I’ve not stopped thinking about the poor bastard I murdered in cold blood during my Sniper Elite 5 hands-on preview. His wide eyes. His panic. Him sprinting down a long, narrow hallway inside the French countryside mansion I’d broken into; and the stomach-turning crunch of the 30-06 Springfield Cartridge bullet I sent through the back of his skull. To be fair, he was a Nazi – one who was running to alert his pals to my presence – so there was no love lost in the exchange. Still, of all the kills I made during my recent time with Rebellion’s latest tactical shooter, this is the one that stands out in my mind most, simply because it felt real.
Enemies are as intelligent as they’ve ever been in Sniper Elite 5, you see, which is something the dev team has strived for with its first proper strides into the latest console cycle. “The key thing for any Sniper Elite game is to plan before you execute and that is truer than ever now. We are very proud of our AI and they are even more reactive in Sniper Elite 5,” explains Rebellion head of design, Jonathan Woodward. “They will alert fellow enemy soldiers to your presence if they spot you and also call for reinforcements. Plus they have access to spotlights and all more heavy weaponry, so you need to think before you act.”
Having launched enhanced updates for Sniper Elite 4 and Zombie Army 4 on PS5 and Xbox Series X, Rebellion is already familiar with the benefits of working with the latest console hardware. With Sniper Elite 5, however, it’s pushing itself even further with the likes of 4K resolution running at a steady 60fps, and “greatly” improved loading times. On PS5, Sniper Elite 5 also benefits from the DualSense controller’s slew of neat haptic feedback features. Woodward continues: “The DualSense offers us some interesting development options that really enhance the experience of playing the game.”
“For example, we use the Adaptive Triggers for weapons, which feels awesome as you look down the scope and then start to squeeze the trigger. You can now feel the ‘click’ in the trigger when you are about to shoot and each of the weapons has its own unique feel and feedback. Bolt action rifles feel heavy when firing while an SMG produces a rattle effect. For aiming a light touch on the left trigger will give you ‘over the shoulder’ aim while a heavy press looks down the scope.”
“There is a resistance halfway through which makes it extremely intuitive to swap from one to the other very quickly. We have also introduced Active Reload. Not only is this shown visually, but you can feel the window through the trigger and pressing down at this time will result in a quicker reload. Meanwhile HD Rumble provides haptic feedback to the player which helps with the immersion into the game. This can be anything from gun fire to a passing plane, nearby vehicle or a takedown, plus much more.”
Harnessing all of this, Woodward says particular care has been taken with Sniper Elite 5’s world and how its characters and components function within. Vehicle routes and how enemies navigate maps makes them tougher to engage with, for example, with players now able to block routes and lay traps for roving enemy convoys. Maps are designed with all play styles in mind too, more so than before, says Woodward, wherein stealth is an equally as viable approach against diving in head-first, all guns blazing. Replayability is at the forefront of this, as you might expect, while a new ‘Cadet’ difficulty setting is designed for newcomers who might want to adopt a more exploratory approach as they find their feet.
One particularly significant change to how Sniper Elite 5 operates against its forerunners is the introduction of ‘Invasion Mode’, which lets players invade other player’s campaigns – a feature that sounds similar to how players force themselves into other people’s games in Dark Souls and Elden Ring. “Invasion Mode has been a real game changer and something that we have all enjoyed playing in the studio. It ramps up the level of tension to a whole other level because, no matter how good your AI is, it is never going to act in as many strange, weird, and wonderful ways as a fellow human player,” Woodward explains. “The moment you receive the notification that you have been invaded you can immediately feel yourself start to take stock and second guess all of your actions and your opponents.”
“This adds a whole new dimension to your planning and thinking. Both the campaign player and invader can set traps for each other and create distractions in what becomes the ultimate game of cat and mouse. It’s a very unique gameplay experience. The challenge was to introduce this in a way that didn’t feel game breaking and therefore something that people would immediately turn off in the menu. We feel that we have really struck that balance, and I would urge everyone to try the mode when the game launches. It is a lot of fun and helps to vary the challenge further still.”
Having played through a couple of early levels offline on PC, I didn’t get the chance to sample Invasion Mode during my time with Sniper Elite 5, but I’m definitely interested to see how it impacts players who opt for stealth in attack. If you’re someone who prefers stalking the shadows, the thought of some gun-toting troublemaker invading your campaign likely gives you the chills, which is exactly what Rebellion is aiming for.
Tension plays such a huge part in any Sniper Elite level, especially when camped in a hedge, breathing heavily with a target in your crosshairs. This was me in the final stretch of one mission, when I’d successfully infiltrated the main building of the Nazi-occupied Chateau-De-Berengar, and was navigating an escape in its sprawling floral grounds. Sleuthing in such a wide and open space wasn’t easy, but some clever flitting between trees and long grass allowed me to drop and conceal dead bodies as I snaked my way between my starting point and the level’s end. Paying deference to enemy patrols meant I could take my time – a full 20 minutes in this instance – therefore the thought of dropping cavalier players into that mix, whose raison d’etre is to out you and murder you, sounds awful and wonderful all at once.
“Sneaking and stealth gameplay of the Sniper Elite series feels so engaging,” says Woodward. “It adds to the tension of the gameplay and puts your senses on edge as you know that any little mistake or wrong action can cost you dearly. I think it’s that tension that players enjoy so much. It’s not necessarily a feeling you get with many other types of game. You have to be patient, you have to plan and think two to three steps ahead before you act as you know the consequences could be deadly for Karl.”
As for the opposite side of Sniper Elite’s violence, its signature slow-motion death cam kills are now grizzlier than ever before. And even if you’re wedded to sneaking and snaking and hiding in hedges, there isn’t anything quite like watching fake bullets tear through fake limbs depicted in gruesome x-ray form. It really doesn’t get old. Woodward takes a stab at why this is the case: “You could probably write an entire psychology research study into this, but for me I think it’s that rewarding feeling you get from having executed a great shot. It’s the same thing as when you score a brilliant goal in FIFA or you nail an amazing overtake in a racing game – you want to see it again and in slow motion. Plus now we have added the ability to change the speed of the Kill Cam in real time.”
“It’s a great way for players to show off their skills and challenge each other – whether it be the distance of the shot, its difficulty, or the number of enemies taken out with a single bullet. These are things that our community loves to share. There’s also something oddly satisfying about the gore and brutality of it. Obviously it is not for everyone, which is why you are able to turn Kill Cam off in the menu, but we know a lot of players love it. In a first for the series, Sniper Elite 5 has Kill Cam for particularly grizzly shots with SMGs and pistols, which was a highly requested feature from the community. The game’s ballistics have been an area for real concentration and this is reflected in the Kill Cam. The bullets now deflect off bones, causing even more damage and injury which you can now see in far more detail on the enemy skeleton.”
And so, whether you wish to get forensic with Kill Cam slaughter, slit throats in silence, run from shit-stirring invaders, or, like me, opt for all of the above, Sniper Elite 5 is due on May 26, 2022 for PC, PS5, Xbox Series X, PS4 and Xbox One.
Shhhhh! Be as quiet as you can with the best stealth games stalking the shadows right now.