Since 2005, Rebellion Development’s Sniper Elite series has perfected sniping gameplay with detailed bullet physics and a joyously gory killcam. While these games lend themselves to some intense sniping shootouts, they could often feel too linear and restrictive for a game about sneaking behind enemy lines and taking out Nazis as you see fit.
Sniper Elite 4 took the first step in making levels more expansive and emphasizing player freedom. Now, Sniper Elite 5 is taking those ideas one step further as a World War II sandbox that finds itself somewhere between Hitman 3 and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain in its structure.
I got to play Sniper Elite 5’s second level and see the more open-ended level design and deeper weapon customization in action. Although it doesn’t reinvent the series’ formula, the level I played showed that Sniper Elite 5 has refined this experience into the intense sniping immersive sim I always wanted Sniper Elite to be.
The sands of Normandy
While Sniper Elite 4 took place in Italy, Sniper Elite 5 brings series protagonist Karl Fairburne to the area around Normandy, France, as he tries to take down Nazi Abelard Möller. Rebellion says the events of D-Day will play out during the game, but I played a mission that takes place much earlier.
Titled Occupied Residence, this level tasks the player with sneaking into Möller’s office in an occupied French Chateau to retrieve documents that reveal a secret Nazi plan to attack America. Occupied Resident actually didn’t require me to assassinate anybody, but it still managed to leave an impression as one of the best levels in the series thanks to strong design and some of Sniper Elite 5’s new gameplay elements.
At the start of the level, I was dropped off at a French resistance camp not far from the Chateau. Resistance members highlighted how I could get to the Chateau by busting through a heavily guarded central road, taking out a German patrol around a shallow river crossing, or crossing a nearby bridge after taking out the patrol around it.
I initially tried to use the river crossing path and sniped some of the patrol’s soldiers from a distance. I had forgotten to equip a silencer though, so I was spotted and decided to run away. While previous Sniper Elite games might have punished me for this foible, Sniper Elite 5 let me successfully escape and reassess the situation. This is where the game’s excellent level design exposed itself.
Finish the fight
As I escaped and looked for a place to hide, I noticed how interconnected this map was. Various roads, gardens, homes, and more could serve as great hiding and sniping spots. I could also change and customize my loadout at a workbench if I wanted to change my approach.
Sniping-focused missions in video games can sometimes become frustrating as they instantly punish the player if they mess up a shot or expose their position. As a series about a sniper, Sniper Elite has had this problem in the past. But because Sniper Elite 5 has such open-ended level design and lets players modify their loadout during missions, it doesn’t look like it will be an issue here.
Now knowledgeable about and confident in Sniper Elite 5’s structure and systems, I decided what to do next. I chose to take out the soldiers around the bridge and cross that way. I killed the soldiers at the southern end of the bridge, then climbed around the side of the bridge and up some vines to circumvent the Nazis on the Northern end.
I was now close to the Chateau, so I climbed over the wall surrounding it and snuck in through a window without getting spotted. From there, I snuck around the house doing stealth takedowns on anyone I encountered until I found a secret room belonging to Möller that had the documents I was looking for. I could then exfiltrate, but was caught by a soldier before I could fully make my escape. This caused a mad dash to the finish, where I managed to defeat enough soldiers to buy me enough time to exfiltrate. It was a uniquely exhilarating experience that I caused and won’t forget anytime soon.
Moments like that demonstrate the magic of games that make the player feel like they are in control of everything that happens to the game’s world and characters. Rebellion is fully embracing an approach that worked for games like Hitman 3 and Metal Gear Solid V, and the series is in top form because of it.
Sniper Elite 5 will hit PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X on May 26. It will be on Xbox Game Pass at launch as well.