- Release Date (NA): July 8, 2021
- Release Date (EU): July 8, 2021
- Publisher: Rebellion
- Developer: Rebellion
- Genres: First Person Shooter
I fell in love with Sniper Elite for the stealth, the scopes, and the bone-crunching headshots, within minutes of ever picking up the first game in 2005. Its developers Rebellion have consistently improved upon their formula and, with the addition of the Zombie Army series, have produced some of the most incredible sniping experiences available on a multitude of systems across the years. This time around they have seen fit to infiltrate new territory, VR's dominion, and build an experience centred around new levels of immersion and tactile interaction. The notion of Sniper Elite as an FPS is a dream. On paper, it leverages all that is good about the mechanics of the series but plants your eyes firmly into the skull of the protagonist. It's surely a formula for success.. or is it?
Sniper Elite has always seen fit to immerse you in your surroundings, burying you in layers of granular detail and allowing you to use your environment and arsenal as you see fit. There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to trouncing the Nazis with ultra-precise, high-velocity ammunition, and when you feel yourself getting closer to death in a tight situation you can quite literally feel that every shot counts. Bringing the formula into that of a first-person experience was always going to be the toughest nut to crack. Sniper Elite has always been third-person to enable you to visually layout your cover, strategize your route to a target, and allow you to plant boobytraps with a stand-back-and-appreciate-your-work finesse.
Setting up the game you are treated to a vast array of options to adjust for comfort, movement speed, and automating functions. I opted for the rawest and extreme set-up, being a seasoned PSVR user and knowing the likely restrictions and trimmings that would be imposed if I chose more dulled down settings. I wanted to have more freedom and flexibility with my movements and how I experienced the game. Sure I could have opted for teleport movement or vignettes to minimise any motion sickness, but I really wanted to burrow into this game and get as gritty and granular as possible.
You begin with a tale told by a former marksman, reminiscing his time with the partisan forces, crushing the invading fascists, and recounting the horrors and the emotions he felt along the way. The delivery of this narrative is perfection. It's as though your own grandfather has sat down with you and begun to shine his personal and incredibly detailed light on his first-hand account of the great war. I was captivated, and could believe this was entirely based in truth, a work of non-fiction that has been translated into videogame format. The immersion begins here and only ramps up as you assume the guise of the Italian Resistance fighter. Indeed, not series-staple Karl Fairburne, and you delve deeper into his memories as to what he did and how he achieved it. They fought so that the subsequent generations didn't have to, and at its core, the storyline is a truly heart-warming account of the struggle against the fascists. Buckle in, because there is a lot of narrative voice over punctuating the entire game, I personally enjoyed it, but I could see some possibly finding it a little much at times.
My first impressions of Sniper Elite VR were mixed. Let's agree the PSVR is now an aged system in dire need of a revamp, and though we know it's coming we do not know exactly when Sony will release it to us. More importantly, will it retain full backward compatibility? Regardless, the point here is that the resolution looks sorrowfully low-end now at just 1080p, and when paired with a rather limited 100-degree field of view, the experience feels stifled and perhaps awkwardly crammed into a box far smaller than the immensity of its contents. The game begins with an obligatory tutorial-esqe level that sets the scene and gives you all the information you need to know as to how to interact with the environment and how to dispatch your foes. You also travel between time periods in the narrator's life, so you can practice your weapon proficiency on the farm you grew up on and undertake timed challenges.
Fortunately, I have the PlayStation Aim controller and used this as my sole controller for the entirety of the experience. It feels as though the game has been built around the controller. It really feels that good. The left trigger zooms and empties your lung while the right trigger delivers the fatal blow. L2 launches any explosives such as stick grenades, and you can hold the button down and tilt yourself up or down to view the trajectory arc. The Cross button is your interaction button, and you have to physically look at the item you want to interact with, and while this is a reasonable idea for your user input, it can slow down the gameplay as you struggle to look at an item whilst you're pinned down and maintain a bearing on where it's coming from. For example, on the Depot Raid stages I wanted to grab one of a pair of Panzerfausts I spotted to one side of a switch, and blast the infantry on the other side of the gates. I grabbed it, hit the switch, and fired it off at a perfect trajectory to take out three at once. As I swapped to my rifle to survey the damage by hitting Triangle another wave emerged, so I leaned over to my right, maintaining eye contact with the enemy, but fumbled to grab the second grenade launcher as I simply wasn't looking directly at it in that split second. Any other game would interact based on its proximity, whether you were facing the item or not, and this is my biggest gripe with the Cross button system in this iteration of Sniper Elite. Another example is when running up to a ladder. You have to face it, look down slightly to trigger the icon to appear, and then hold Cross to interact. I just wanted to run straight up it, retain my momentum, and push forward, but I couldn't. Turning with the left stick and moving with the right stick also feels a little slow, and I would have liked to have seen options to make everything quicker and more snappy, however, the default settings go a long way to ease you into this VR foray. It's a few niggles in a game that has rather successfully been converted to an FPS from a team that specialises in TPS, there was bound to be a little collateral damage and thankfully this is about the only oddity when it comes to gameplay mechanics imposed by the developers.
