While channel-hopping once, I saw a bit of a documentary on snipers. Apparently, once they find a good spot they’ll often just wee themselves so they can stay put for hours on end rather than sneak off to find a loo and risk losing their vantage point.
Worse still, modern snipers often wear adult nappies to deal with this very problem. This leads me to believe snipers (a) have a lot of awkward conversations when out at the shops getting pant supplies, and (b) stink real bad.
However, such a strange combo of ice-cold professional killing and voluntary incontinence all ties in nicely with this review, as Sniper Elite 4 itself is an unusual mix of the very authentic and really quite silly.
Set during the most popular of the World Wars so far (II), SE4 sees you playing a guy I’ll refer to as Squarejaw McStarsnstripez Jr. – the most generic US war hero type I can imagine. In fact he’s so square-jawed he seems to have given himself some sort of hernia from over-clenching, as he walks around a bit hunched up.
Muscular issues aside, it’s his job to schlep round bits of 1940s Italy shooting bad guys from all your favourite distances: "really far away", "a bit closer but behind a hedge", and "oh bloody hell I didn’t see him and a sniper rifle really isn’t very good at point blank range oh I’ve died’".
While you’d be largely right in thinking that a sniping game = a stealth-o-rama, you can tackle levels with a surprising amount of freedom.
You usually have a set of main objectives (kill important Nazis 1, 2 and 3) and secondary ones (destroy intel, blow up supplies, deface mural of Hitler with comedy genitals etc), but can approach how you do these in a number of different ways.
A bog-standard stealth game control setup and map/radar combo will see you tagging targets, avoiding being noticed and slowly whittling away enemy forces as you approach your goals.
But whether you want to do that by silently taking out every last grunt as they patrol, or by grabbing their attention to lure them into a mine-strewn trap, or by suicidally running at them with a grenade pistol and your trousers down is up to you. Except the bit about the trousers, which sadly I made up.
This is where it gets a bit split personality though. On the one hand you can set the game to be ultra-authentic, and have to weigh up wind speed and bullet drop over distance when taking a shot (mercifully, easier modes let you dial this down to non-anorak levels because it’s horrendously tough).
On the other hand, you can blow up a truck, successfully hide away in a bunch of weeds and within a few minutes the remaining Nazi troops will inexplicably forget you were ever there and go back to their previous dumb plodding. Often right past the thing you just blew up/shot.
Adding to the ludicrousness is the infamous kill cam that shows you in an x-ray-like view exactly where your soldier-ventilating shot pierced your enemy. Thankfully you can turn it off, as after you’ve seen one or two pink-hued skeletons pop and fall over it all seems very daft indeed.
You also get told exactly which of your target’s organs you hit in wince-inducing detail. While – like the x-ray kill – this is doubtless meant to appeal to the more clinically psychotic gamer, because I’m a juvenile idiot I just spent ages shooting Nazis in the crotch to get ‘Testicle shot’ awards.
Given it’s a game where – if played properly and tactically – you’ll spend a great deal of time moving very slowly while peering through binoculars and scopes, it’s just as well that it looks great and your (applaudingly varied) surroundings make things feel suitably authentic.
Sound design also plays a huge part: enemies will hear your shots, but in turn you can use environmental noise to cover your attacks, so you really need to pay attention to every chuff, rustle and toot.
Ultimately, what you get from SE4 will really depend on one thing – whether you’ve had your ADHD medication or not. To wring the most drips of loveliness from it you need to approach it at the pace of a heavily fatigued sloth, plotting and planning and sneaking for ages before popping your first Nazi noggin.
Why? Because while yes, you can drop the difficulty and go in all guns blazing, it begs the question: if you want to do this, Sir, why did you buy a game called ‘Sniper Elite 4’ in the first place?
Overall SE4 does the stealthy thing that it does very well indeed, and when your sneaking and plotting pays off it’s genuinely great. The game also offers a lot of options to make stuff a bit less punishing and to extend its lifespan (co-op modes and multiplayer).
But… it’s caveat time. If the ‘thing’ in question isn’t your thing, what you have is just a sneak-heavy, slow-paced third-person shooter. A great looking and authentically set one, but just that nonetheless. If weeing yourself while lying prone in a hedgerow happens to be your cup of tea though, you’ll lap it up.
SUMMARY: Not for incontinent hedge-lurkers.
SCORE: 6 pierced lungs out of 8