Sniper Elite 5 is one of the biggest evolutions of the series since Sniper Elite 2 and helps solidify the franchise as a quintessential stealth franchise. The Sniper Elite series has always been something I have played very casually and never thought too highly of. They're decent and can make for good co-op fun, but it's never been a series I get overly excited about, yet somehow, Sniper Elite 5 has made me a true fan.
Sniper Elite 5 does away with the semi-linear levels in some of the previous games and expands them to be suspenseful sandboxes placed deep behind enemy lines while offering optional objectives. It takes a page out of the book of Hitman by giving the player the freedom to choose how they accomplish their objectives, except it doesn't have sophisticated scenarios with disguises and such. It's a bit more streamlined, but developer Rebellion Entertainment uses this to its advantage. You are a spy/assassin in World War II who doesn't have the advantage of parties, public venues, or other crowded affairs to get to your target. You are infiltrating bases and layered hostile cities to find heavily protected people.
There are few games that expertly handle the feeling of being stealthy in a non-linear setting, but Rebellion has made something both challenging and absurdly nerve-racking. One level sees you starting outside of a large elevated island town filled with all kinds of hills and gothic architecture. Getting into the city is the easy part, provided you don't walk in via the bridge. Sure, there's a minefield and snipers, but that's nothing compared to the patrols inside the city.
Every street corner is filled with guards, trainees, high-ranking Nazi officers, and more, these are the moments where Sniper Elite 5 excels. Observing enemy behavior, deciding how, who, and when you're going to pick them off, and taking big risks all pay off and make you feel more strategic. This is a game that rewards patience, and at times, reminded me of a less scripted and cinematic version of All Ghillied Up from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. There's a section in that Call of Duty mission where the player must crawl through grass as tanks and tons of infantry move directly over them. It's pulse-pounding tension, but it wears off after the first or second time you've played it because it's a scripted moment.
Sniper Elite 5 makes those moments dynamic and equally memorable. In the aforementioned city, you can make your own routes using backstreets, connected buildings, climb vines hanging from walls, ziplines, and travel through underground caverns. It's filled with layers, and although it can be a bit maze-like, that's part of the thrill, it creates new problems for you around every corner. At one point, I had climbed a large wall and brought myself up to a new street. Up ahead was a checkpoint for vehicles to pass through. From behind cover, I studied the timing of the vehicles coming and going before making a dash to quietly kill the checkpoint guard. As I got closer, a second guard walked up from behind him. I dove behind a small piece of cover, obscuring me from the north, but leaving me exposed from the south where one of the patrol vehicles comes from.
I heard an engine approaching from behind me and quickly decided to throw a glass bottle past the heads of the checkpoint guards, causing them to briefly turn around. I then moved to obscure myself from the south side and go prone on the ground, allowing the vehicle to pass right by me without spotting me. At any moment, I could've been seen and had the whole city converging upon my position. It was the kind of suspense that made my stomach tighten and my palms clam up. It's those kinds of moments that make you feel like a WWII spy or dedicated assassin and emphasize the sandbox, player-driven moments of Sniper Elite 5.
If things were to go loud, it would be more difficult, as one might expect. Run-and-gun gameplay is not Sniper Elite 5's thing, though it's not terrible if forced into it. Generally speaking, Sniper Elite 5 feels far more fluid than its predecessors, but the high-octane action gunplay still has room for growth. Rebellion has added first-person iron sights which makes combat more fun and helps with accuracy, but generally, I found myself restarting from the last checkpoint if things went extremely south. Unless the enemies sound the alarm, only enemies in the immediate area are alerted to your presence when you enter combat. If the group is small enough, it can be fun to hold a position and mow a few Nazis down with a silenced SMG. Once it turns into you running for your life while unloading a magazine, it doesn't feel very smooth and likely results in a lot of fumbling around.
If you try to fire from the hip while running, your character will stop dead in their tracks to shoot, opening you up to a barrage of bullets. It almost defeats the purpose of firing from the hip, because you'd accomplish the same goal by ADS-ing and simultaneously be more accurate. There's also no blind fire from cover, meaning your character will automatically make himself vulnerable to gunfire to shoot from behind a wall. Although I didn't have the opportunity to play PvP multiplayer during my time with the game, the way the close-quarters combat is handled does give me some concern for that mode.
Of course, you don't want to make such a great combat system that people just use SMGs and ARs, ignoring the "sniper" part in the title of the game, but it could be tighter. The sniping is still incredibly satisfying, allowing you to line up shots from hundreds of meters away and see the bullet collide with various parts of their body in an explosive way. It's gruesome, yet consistently enjoyable.
The only other place Sniper Elite 5 falls short is its story, namely just because the drama within the cutscenes feels half-baked and the characters aren't very interesting. It's another generic World War II story, it's not bad, it's just not very engaging and will likely result in some players picking up their phones during cutscenes if they don't skip them altogether. Granted, there probably aren't many people playing this series for its story in the first place. It serves its purpose, giving you historical reasons to go to cool locations and shoot Nazis. That's all it really needs to accomplish, and although some stronger writing wouldn't be a bad thing, having something that just serves as some dressing and explanation for the gameplay is perfectly serviceable for a game like thisl.
Sniper Elite 5 has scratched an itch that I have had since Splinter Cell vanished nearly a decade ago. The stealth, level design, and sandbox elements have created something that will be incredibly fun to replay both by yourself and with friends. Although Rebellion still has to tighten up some areas such as the story and close-quarters gunplay, this is an extremely refined stealth game that has taken the series into a new era with a lot of meat on its bones.
A Xbox Series X|S code for Sniper Elite 5 was provided by the publisher for this review.