Review: Rebellion hit the target with greatly refined stealth action in Sniper Elite 5

Sniper Elite 5

They say that “slow and steady wins the race”, and so it has proved with Sniper Elite 5. The British independent developer Rebellion has been gradually refining the series since it began back in 2005, and may just have perfected the formula. This fifth entry takes ace sniper Karl Fairburne to occupied France in 1944, and delivers some wonderfully satisfying stealth and tactical action across solo play, co-op and competitive multiplayer. Rebellion is right on target here, delivering a new high for the series and one of the best stealth games in years.

Series veterans will feel immediately at home with the way Sniper Elite 5 is structured. Trapped in occupied France prior to D-Day, Fairburne finds himself tasked with destroying yet another secret Nazi project that could turn the tide of the war. His bid to sabotage “Operation Kraken” encompasses eight main missions, each one a sprawling playground for stealth, sniping or all-out mayhem depending on the player’s preference.

The environmental design may be the single biggest strength of this fifth instalment. Locations range from a brilliant fictionalised recreation of the tidal island of Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy to a sprawling industrial zone straddling a river and criss-crossed by rail lines. These maps are not only the biggest that Rebellion have designed, but are also more packed than ever with incidental detail, optional objectives, alternate routes, and side stories. These are semi-open worlds in miniature, with a huge amount for completists to see and do, and rendered beautifully in Rebellion’s own Asura engine.

Based on the real Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy, Mission 3 looks fantastic

Happily, getting from place to place is easier than before. The game’s movement system has been improved, and while Fairburne is hardly a match for Lara Croft he is now significantly more mobile. He can climb vines, hang from ledges, slide down inclines, and occasionally use ziplines to cover large distances in seconds. At times, players might feel they are being funnelled down a particular route, and occasionally Fairburne might stumble into an invisible barrier that marks the limit of the combat zone. In general, however, it’s a pleasure to explore wartime France and to come up with unique solutions to the game’s challenges.

Naturally, sniper rifles are Fairburne’s main tool to unlock the hardened German defences and long-range wetwork is more satisfying than ever. The famous X-ray kill cam returns, and for the first time Rebellion have applied its grisly charms to kills made with sub-machine guns, pistols, and explosives. The weapon upgrade system has been comprehensively overhauled and expanded. The number of unique possibilities for anachronistically customised guns is enough to make a fan of Call of Duty: Vanguard blush. Then there are assorted mines, distraction tools, traps, environmental kills, melee takedowns, and decoys. Sniper Elite 5 provides not only generous playgrounds, but also a bigger variety of toys than ever before. Another nice touch is that the numerous collectibles usually have an actual gameplay purpose; they take the form of intel which assists Fairburne in his mission.

A new photo mode has been added, as well as strong difficulty and accessibility options.

All these elements combine to make a thrilling single-player experience which lets would-be snipers impose their own personality on the world. Players will find themselves re-visiting missions multiple times, discovering new starting locations and novel ways to pull off assassinations, acts of sabotage, and thefts of vital intelligence. With this entry, the series’ resemblance to the Hitman games reaches a new high, and that’s a good thing. At their best, Fairburne’s war stories are as full of quirky details and dark secrets as Agent 47’s greatest hits. Rebellion have made a bit more effort with the story and characters this time around, but Fairburne remains one of the blandest heroes on the block and those who emphasise narrative above all else should definitely look elsewhere.

Sniper Elite 5 is a generous game: in addition to the lengthy campaign (which is again fully playable in co-op), there is a new “invasion” mode, a wave-based survival mode for up to four players, and the usual multiplayer matches for up to 16 shooters. The multiplayer is again a series best, enlivened by Rebellion’s thoughtful map design which of course emphasises numerous sniping positions. There is an extensive ranking system with XP-based rewards, which will keep fans returning to the battlefield time and again. This is, notably, entirely separate from the ranking system which tracks progress in the campaign.

The various multiplayer modes are fairly simple, but make for fun and tense battles.

Special mention must be made of the invasion mode. A superb new addition in Sniper Elite 5, this is reminiscent of similar modes recently brought to the table by games like Deathloop and Elden Ring. Unless they’ve chickened out, solo players or co-op pairs have a chance to have their mission zone “invaded” by another player, acting in the role of the “Jäger”, an elite German sniper. This turns a mission into a brilliantly tense game of cat and mouse, as the Jäger attempts to eliminate Fairburne before he can complete his objectives. The Jäger may lack Fairburne’s full knowledge of objective locations, but can make use of sightings reported by the German troops deployed by the AI. The Sniper Elite formula is perfectly suited to this idea, and even those wary of similar modes should definitely give it a try. This is undoubtedly one of the biggest strengths of Sniper Elite 5 and a consistent thrill to play.

Over the years, Rebellion have been the target of a lot of glib claims that they have merely “made the same game over and over” with Sniper Elite. While it’s true that the studio has never thoroughly overhauled their formula, the series has consistently improved with each instalment. With Sniper Elite 5, these enhancements are truly stacking up and Rebellion’s passion and experience shines through. While its thin story and demand for patience mean that it isn’t for everyone, this is an enthralling fifth entry in a series that has continued success firmly in its sights.

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