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Sniper Elite 5 preview - playing it safe

Sniper Elite 5 may be coming to Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass, as well as PlayStation and PC, but should you play it? Here's our preview of the new shooter

Sniper Elite 5 Preview: An image of a man holding a sniper rifle up

It’s safe to say that it has been a long five years since Rebellion’s last Sniper Elite game – but now Sniper Elite 5 is right around the corner. With so much time between titles, and the fact that I enjoyed playing through Sniper Elite 3 and Sniper Elite 4 back in the day, I was excited to jump into Karl Fairburne’s latest adventure to see how things had improved and where his elite sniping was taking him next.

If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll be pleased to know that Rebellion is playing it safe and Sniper Elite 5 is pretty much everything you’d expect from a Sniper Elite game. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it isn’t really a good thing either.

I got a chance to play Sniper Elite 5’s second mission for a couple of hours and, while I had fun, I left feeling disappointed that it felt so familiar. The new features Rebellion has introduced, however minor, do build on the experience presented.

If you’re looking for a competent stealth game that lets you blow the nuts off of Nazis, then Sniper Elite 5 – just like its predecessors – is the game for you. However, if you’re looking for something beyond that, you might find this game lacking. Rebellion has introduced some new features, which do freshen up the experience a little bit, but it is ultimately the same game we played five years ago, just with a new lick of paint. To be honest, even the new graphics were a tad disappointing for a game releasing on current-gen consoles. While I did play this preview on PC, I can’t imagine there being a significant leap in the quality of graphics when we finally get the chance to play on a PS5 or Xbox Series X.

My experience playing Sniper Elite 5, however disappointing, is perhaps best surmised by my thoughts on the new ADS feature Rebellion has introduced for non-rifle weapons – one of the few noticeable gameplay changes between previous Sniper Elite games and this new release.

Sniper Elite 5 Preview: A man using an SMG behind sandbags

In earlier Sniper Elite games, players were limited to an over-the-shoulder zoom when trying to aim accurately with non-sniper weapons. Now, though, in Sniper Elite 5, players can actually use the iron sights on any weapon – it feels a lot like PUBG, to give you a frame of reference.

While this is, of course, far from a bad feature to introduce, it’s also a little pointless – or at least, I felt it was anyway. Without attachments, the fully-automatic weapons have a horrendous recoil kick that is tough to manage. When you combine this with the poor visibility basic iron sights offer, it became quite apparent to me that this feature would only be useful in the latter stages of the game – when you have unlocked more attachments for your machine guns – if at all.

This new ADS feature in Sniper Elite 5 adds superficial depth to the gameplay on offer and does little to actually create any real development in the series between releases. It exemplifies an attempt to combat stagnating gameplay in a series that, in my opinion, has probably reached its ceiling with what it has to offer – especially if it sticks with Karl Fairburne’s Second World War antics.

It isn’t just Sniper Elite 5’s gameplay that is stagnating, though – this game is graphically underwhelming and the narrative, from what I managed to learn during my preview, doesn’t seem to be anything new.

The x-ray killcam is undeniably one of the biggest selling points for the Sniper Elite series, and Rebellion doubles down with more detail than ever before in Sniper Elite 5. However, just like before, all this detail is internal. You see your sniper round explode through a Nazi’s jaw and watch his teeth spray out from the force, yet when the body drops there’s no evidence of that.

Sniper Elite 5 preview: A man being shot in the gut - and we can see his guts

I know Sniper Elite 5 isn’t pitched as a gory game, but the tone has been set with this increased detail and it – like everything – ultimately feels like a shallow graphical update in the grand scheme of things. To further this, the quality of the animation in the games’ cutscenes is beyond poor – it feels criminal to ask players to pay as much as $59.99 / £54.99 for a game that looks and feels, at the very least, five years old. Thankfully, if you’re a member of Xbox Game Pass or PC Game Pass, you won’t have to fork out quite as much. Playing Sniper Elite 5 on Game Pass is going to be something you can enjoy on day one.

Then, we come to the story being told with Sniper Elite 5. Of course, I can’t comment on the entire narrative – I only got to play through the game’s second mission – but I fear that this is going to be forgettable. Karl Fairburne is in France (replace with Africa for Sniper Elite 3, or Italy for Sniper Elite 4) and he’s fighting Nazis (your enemy in the last two Sniper Elite games) and looking for secret Nazi plans (you guessed it, also the general plot in Sniper Elite 3 and Sniper Elite 4).

Unless Rebellion has some fantastic plot twist up its sleeve, it looks like we’re going to be getting another cookie-cutter war story. I hope that it delivers something deeper than the one-man-army heroics we’ve seen from the Sniper Elite series in the past, but I’m not optimistic it will.

Sniper Elite 5 preview: An image of a player holding their breath in Sniper Elite 5

One thing that does bode well for the future of the series, though, is the addition of Invasion Mode – although, I didn’t get to check this out during my preview. Invasion Mode, as the name suggests, will allow players to join campaign missions as an Axis sniper to, and I quote the Sniper Elite 5 website, “engage in a deadly game of cat and mouse”. With traditional PvP multiplayer modes returning alongside drop-in co-op campaigns and a four-player survival mode, it’s safe to say that there’s going to be enough to do in Sniper Elite 5.

However, I feel like post-launch content and progression is going to play a huge part in whether it has the legs to last as a multiplayer game. I did have a brief encounter with Sniper Elite 5’s levelling system during my preview and, while it was an improvement on Sniper Elite 4’s offering, it was a little disappointing. I didn’t notice much of a difference between starting out and having skills unlocked while playing. Of course, these could be more impactful in a multiplayer scenario – but there’s no telling just yet.

With all that being said, though, I did have fun playing Sniper Elite 5. It’s a decent game with solid mechanics that it does very well after years of honing them. However, I expected a lot more from it given the prospect of new-gen console power and the amount of development time following the previous game. I feel like Sniper Elite 5 should have pushed for more innovation, rather than play it safe.