on point and I ran through it once with a friend, and want another friend to get it so I can go through it again.

Let me tell you, sniping Nazis with a buddy is pretty damn fun. We did one of the later missions where, after about maybe 10 minutes in, we just decided to start sprinting around and knife Nazis. We cleared the map that way.

We tried to keep stealth for as long as possible, but as with most plans, it eventually always popped off part-way through each mission and we then just rolled with it. I very much enjoyed that game, and while I'll probably play a fifth if that ever happens, I probably won't go back to the previous ones.

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#10 Posted by Notkcots (94 posts) -

Thanks for the input, everyone! Sounds like the zombie games are pretty much what I had taken them for, but they might have some fun times to offer if you're in the mood for them.

I'm about 4 missions deep in SE4 now, and I'm actually a lot more impressed than I was after playing the first one. There's an interesting mechanic where each mission has a hub area before you hit the field where you can change your loadout and speak with Allied NPCs. They're the ones who give you the side missions, and even this little bit of dialogue goes a long way towards making blowing up yet another German ammo dump or tracking down a shipment of typhus vaccines feel meaningful.

The maps themselves are also really interestingly designed. While they're as large as a lot of open-world missions, they're segmented, with narrow paths connecting the larger combat zones. Typically the side missions are spread out over these areas, so there's a reason to visit all of them. What makes this design work is that enemy alerts are limited to the immediate area, so the entire map doesn't light up immediately when you're spotted. This is a good thing for two reasons 1) the enemies are far more of a threat in this game than in SE3, and 2) there are a shit ton of Nazis on every map!

My biggest criticism so far is that the player-character's movement feels kind of wonky. You move excruciatingly slowly while crouched, and the crouch run makes far too much noise to be useful. I'd trade anything for Snake's crouch run from MGSV. Traversing ladders is also a total crapshoot; I've been shot to death multiple times because my character just kept climbing up and down a pipe.

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#11 Edited by notnert427 (1929 posts) -

@notkcots said:

Thanks for the input, everyone! Sounds like the zombie games are pretty much what I had taken them for, but they might have some fun times to offer if you're in the mood for them.

I'm about 4 missions deep in SE4 now, and I'm actually a lot more impressed than I was after playing the first one. There's an interesting mechanic where each mission has a hub area before you hit the field where you can change your loadout and speak with Allied NPCs. They're the ones who give you the side missions, and even this little bit of dialogue goes a long way towards making blowing up yet another German ammo dump or tracking down a shipment of typhus vaccines feel meaningful.

The maps themselves are also really interestingly designed. While they're as large as a lot of open-world missions, they're segmented, with narrow paths connecting the larger combat zones. Typically the side missions are spread out over these areas, so there's a reason to visit all of them. What makes this design work is that enemy alerts are limited to the immediate area, so the entire map doesn't light up immediately when you're spotted. This is a good thing for two reasons 1) the enemies are far more of a threat in this game than in SE3, and 2) there are a shit ton of Nazis on every map!

My biggest criticism so far is that the player-character's movement feels kind of wonky. You move excruciatingly slowly while crouched, and the crouch run makes far too much noise to be useful. I'd trade anything for Snake's crouch run from MGSV. Traversing ladders is also a total crapshoot; I've been shot to death multiple times because my character just kept climbing up and down a pipe.

Thanks for giving a little more insight into 4. My main issue with Sniper Elite 3 was that the maps were fairly linear. They utilized the segmenting you're talking about on several of them, but within those actual segments, I often felt really constrained in where I could actually move and snipe from. Larger areas could solve this problem, and 4 supposedly has bigger maps, so I'm curious if it feels as small or as "this is the spot you're supposed to shoot from" as 3 often unfortunately did.

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#12 Posted by Notkcots (94 posts) -

@notnert427:

There are definitely still very clear "sniper's perches" that you're encouraged to use, but they tend to not be quite as much of a perfect combat solution as they were in 3. Generally, they're not elevated to the extent you need in order to clear out an entire area at once. The new AI system where the enemies can triangulate your position if you fire multiple shots also makes it harder to just stay in one place for an entire combat encounter. That said, there are still some ways around that; turning on a conveniently placed malfunctioning generator can provide you sound cover to dump on enemies with impunity, but again, they tend to be in areas with somewhat limited views of the area. I've definitely found myself moving after popping off one or two shots to try to beat the triangulation system, and it's been fairly exciting so far. Also, many of the areas are accessible by two different paths, so you can retreat and try to come at an enemy outpost from the rear once you've engaged in combat.

There are also rifle silencers in 4, which make your shots totally silent on all but the highest difficulties. I was skeptical that they might totally neutralize the challenge, but they're actually implemented fairly thoughtfully; they reduce the muzzle velocity of your shots, so you can't penetrate helmets or armor with them. I just encountered my first armored support troops and they add some nice complexity to the combat encounters. I generally try to tag as many enemies as possible with my binoculars and pick off troops without helmets using suppressed shots before all hell breaks loose.

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