Sniper Elite VR is a commendable attempt to bring bone-crushing, organ-splitting violence to VR. The Finger Guns Review.
It’s been a fair few months since I dabbled with my PSVR, so much so I had to dust off the headset and charge up the move controllers. With the odd exception, I’ve had few games on the system I’ve genuinely wanted to play. Bought mainly to satisfy my desire for Beat Saber, there’s been little else to keep Sony’s VR system relevant or necessary.
So enters Sniper Elite VR. Based on the titular series of the same name, only now it’s your hands on the rifle. Sort of. Obviously, there’s a lot of inspiration and reused elements from Sniper Elite 3 and 4. The biggest draw this time around is seeing the bullet shredding carnage right in front of your eyes.
Sniper Elite VR is certainly an immersive and arcadey sniping experience at its best and worth a look for wannabe marksmen extraordinaires. It comes with significant caveats however, in the shape of wonky movement tracking, poor stealth mechanics and at times dumbfoundingly stupid enermy AI. A masterpiece of warfare simulation, this absolutely isn’t. But then, Sniper Elite has never aimed for those precise targets, more the general, gory ballpark.
Sniper consists of a series of missions, linked together through some very limited and uninteresting dialogue. There are no cutscenes or particular exposition dumps. Instead you’ll have some narration in each starting load screen, tidbits throughout the level and a couple of lines at the end. It’s pretty boring and won’t do anything to invest you in the game, despite some attempts at a twist or a grander purpose.
You play as an elderly man retelling his story as a Partisan fighter during World War 2. Between each mission you’ll be (apparently randomly) sat at different spots in a sunshine-hit home as our protagonist recounts his tale. The voiceover is decent if somewhat at odds with the more arcadey feel of Sniper Elite. It’s a strange contradiction to have an older voice actor speaking delicately about war as you pop a dude’s brain melon from 50 metres with a high caliber rifle and then follow up with a testicle shot (it’s Sniper Elite, of course you have to do some ball-busting).
Either way, the story is present but it’s lackluster and weak. More akin to bringing a pistol to a sniper face-off. But, let’s be honest, no-one is really playing a Sniper Elite title for excellent storytelling or devine narrative experience. We’re here to shoot Nazis in their organs and revel in the bone-busting violence of it all.
On that front, Sniper Elite VR carries over many of the hallmarks that have made the series popular. Bullet cam returns, tracking your shots destined to wreak havoc on organic matter. In VR, it’s a refreshing delight on a gimmick which had become more familiar in previous entries. Seeing your shot up close crash into an enemy’s skull was delightful and grotesque all at once. Rebellion have kept the anatomic detail too, so you can witness which organs you puncture, which is… nice.
Enemy types, designs and weapons have also been reused for VR from Elite 3 and 4. While it makes sense and is a more efficient design choice, it did give the game a more stale and overly familiar feel if you’ve spent a decent chunk of time in the mainline series. I’m fairly certain some of the locations and level design have been repurposed from previous assets also, which left VR feeling like an extension rather than its own distinct game. It wasn’t gamebreaking by any means, but did leave it lacking some of its own identity.
The missions themselves are a good mix of linear, exploratory and sniper perch settings. If you’ve been a fan of the more open-ended, larger maps with exploration in the recent games, you’ll be somewhat catered for here. There are a handful of missions which have open areas you can freely move around in. Finding a good vantage point or searching for collectibles is still present on these missions and you can approach it all guns blazing or more stealthily should you choose to.
The highlights for me though, and where I felt Elite VR shined the most, were the levels which were more linear and allowed me to just engage with the gunplay itself. An early level has you defending a church tower, notching kills from above and focusing on blasting whatever moves. These segments are enjoyable and give an amazing platform for VR to perform, as you line up your shot, account for the distance and let loose. Later levels had me holding down an entire dock of enemies or protecting Partisans in the woods and they were by far my favourite levels.
Sniper’s more open levels certainly aren’t bad. In fact they’re impressively well-designed for a VR title. The problem comes from having to engage with gunplay which isn’t sniping. There’s a variety of submachine guns, pistols, shotguns and assault rifles. There’s also an array of blindly missed shots, as the aiming on these weapons was a bit of a nightmare. Sometimes they’d fire where it looks like they should, other times they’d have a mind of their own and would blast 5 feet to the right of the Nazi charging me with a shotgun.
