Crazy customisation and modernised multiplayer: We chat with Rebellion about Sniper Elite 5
We caught up with the British developer's head of design to learn more about the upcoming WWII shooter.
Earlier this week, we published our first opinions of Sniper Elite 5, opinions that we gathered from being let loose in the second level of Rebellion's WWII shooter. With five years between this upcoming title and the fourth game, the British developer has put a lot of emphasis into developing the authenticity of the game, but also upping its challenge, providing more customisable options, and also improving on its multiplayer features. To learn more about each of these areas, we had a chance to fire some questions over to Rebellion, and it was the studio's head of design, Jordan Woodward who took the time to provide a bunch of intriguing and detailed answers.
Going into the development of Sniper Elite 5, what would be the biggest area that you wanted to focus and improve upon?
Woodward: I don't think there was really just one main area of focus. After all, it's been over five years since the launch of Sniper Elite 4 and an awful lot has changed in that time. Effectively we need to elevate everything including the visuals, audio, gameplay and the level design.
We spent a lot of time listening to our community and fans of the game about the areas they wanted us to concentrate on. As a result we wanted to provide far more depth to the weaponry and customisation as well as looking at the multiplayer options for the player.
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Real focus has gone into the narrative and the way that drives you through the game, as well as expanding on the side missions so that they now offer additional narrative context to the main storyline.
Our level design and art teams undertook huge research projects to capture the true essence of the locations, equipment and weapons that are available in the game, transitioning to using photogrammetry which has added incredible detail to everything you see.
Looking at the campaign, what sorts of obstacles will Karl find in his way in Sniper Elite 5? How are you upping the challenge this time around?
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Woodward: The story arc of the campaign takes Karl on a completely different path to the mission he originally sets out on. He has to learn to trust and rely on others, rather than just being the "lone wolf" that he has always been previously.
Set in France in 1944 around the events of D-Day, Karl visits a number of iconic locations as he first uncovers and then sets out to destroy Operation Kraken - a Nazi plot that could turn the tide of the war back in their favour.
On his way through the campaign Karl will encounter improved AI as the enemy soldiers are more alert and reactive to his presence. They will also now notify other enemies and also call for reinforcements. There is also an increase in the heavy weaponry that Karl could also face, presenting its own deadly challenges, as well as searchlights, which means it is more important than ever that you plan ahead, stick to the shadows and time your assaults.
Planning and execution have always been the mainstays of the franchise and that is truer than ever. It is vitally important that you plan ahead, including making sure that your loadout matches not only the mission, but also your play style.
Finally there is Invasion Mode where another human player can join your game, tasked with hunting you down. This creates a high stakes game of cat and mouse and completely alters the challenge for the player.
Is it challenging upgrading the physics engine to make bullets act even more realistically, especially now individual bones can ricochet rounds?
Woodward: As you can imagine, a huge amount of effort and research goes into our ballistics and the impact the bullets have on their targets and the environment. It is absolutely a challenge but with each iteration of the game we learn more and improve our processes and technology that sit behind the game.
The power of the consoles and PCs also continues to grow meaning that we have more horsepower to play with which in turn allows us to do more and create more complex physics models as well as visuals etc.
When it comes to weapon crafting, how crazy can that get? What sort of unusual combinations have you seen tested so far?
Senior designer Lawrence Barnett jumped in to answer: Once you factor in ammo types there are over 8 million possible combinations ("permutations" for those that like a bit of maths chat) of weapon customisation within the game, so there are a lot of options! As far as possible we try to keep it within the realms of what would have actually been possible/feasible for someone to create at the time, permitting the use of a workbench and an adept engineer. To sum up; the Russian 'Bramit' suppressor designed for the Mosin-Nagant rifle, wouldn't bolt onto a Kar98k, however in our universe we allow you to fit a modified 'Bramit' to your Kar98k through the use of our Workbenches. However, you won't find such a weapon in the hands of an Axis soldier.
We undertook a number of research trips to the Imperial War Museum, the Royal Armouries and Combat Dealers to ensure that we could get as close as "authentic" as possible, whilst also drawing from advice and knowledge from experts such as Jonathan Ferguson. During our research, we saw some incredible examples of how weapons had been adapted and customised to suit a particular soldier's or mission's needs, or simply the iterative development of a given model of weapon over time. Fixing or addressing an issue with a particular weapon model means updating it, often introducing new problems.
One example would be the Sten submachine gun. This went through an extensive number of iterations and offered a host of options.
The Mk II S was a special mode devised for stealth operations and featured a suppressor along with a revised stock, altering its handling characteristics. At the Royal Armouries we were presented with a great wall of Stens from the original prototype through to the Mk5, and the various special editions, it was rather inspiring!
Likewise, the Germans produced a large number of suppressors that were denoted by a "HUB" prefix. In particular the HUB 23 was used on the Kar98k rifle which when paired with subsonic ammo (another customisation option) was particularly quiet, and apparently used by Special Forces units such as the Brandenburgers.