Have you ever peered down the sights of a scoped weapon in real life? I have, and I know that if you don't line up the two apertures you get a huge black border effect around the sight picture that obscures your vision through the scope. More often than not this is attributed to the incorrect line of sight from your eye relief to the reticule. In essence, you need to straighten your viewing angle up until it's a perfect circle and your vision is clear. The worst thing, and I cannot stress how bad this is when you're up to your eyeballs in invading enemies, is the PSVR's inability to centre itself. More often than not my aim controller drifted to the left whilst staring down the scope, causing the black tubing of the scope to overwhelm my screen. The level 'The Last Drop' sees you positioned on top of a crane, perched perfectly to snipe the Wehrmacht in what would be an intensely action-packed battle for survival, but all that immersion quickly fell to the wayside as my scope needed centring, not once, not twice but well over six times in that one shoot-out alone. I was kind of pissed that I had to repeatedly hold the options button, and break from the battle for a few seconds just to be able to aim straight again. It was frustrating! It's not like I even have curtains open or bright lights on to obscure the VR camera or agitate the sensitivity. For all intents and purposes I have the ideal setup, and it works for virtually all the other games I own. This one in particular is so granular and so precise that a little off centring can interfere with the entire experience and annoy the heck out of you. I lost track of the sheer number of times I had to recalibrate through the entire game, and after a while, it became second nature to time it in between skirmishes. Luckily you can reenable some of the comfort settings such as tracking space assist to give you a little respite.
Hardware issues aside, and I cannot stress this enough: this game absolutely rocks. Yes I got motion sick, yes I had to go outside and get some cool fresh air throughout this review, but it was worth every nauseating moment because the immersion is utterly intense. The sound modelling with bullets whizzing past your head is incredible, the physics engine with your shots ricocheting around the surfaces and falling away over distance is ultra-realistic, and the cunningly-hidden items, letters, and stone eagles to search out and destroy are all fantastic side quests to bulk out your sandboxed victories. Of course, and it really goes without saying, the X-ray kill cams are phenomenal and as sadistically gory and bone-splinteringly graphic as you could possibly wish for. Sure it starts out with what are essentially snippets of levels, fragments of memories that you are re-enacting to fruition, set within a microcosm that represents something bigger and by all means these snippets and nowhere near the environmental scale of those seen in the previous titles in the series. But do not despair, they do open up further down the line, and you get to sink into you deepest sniper persona and live out those heart-pounding, lung emptying, nail-biting moments in glorious VR.
Oddly there were some features that I rarely made use of, namely the ammo belt mechanic as I just simply did not need to use it. Hitting Triangle to swap weapons is easy enough to cycle through what you have to hand, and tracking your ammo seemed to be something I did automatically, subconsciously, and with flagrant disregard for running out of ammo on the medium difficulties, as it simply never happened. Holding your weapon up to examine it also yields a secretive display of your current kill stats and trophy tracking, which I only noticed later on in the game, however, it quickly became my obsession to try to achieve all the mini-challenges and master my weapon proficiencies. Even having completed the 18 stages in the game and started going back in to pick off the collectables and challenges, I am certain that I will be picking up Sniper Elite VR on the Oculus Quest 2 as well, purely because I want to replay this on higher resolution hardware I can so that I can enjoy this incredibly crafted experience again and again. Fans of the series should definitely not look the other way at this title, and newcomers with a penchant for virtual reality and experience with FPS titles should definitely be checking the game out.
- Incredibly tactile experience from start to finish
- A broad range of levels and set pieces to sink your teeth into
- Aim controller is perfectly suited for this game
- Later levels become far more in-depth
- Yes: you can pop testicles!
- Drifty scopes get annoying to recenter constantly on PSVR
- Lots of short "snippet" levels
- Motion sickness...