I’ve been guilty of skipping over the Sniper Elite series, and I know I’m not alone. I’ve played them all, though rarely at launch, and I’ve enjoyed them all to varying degrees. But I wasn’t particularly looking forward to Sniper Elite 5.
The trailers and gameplay we got to see ahead of launch showed incremental upgrades and general refinements over its predecessors, but nothing that immediately stood out as something I needed to try.
Sniper Elite 5, however, launches into Game Pass – and that was all the convincing I needed to download Rebellion’s latest and play it now, rather than pick it up on sale down the line like I usually do.
I expected a good stealth game (and a satisfying sniping sim-cade) but I wasn’t ready for how ambitious, and often brilliant, Sniper Elite 5’s mix of stealth and action is.
Sniper Elite 5 has a fairly straightforward setup, but the way it’s executed this time is what makes the difference. You’re dropped into a large – though not quite open – map and given a general objective. The pre-mission briefing usually has the information you need to achieve your goal, and you can certainly mainline it and extract shortly after.
But this is a decidedly uneventful way to play, because the game places such a huge emphasis on exploration that it turns it into some Hitman-meets-MGS baby that’s ready to reward you for poking your head into every barn and crowbarring your way into any suspicious-looking building in the French countryside.
Missions start by throwing you right into the action, with only a vague indication of where you should go. Your objective’s general area is circled on the map, but the circumstances are never clear until you actually get there. There’s almost always more than one way to go about it, too, and the map teases you by positing that there is, in fact, more than one way to skin a cat. But it never tells you how to execute. That’s down to you.
The same goes for side missions, and the Hitman-inspired Kill Lists. Side missions might not offer the same spectacle as your main objectives, but they often unfold in ways that inform how you tackle the main targets – and give that edge when it’s finally time to take your quarry down.
I made it a point to leave the main objective until the end, and the game feels to have been designed with that in mind. You’ll regularly come across maps, notes about collapsed cave-ins that offer unusual entrances, codes for various safes, and even tools like bolt cutters that let you access otherwise off-limits areas. The more you explore, the more context about your ultimate goal you’re going to gain.
Kill Lists, on the other hand, task you with taking out a particular high-ranking target. How you do it is up to you – and indeed, the AI is dynamic enough that you may accidentally down your target if they decided to patrol near you and things got loud. But if you kill your mark in the specific way the game wants you, you’ll have a unique reward waiting for you.
Sniper Elite 5 consistently trusts you to wander off and take your time to create those opportunities. There’s almost always a workbench to unlock, a stash of ammo, or even just a garage to pick up a crowbar just in case you need it later. The map only reveals those locations once you’ve discovered them.
Similar to MGS 5, Sniper Elite 5’s levels present a rule consistency that makes them feel believable. An officer you randomly killed at the start of the mission might offer a key code or note about a hidden stash you’re going to need later. While enemy AI is more limited compared to Kojima’s classic, it can easily flank you and communicate your position to nearby units regularly. I found the best way to stealth my way into a base is to isolate it from the rest of the map. This is done by disabling alarms, and trapping the roads that lead to it.
To make the fantasy feel even more immersive, there are Sniper Elite 5’s new gunshot audible ranges. Every weapon and ammo type clearly lists this stat, and the many weapon upgrades you unlock over the course of the game can alter this behaviour further.
Even without suppressors, you can control how you’re perceived quite easily; the HUD makes the enemies’ intentions (and state) clear, so you’re never unsure whether they’re hunting you, or have given up the chase and returned to neutral.
Sniper Elite 5 might upset some pursuits as it abandons the limited, historically accurate approach for more liberal, almost COD-like weaponry. Suppressors are plentiful, and – much like Activision’s series – wrapping a pistol grip in tape somehow makes the weapon handle better.
I am not one of those purists, though, so I ultimately judge Rebellion’s latest by the new gameplay opportunities it opens up. Beyond that, I feel this shift is justified given the game’s denser indoor levels, which all but force you to abandon the reserved style of sniping in favour of a more improvisational juggle of weapons and traps.
The series’ non-sniper weapons have always been lacking in punch and usability, but Sniper Elite 5’s CQC options are satisfying to shoot and can easily be relied on when needed. This more liberal take on WW2 also allows for various kinds of traps and mines that incapacitate enemies, not to mention the game’s bigger emphasis on triggering environmental traps – whether to distract enemies or outright kill them.
I know I’m going to be replaying missions to unlock more entry points and figure out how I missed this or that thing despite running past it several times, and I bet you’ll be doing the same.