With ammunition varying from armour piercing rounds, capable of puncturing light vehicles and cover, through to soft point rounds. Although banned by the Geneva conventions due to the extra-ordinarily devastating wounds they caused, there's evidence of the use of prohibited rounds like soft point rounds and explosive "observation" ammo against infantry. It was one of these explosive rounds that left the famous sniper Simo Häyhä aka "The White Death" forever scarred.
There are a lot of options for the player and we suggest that they try out some variations, pay close attention to the stats and find a suite of weapons that best suits their individual approach and play style.
This Invasion Mode is quite an interesting system. How will the gameplay scale when an ally joins you, and likewise, how is an opposing invader presented in-game? Do they blend in with Axis soldiers, or are they easy to spot in the crowd?
Woodward: When playing in co-op the two of you can take on the mission objectives together, whether that is just against the AI or against an invading Axis Sniper.
Invasion Mode is a real game changer! It ramps up the tension of the experience so much and has a tangible effect on how you play and how you approach your objectives.
Players will be able to alter the appearance of the Axis Sniper and the more they play the more options they will unlock. This has led to some really interesting gameplay options and player behaviour in our test sessions, which have been great fun.
For example we had one session where one of the team, playing as the invader, pretended to be one of the AI. He was moving very deliberately rather than how the average human player acts. This led his opponent to try to sneak by rather than choosing to engage, allowing the invader an easy kill. That one occurrence gave us even more ideas and we cannot wait to see the innovative solutions players find when the game is released.
It's also worth noting that players can turn Invasion Mode off if they only want to face the AI.
What have you learnt from multiplayer in former Sniper Elite games that you're looking to address in the multiplayer in Sniper Elite 5?
Woodward: We have taken a lot of learnings from our previous games, having canvassed our community and studied the way that the games have been played in multiplayer. There are a number of improvements, fixes and changes that have been made.
To begin with each of the multiplayer maps has been specifically designed and tailored with multiplayer in mind. This ensures that we are playing to the game's strengths and they have been a big hit in playtesting. We encourage movement around these maps through Supply Drops which appear regularly and offer a host of upgrades, items, ammunition, heavy weapons and experience.
I think it's fair to say that we have spread ourselves too thin in the past when it comes to multiplayer, so for Sniper Elite 5 we have streamlined it to four core modes. However, we have then added a number of customisation options in the server settings that will allow players to create the kind of game they want, such as Distance King.
Community feedback has led to the implementation of Performance Stats where you earn points for every positive action and lose them for being killed, incapacitated or injuring a teammate (in a more hardcore game). Previously it was felt that we did not punish players enough for being killed so you can now set "Score" as the match defining statistic meaning that you have to be far more careful about how you play as every kill and every death counts.
We have taken the decision to separate the progression systems for the campaign and multiplayer. In previous games they have been linked meaning that you could unlock all the weapons and customisation options in single player to take them into multiplayer right off the bat. This did not feel right as we want everyone to start from an equal point where you have to earn your gear and attachments. This also goes for DLC weapons. The only way to unlock the attachments in multiplayer is to use that weapon in multiplayer.
Multiplayer also now has its own set of perks grouped into class-Like trees. The actual classes augment a particular style of play, while still keeping true to the series' concept that every player is primarily a sniper.
A number of items that are useful in the single player campaign also have uses in multiplayer and help to enhance the experience. To give you a couple of examples, throwing a bottle in multiplayer will create a radar blip, just like player movement, which can be used to fool enemies, and the Decoy generates a scope glint that when shot automatically tags the person that shot it.
Finally, we are also encouraging more teamwork as teammates can now revive and heal each other and pass requested items as well as being able to tag enemies for each other. The new Squad match mode encourages teams to stick together and you will tend to spawn in close proximity to your teammates.
Will the multiplayer features (16-player, Invasion Mode, and co-op) support crossplay?
Woodward: Yes Sniper Elite 5 will support crossplay across all multiplayer modes on all formats.
What will the benefits be for playing Sniper Elite 5 on PS5 and Xbox Series X|S, over PS4 and Xbox One?
Woodward: Players on PS5 and Xbox Series X will be able to enjoy the game at 60fps in a resolution up to 4K with much faster loading times while Xbox Series S users can play at 60fps at 1440p resolution. Meanwhile the PS4 and Xbox One are capped to 30fps.
PlayStation 5 players will also be able to enjoy the additional haptic feedback through the DualSense controller including using the Adaptive Triggers for weapons, which feels awesome and enhances the experience. You can feel the "click" of the trigger and also the kickback, which will vary depending on the gun you are using.
When aiming, a light press of the trigger will give you aim over the shoulder while a heavy press sees you look down the sight. We had this feature in Sniper Elite 4 but it is far more refined now as we have added some resistance halfway down the trigger, making it intuitive and easy to switch between during combat.
We also support HD Rumble throughout the game so you will get haptic feedback from guns, when you're on a zip line, from aircraft and generators, takedowns and much more. It all adds to the immersion.
Thanks to Woodward, Barnett, and Rebellion for taking the time to answer our questions. Sniper Elite 5 launches on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox consoles on May 26, and you can check out our recent preview on the game right here.