Nazis. I hate these guys. I hate these guys so much, that watching an X-ray depiction of their testicles getting “Reich-sized” out their butt doesn’t make me wince. That just looks like uppance come, and a damn cool mechanic to boot.
It’s pretty timeless, too. For nearly a decade, Sniper Elite’s “Long-Distance Surgery with Bullets” shtick has allowed this double A shooter series to endure in a genre where it’s triple-A or bankruptcy. Rebellion has identified kill-cams as such a key ingredient, they’ve shoehorned it into a VR game where smash-cutting to this sort of “out-of-body yet inner-body” experience makes no sense at best and is jarring at worst.
More on that in a second, though. For now, let’s get you up to speed with why so many blowholes need to be installed in the first place. Interestingly, Sniper Elite VR tells its tale from the viewpoint of a retired Italian resistance fighter who’s taking a trip down memory lane. The first cross street on that stroll: the Nazi brainpans he was forced to empty during WWII.
Sniper Elite VR Review
Honestly, I found this new character and approach to storytelling to have its positives and negatives. On the one disembodied VR hand, Rebellion is being a bit more sophisticated than having us play as the lantern-jawed, OSS super soldier we usually get.
On the other hand, a retrospective robs our new paisano’s plight of any tension – because no matter how bad it gets, you know you’re headed for picnics and Papa-hood. Ultimately, what passes for a plot is textbook gramps stuff: pretty fascinating to begin with, but by the end, he’s just rattling off names and places as you’re politely enduring his droning.
Fortunately, the sniping itself is pretty darn good. For me, personally, it managed to scratch an itch I’ve had since wandering into a Timezone in 1999. Yep, I always wanted a game like Silent Scope without paying a kidney and a lung to own an arcade unit. Sniper Elite VR fits that bill while also looking a damn sight better and not being on rails.
Oh, and today Rebellion doesn’t have you perving on scantily clad women to get a bonus health boost. Alex, I’ll take “Video Game Mechanics You Couldn’t Get Away With In 2021” for $200.
What you’re getting here are 19 short missions that involve you (and fairly useless AI companions) sticking it to the SS in what will be roughly 7 hours of content on a middling difficulty. To begin with, you’ll be perched high above the action so that you can get your Lee Harvey Oswald on with little fear of being flanked. That said, there will be more than enough opportunity to get in close and personal with silenced sidearms, nades or a few typewriter-like SMGs.
Speaking of choices, you have a range of control options to go with. In terms of my most recommended scheme to least, there’s Sony’s severely under-utilised Aim Controller, a trusty DualShock 4 or two Move Controllers. While they all have their strengths and weaknesses, the Moves fell out of favour with me quick because movement is handled by the four face buttons. Teleporting about is also an option, but it just delivers a slightly different brand of unsatisfying chaos.
That’s a shame, too, because the Moves are wonderful when it comes to (actual) weapon handling. You have to physically yank out empty magazines, grab fresh ones from your “person”, slap them into your gat and chamber in the first round with a lever yank. That’s some visceral, “click-clack” stuff that feels way cooler than it ought to. Mind you, it feels less boss when you try to use your off-hand to cradle the forestock of your gun only to yank out that little Pez dispenser of bullets.
The dual-stick simplicity of the Aim Controller is where it’s at. You can freely aim, run and strafe as you would in any FPS, but you’ve also got a more or less 1:1 tracked rifle in your (actual) hands. The physicality of cradling that closer and peering down a virtual scope sells itself pretty well, early on.
From here, it can be Sniper Elite as usual. You’ll hold a ‘focus’ button to make a few things happen at once: time begins to slow, and an extra, artificial zoom begins to manifest in your scope. Also, if you’re playing on the first 2 of 3 difficulties, a cheaty red icon appears that gives you an offset crosshair that shows you how to compensate for bullet drop and wind.
Connect the dots. Squeeze the trigger. Send that Godless goose stepper to hell. It couldn’t be simpler or more satisfying.
The sniping itself never gets old, thanks to a few gameplay wrinkles. First of all, you’re always put in interesting battlefield set-pieces where you’re desperately poking around cover (in a physical sense) to spy exposed victims or small tactical advantages. Those might be the fuel tank of a troop transport that just arrived or gaming’s favourite fixture, the ridiculously iridescent red barrel.
Pleasingly, I found myself getting some small advantages from using sniper techniques that I’ve read about. Like emptying my lungs to slow my heartbeat a little and steady the Aim Controller in my hands before taking a shot. Felt kinda cool, as did the arcade-style scoring system that rewards sniping consistency with unlocks and medals.
Being a scope jockey feels natural, accurate and I was pleased with the motion tracking I got, overall. That being said, Sniper Elite VR suffers from what I like to call Happy Gilmore Syndrome – phenomenal long-range meets mediocre short-game.
When the combat gets up-close-and-personal, you can quickly tap triangle to cycle through whatever pistol, SMG or shotgun you have (Move users must physically lift them off their belt or shoulder). Much like Doom VFR, dual-wielding two guns – or even using a pistol in one virtual hand — feels weird when you’re holding a peripheral with a rifle grip.
That’s a hand-eye disconnect that will make your first shot go absolutely wild, at which point your brain should be able to use the first tracer trail to correct for the following rounds. On top of that issue, close-quarters shootouts feel largely unsatisfying as your enemies don’t have much sense of self-preservation.
Some legacy issues I had from the main Sniper Elite titles have crept over, too. Most notably, enemy animations lack a certain fluidity. Fritz will cycle through his various cover hiding/firing/running motions quite abruptly. The way these Nazis run can be particularly troublesome, as they can sometimes change directions quicker than a Tron light cycle. That’ll wreak a bit of havoc when you’re trying to lead a shot into them.
Sadly, when you add all of these little issues up with a lacklustre story and linear-leaning missions, Sniper Elite VR misfires almost as much as it bullseyes. The visuals are nothing to write home to Mama and Papa about either – what should be beautiful Italian countryside is often a slightly blurry brownfest that’s crawling with yet another division of doppelgangers.
I certainly didn’t hate Sniper Elite VR. It’s got it where it counts in terms of head popping pleasure, but it’s also clear that Rebellion hasn’t aimed high enough with its storytelling, visual polish and the fine-tuning of these controls. The latter two could feasibly be polished via a sizable patch, and it’s my hope that this happens. But yeah – that’s a long shot.
Sniper Elite VR was reviewed using a digital code provided by Rebellion.