I think I’m a fairly well-adjusted human being, but to be honest I get an awful lot of joy out of gratuitous death — don’t we all, I suppose. This medium of ours lends itself to guns, killing, violence and other things that are horrendous in reality, after all. But Christ, pinging soldiers through the eyeballs from over 100 metres away is some craic, lads. To break it down to just that would be doing the strategy of Sniper Elite 4 a disservice, though. Beginning a level as the painfully wooden Karl Somethingson is one of the more satisfying things I’ve come across recently. And it starts with binoculars rather than a gun.
At the opening of one of SE4’s stages I was crouched down atop a hill, engulfed in foliage, looking at a huge bridge in the distance with a cavalcade of Nazi soldiers patrolling up and down it — a daunting sight. But after taking a breather and pulling out my trusty binoculars I knew I’d be fine because in Sniper Elite 4 it’s not about the attack itself, but more about how you plan said attack. I absolutely love Sniper Elite 4’s tagging mechanic. To get the jump on enemies, a lot of games allow you to mark baddies by glancing at them down your scope for a split second, subsequently making them visible through walls or behind obstructions. SE4 doesn’t hold your hand, though — it’s not good enough to just skim the area in SE4, you have to work at it by spotting Hitler’s hitmen and manually tagging them yourself. The head judge on Let it Shine* got it right on the money when he asked you to have a little patience and even though he may not have been on about Rebellion’s latest in this series, it’s just as applicable here as it was 10 years ago.
When you’re meticulous missions can last somewhere between an hour or two, because there’s an awful lot of waiting around and stalking your prey from afar in order to line up the perfect shot. When you do, it is exhilarating. The Kill Cam has been a mainstay in Sniper Elite and has put off as many as it’s mesmerised — I fall into the sadistic, latter category. Firing off that suppressed bullet on an unsuspecting lone guard that isn’t in the eyeline of his fascist friends and seeing it travel through his dentures and out the back of his skull, all in glorious x-ray vision, never gets boring. The option to turn it off is there, but the slow-mo murder is your reward for being the best cold-blooded assassin in Italy this side of Ezio Auditore.
It’s definitely indulgent and I understand why it makes people feel uncomfortable — this game is set during a tumultuous time period in world history. It tries to make you think twice about offing certain soldiers through some sympathetic bios that appear after tagging, but in truth they don’t do a good job at deterring you. Sniper Elite 4, as the name would suggest, revolves around you being pretty good with a specific rifle, therefore no biography detailing how important Dieter is to his community has any effect. Every infantry, Jäger and officer is merely fodder that’s in your way of getting to the goal in the most efficient way possible.
Nothing is more superfluous than the story, though. Once I’d fired my last bullet and essentially saved the world, I struggled to recall names, personal motivations, and even faces of characters that I’d spoken to. It’s all poorly delivered set-dressing that gets in the way of those moments when you’re hunched over, skulking around a village of the Fuhrer’s finest, looking for your next victim. And while sneaking up to a Nazi and driving a knife through their unsuspecting throat is gratifying, the real joy remains in lacing them with a round while you’re hidden in the bushes, pumping your fists in the air like Robbie Brady’s just netted the last minute winner to seal qualification to the knockout stages of Euro 2016.
And if that makes me a madman I can live with that. I don’t think celebrating punching or shooting nazis in the face is a bad thing. But hey, that was a long time ago, so maybe this joy is lost on most of you…
*Gary Barlow is some visionary, in fairness