The Sniper Elite series moves to VR, with a brand new campaign and some of the best motion controls on the PS4.
When Sony sought to inform fans that this week’s State of Play would only feature third party games, they specifically stated that it would not include the new God Of War, Horizon Forbidden West, or… the next gen PlayStation VR. There cannot have been many that though it would but it’s encouraging to see Sony place VR on the same pedestal as their most anticipated first party games. Because even when using older tech, VR can still create some incredible experiences.
Sniper Elite VR is not a complex game, and you can probably discern most of what you need to know about it simply from the name, whether you’re familiar with the existing Sniper Elite titles or not. The most important details that are not so obvious are that the game is set during the Second World War and that it’s compatible with the PlayStation Aim Controller, which instantly makes it one of the most enjoyable sniper games ever made.
The PlayStation Aim Controller was originally bundled with first party title Farpoint and is basically a modern day lightgun that uses PlayStation Move technology. The device looks like a couple of plastic tubes bent together vaguely in the shape of a gun, but once you’re using it in Sniper Elite VR game it looks and feels like you’re handling a real Second World War rifle. And that makes a hell of a difference to the sense of gratification you get from shooting Nazis in the face.
Like many VR titles based on existing franchises, Sniper Elite VR reuses a lot of assets from previous non-VR entries. In this case the primary donor is 2014’s Sniper Elite 3, which was set in Italy and North Africa. This isn’t the same game but in VR though, as it has a new campaign featuring 18 distinct missions and a new protagonist who’s part of the Italian Resistance. It’ll take you around six hours to get through the whole story, but even then there’s a great deal of replayability in repeating missions to try and get a higher score.
Despite what you might be imagining this isn’t a simple shooting gallery, where you’re stuck in place and can only shoot. It has almost all the same functionality as the regular Sniper Elite games, with free movement and an emphasis on stealth. Running around freely, instead of using the teleportation option, is not something that you’ll want to do if you’re new to VR, because of the potential nausea, but if you already have your sea legs it handles very similarly to the other games – except everything is now in first person.
Although sniping is your main means of defence, you’re also able to use a range of period accurate machineguns, pistols, and shotguns. Grenades and explosives are also all within your repartee and you’re free to switch between them whenever you want, assuming you have the ammo. While there are certain sequences that feel more like an on-rails shooter, for the most part you have an impressive amount of freedom in how you choose to take on the fascist hordes. Stealth is positively encouraged but rarely required, and it’s down to you if you want to use silencers, and distract soldiers by throwing bottles at a wall, or just wade in with guns blazing.
The game doesn’t pretend to be particularly realistic but the stress of dealing with limited ammunition, and the time it takes to manually reload, feels very real. This is much more evident if you’re using the PlayStation Move controller (or playing the Oculus Quest version) as without the Aim Controller you have to manually reach for a clip, eject the old one, and slap in the new – you even have to pull back the bolt with some guns.
This is not only super immersive but adds to the tension as you have to factor in the physical limitations of how quickly you can get in another clip. Unfortunately, this is lost if you’re using the Aim Controller though, which has no idea where your hands are, and while we felt the immersion of holding a real rifle stand-in was preferable it’s a shame both key features aren’t possible on the same controller.
Apart from the intrinsic enjoyment of shooting Nazis there are two primary rewards for your actions, the first being the signature x-ray kill effect from the mainline games. To be honest, though, this gets old rather quick in VR, as you follow the bullet through its target. It’s clever the first few times but it takes too long to play out and spoils the sense of immersion. Sensibly though you can turn it off or change how it work in the options, so it’s not an issue at all.
Much more satisfying is simply getting a high score, with the game providing a wide variety of criteria to judge your performance, including accuracy, completion time, total kills, and headshots. With an online leaderboard and in-game achievements the replayability is highly compelling, especially as your skills and strategies mature as you work your way through the story campaign.
Sniper Elite VR does exactly what it says on the tin and while it would struggle to justify itself if it wasn’t a VR title (in which case you’d be much better off with Sniper Elite 4) the blend of software, headset, and motion controls works extremely well. The end result is one of the best VR experiences on the PlayStation 4, and a tantalising hint at how things might be even better on the PlayStation 5.
Sniper Elite VR review summary
In Short: A great VR experience that is more than just a simple sniper simulation, with some impressively replayable missions and a great marriage of VR and motion controls.
Pros: A lengthy, brand new story campaign and some compelling incentives for replaying missions. Good use of PlayStation Aim Controller and motion-controlled reloading.
Cons: None of the control options are perfect, with the PlayStation Aim Controller losing most of the motion controls and PlayStation Move making movement awkward.
Formats: PlayStation VR (reviewed), PC, and Oculus Quest
Developer: Rebellion, Just Add Water, and Coatsink
Release Date: 8th July 2021
Age Rating: 16
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