Since the series inception in 2005, Sniper Elite games have all known exactly what target they want to hit. They’re third-person tactical shooter games aimed at killing WWII Nazis with a shot from way over there. And the latest edition, Sniper Elite 5, stays true to form, mostly. But it also throws in a number of Hitman-like maneuvers to add a bit of variety.
The story centers around protagonist and one-man-army Karl Fairburne. He’s a gruff, stoic American commando (and a skilled sniper, of course) who spent much of his youth in Germany. But when war erupted, Karl knew exactly which team he was going to be batting for.
Karl’s mission this go ‘round is, well, to kill Nazis in their French strongholds and chateaus while pursuing clues to a secret Nazi plot called Operation Kraken. This must-be-stopped operation is a scheme to unleash a Kraken of destruction upon mainland U.S.A. and make the Americans rue the day they ever tried to thwart the will of the Fuhrer. (Oh, and yes, Mr. Hitler is still in the gaming mix here, too. SE5 makes it repeatedly clear that the “Hitler” whom Karl killed in the past was just a decoy.)
For those who have never played a Sniper Elite game, each entry involves a fairly generic story of good guys versus really bad guys. It’s straightforward and always serious minded (like Karl), while at the same time delivering a somewhat comic-bookish view of the World War it’s set within. In that sense, the skill level required isn’t very taxing.
Karl picks a roost, scopes out his targets and employs his long-range sniping skills on a regular basis. This time, though, he’s called upon to sneak into well-guarded bases as well. Once inside, he’ll set traps, grab secret dossiers, kill specific officers and destroy the industry on hand. Much like a Hitman game, players are given a variety of possible avenues through which they can sneak around and fulfill their objectives. SE5 also offers skill tree upgrades that gamers can use to fine-tune some of their sneak and snipe abilities.
This is a straightforward story of good versus evil. The game mechanics are solid, the levels are sprawling and well defined, and the objectives are often creatively presented. And, while messy, this game world still maintains a more comic book-like sensibility.
That said, this is a game of trigger-pulling, assassination and explosive death. Players can choose to knock many foes out rather than kill them, but some missions require bloody kills and nothing less. Karl uses knives, pistols, rifles, grenades, landmines and explosive packs to kill and blow-up objectives. We see blood spatter with a sneak and stab kill to the back, head or neck of a foe. And some interior scenes with dead soldiers on the ground feature large splashes of blood.
SE5 also includes a calling-card mechanic that’s long been a part of the series: X-ray kills. When you perform tight, accurate shots, a short cutscene is triggered that displays the bullet moving toward and into its target; we then see a full-color X-ray-like view of internal organs bursting, blood spurting and bones shattering from the impact—kinda like we used to see on C.S.I.
In addition, there are inclusions of “oh god” in the dialogue and uses of the “s-word,” “b–tard” and “a–hole.”
Sniper Elite 5 isn’t necessarily an elite game, but it definitely hits the save-the-world-from-evil mark that its makers are aiming for. Of course, that doesn’t mean that parents of younger gamers will want this title’s messy side dribbling in the family room, either.
That heroic content, while admirable, still mingles with graphic violence that pushes the game’s imagery well into the M-rated violence at times.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.