Sniper Elite 5
Time To Take Aim And Fire Once More
The latest entry in a series that will soon celebrate its 20th anniversary, Sniper Elite 5 is actually the tenth game in the overall franchise history. Like most shooters during the early 2010s, there was a zombie spinoff, Zombie Army, as well as a VR spinoff of the original. All five games center around world-renowned Allied sniper Karl Fairburne as he's placed in another mission during WW2. This time, the theater revolves around a Nazi-occupied France with Fairburne thwarting their plans, one mission at a time.
I reviewed a similar game a few months ago, Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts 2, in which I first thought they were a part of the same series. Both titles feature a protagonist skilled with snipers and covert ops, impressive kill cams, and realistic sniper rifle gunplay. Not only was this a different series, but it was also from a different developer altogether. Interestingly enough, both series have been around since the mid-2000s. The key difference here is that Sniper Elite 5 is more of a polished experience, to an extent.
Going Rambo Without Being Detected
Those like myself who are beginning with SE5 and are afraid of being lost in the general plot of the Sniper Elite series; Don't. The campaign begins with our hero tending to his rifle while another ally approaches him. He debriefs with Fairburne about his mission only to be interrupted by Fairburne himself, filling in the details for him. From the opening cutscene alone, it would seem that Karl isn't the most liked guy on the team. A lone wolf who knows the goal in mind hates to be reminded and likes to do things on his own accord. Again, very similar to how Contracts 2 began.
You're then tasked with sniping two lookout guards and this is where the primary gameplay is introduced. When aiming down sights, you can hold your breath to increase your aim. On easier difficulties, this brings up the falloff marker in which the player aligns with the marker until it turns red and fire. The first shot shows a spectacular display of the bullet shooting through the searchlight and into the skull of the enemy. It's not exactly as intense as Contracts 2 with entire decapitation sequences, but it's still a blast (heh) to look at.
If It Isn't Broke...
Sniper Elite 5 excels at playing safe to its roots as a stealth shooter hybrid. The enemies are tied to a route and will make efforts to investigate should a player make a sound. Occasionally, new enemies will arrive via vehicles that can be disabled by firing at the engine. Shoot at it enough times and the engine will explode. There are various ways to use the surrounding environment to your advantage, for example, using sound to lure a guard away or towards you. If you're hiding in the bushes, you can then stealth kill him with ease.
Knowing when to go for stealth kills and picking someone's head off from above will mean the difference between life and death. Players are safer above but they also are a sitting duck in the process. While moving on the ground causes you to lose your advantage, there's always a patch of tall grass nearby to conceal your movements. There have been moments where the enemy could somehow sense me from the other side of a wall even while prone, which confused me at times. Enemies will eventually give up the chase after some time.
Control Your Heartbeat And Calm Down
Another unique mechanic in Sniper Elite 5 is monitoring Fairburne's heartbeat. Anything the player does will increase his heart rate, from moving, climbing, vaulting, and firing weapons. The more strenuous the activity, the more his heart rate increases. Holding his breath to fire a rifle, carrying a body, sprinting, and using Focus mode will do this. If Fairburne's heart rate increases too much, he will become exhausted and will need time to rest before continuing. This adds a layer of realism to a game that's already based on it.
Should you pick apart enemies one by one at the risk of breaking your concentration? Or should you take a breather and risk getting spotted? The risk-reward system is one of the many variables that go into a mission as there is more than one way to complete a mission. An early mission will require the player to disable some radar towers. The player can go in quiet but they can also go in loud with satchel charges.
So About Dark Souls...
While the player progresses in their mission, they also have to be wary of invaders, taking a page from the one most referenced game in modern history. Much like Deathloop, players can invade other players' campaigns as a member of the Axis Forces and try to stop Karl. Successful invasions will earn the player experience and a tracker that unlocks more skins for the player to use. This is also conversely true for those who are able to gun down invading players. Karl isn't the only character players can choose from as completing objectives will unlock important characters featured in the story.
With the game available via Game Pass, Sniper Elite 5 should already have a dedicated install base, especially due to its cross-platform play. Multiplayer options may seem to be the real fun in playing SE5 as interacting with players adds a bonus layer that scripted AI cannot replicate. It's not a terrible game and those who love stealth and watching cool kill cams will enjoy it. It may be the fifth main game but it's the best way to jump in.
Sniper Elite 5 is available on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5