We were given free reign of the second mission in the fifth instalment of Rebellion's sniping series.
Let me just start by saying that if you've played a Sniper Elite game before, you probably have an idea as to what Sniper Elite 5 is looking to offer. This fifth instalment into the WWII shooter series once again sees protagonist Karl Fairburne heading deep behind enemy lines, to uncover a scheming plot, and to eliminate a whole range of Nazi leaders along the way. It's very similar to what other Sniper Elite games have done before, except this time, it's trading Germany, North Africa, and Italy, for the lush landscape of France. I would know this as recently I've had the chance to jump into a bit of the game, as part of a preview event, where I was given complete free reign of the second level in the story.
Without going into too much detail to prevent spoilers, this mission tasked me to lead Fairburne through a set of French farmlands, all the way up to an imposing and truly massive manor house that is being used as the base of operations for a leading Nazi official involved in a nefarious plot called Project Kraken. While I don't have all that much information about what Project Kraken actually is, it is made clear that Sniper Elite 5 is set around the same time as D-Day, meaning it's 1944 and around the later stages of the Second World War, and Project Kraken is somehow involved with ending the war before the Allies can make the campaign and reclaim Europe.
As has been the case for the series ever since it stepped away from more linear levels, Sniper Elite 5 presents pretty massive free-to-explore locations for each level. For mission two, this includes a wide selection of aforementioned farmlands, as well as small homesteads and a local church, and of course a variety of military checkpoints, which are strategically placed to make it difficult to freely explore and to get around without arousing attention or suspicion from the Nazi forces that occupy the area. The crown jewel of the level is the huge manor that spans several floors, has a comprehensive basement, a collection of blossoming gardens, and even a deep trench encircling the majority of the building, meaning your only way in is to wander across protected bridges, or to instead scout and gather intel to discover hidden and sneaky ways to breach the grounds.
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Rebellion does a brilliant job of providing plenty of options to approach the level, options that are often by-products of your playstyle. If you have the patience and skill to avoid detection, and only kill when necessary and without making a sound, then you can use that to your advantage and likely never put yourself in any real danger. But at the same time, you could favour a playstyle like me, and sacrifice stealth for pure all out aggression and let your trigger do the talking. You will face the wrath of the Nazi armies if you choose this path, but there's only so many enemies on one level and eventually you can eliminate the threat entirely.
From my experience, the shooting mechanics in Sniper Elite 5 are once again top-notch. There's something so satisfying about landing a shot from hundreds of metres away, and seeing that bullet gracefully travel and then cut through its target (thanks to the still excellent X-ray killcam). This has been enhanced a bit, and now bullets ricochet in unpredicted ways when striking bone, meaning a shot to a humerus may end up claiming a testicle or two as well - it's the luck of the draw really.
The big improvement in gameplay isn't really seen in the shooting systems however, as it seems like Rebellion has really focussed on traversal a lot. You can climb vines, slide down embankments, and even use ziplines to make a quick exit, or to get to a new area quickly. They're welcome improvements that just make the gameplay less restricting, and work really well to accommodate and really elevate the feeling of being an elite sniper when matched up with the fantastic shooting systems.
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For those out there that are looking for a game with replayability, Sniper Elite 5 can hit this mark. As is the case with games that have sandbox-style levels that allow you to tackle them in your own way (Hitman is another example series), you can unlock new starting locations, and figure out new ways to approach the task at hand, all to leave the level with a different rating, or to pick up some missed collectibles. The core mission remains the same, but your extra knowledge and understanding of the environment should make tackling it far less of a challenge.
But all in all, while being a seemingly polished and well-designed game, Sniper Elite 5 really doesn't seem to be doing a whole lot we haven't seen before. It's still very fun and immensely satisfying to play, but so was Sniper Elite 3 and Sniper Elite 4. If you're a fan of the series, this fifth instalment will likely be up your street, just don't expect to be blown away with some new mechanics or a drastically altered style of gameplay, because this isn't what you'll be getting.