Stealth mechanics are also frustrating and inconsistent. Enemies on normal difficulty can detect you pretty rapidly and from varying distances. Sometimes you’ll be right near them and nothing. Other times I’d be behind a rock, well above and far away from them and they’d detect me in a heartbeat. Like in most other sniper games that don’t nail stealth, one enemy being tipped off means every enemy in that group/area is instantly nailed onto your position, even if you silently drop them the same moment. There’s a melee move, apparently, where you motion your weapon with your arm, but it simply never worked for me and was never viable to even get near someone to do it.
Using the Welrod is also a crapshoot on VR, as the aiming will likely scupper your headshot and have you firing manically at the wall next to them, or just into their chest. A few levels in I gave up on stealth altogether and would just enter an area, find a choke point and just start blasting at everyone I could spot. It was far more fun and less frustrating, weirdly resulting in fewer deaths and less annoyance too.
This links in with the issue of AI in Sniper Elite VR. It’s not great. Enemy soldiers will usually stick to cover, popping up to be blown away. Or, they’ll charge in a single straight predetermined path which makes them as vulnerable as fish in a barrel. In a later level you need to defend a villa with enemies that approach from three directions. 2 of those directions have one path they can take. Which they all take, in unison, in straight line formation. While it does give you a reaper of death vibe as you notch kill after kill, it’s not exactly a pinnacle of sniping achievement to hover over one spot and delete each fool that runs across your mark.
That’s not to say Sniper Elite VR is easy. Absolutely not. On normal difficulty I died a number of times. Sometimes from insanely accurate shots from a distant officer with a pistol (dude should get a medal, seriously), sometimes from teleporting myself out of cover. And sometimes, from lobbing a grenade that the on-screen arc told me was fine, only for it to bounce right back on my noggin and presumably eviscerate all evidence of my existence. There are 3 difficulties in total with Sniper Elite being the toughest for the more masochistic type.
The motion tracking can be a right pain at times, hence the self-explosions. You’ll find yourself lining up a perfect shot, only for your virtual hand to randomly seize out and disrupt your aim. The rifle will frequently shake and violently test your patience. Occasionally it would just turn 90 degrees for no reason. Your utility belt is cluttered and so when trying to grab a weapon you might accidentally equip a pistol or when reaching for a clip you’ll get a grenade. It’s fiddly, finicky and can be fatal to your survival often. It kind of comes with the territory with the PSVR, but it was infuriating at times and definitely sullied the enjoyment of the shooting mechanics.
Which is a shame, because when the tracking does work, and you’re knee deep in the battlefield quagmire and popping shots successfully, it feels awesome. Sniper Elite is hugely immersive, when it works. The issue is that it doesn’t work consistently enough to be as satisfying as it should be. This is probably why the sniper perch or more linear levels focused on just sniping are more fun than the other parts.
It probably wouldn’t be so frustrating if checkpoint saves were more regular or consistent. Patches of levels, particularly in the second half of the campaign, can go pretty long stretches without a save point. There’s no autosave or auto-checkpoint system, so you can waste a significant chunk of time if a crafty Nazi ambushes you when you think you’ve cleared an area. Occasionally I’d even double back after clearing a heavily infested area or two just to save. Automatic checkpoints would have done this game the world of good and likely alleviated some of this frustration.
It’s worth mentioning too there are a number of options to customise your experience with the game. In regular gameplay you painstakingly reload every weapon. You can switch on automatic reloads should you wish. Don’t like the bullet cam? Turn it off. I personally used the maximum comfort settings and teleporting movement to play, in aid of not throwing up after 10 minutes of gameplay. I still suffered some nausea and couldn’t play for long sessions, but the wealth of options available means you can find a personalised version that suits what you’re looking for. It’s commendable how much effort went into making this a workable and comfortable VR title.
Adding to the arcade style, each mission tallies a score based on your kills which contribute to leaderboards. Missions also have 3 stars to earn, one for finishing them and the other 2 for bonus objectives like finishing in X amount of time or getting X number of kills with a weapon or explosives. It adds some limited replay value but unfortunately this is used to gatekeep your progress for the final missions. You have to go back and replay earlier missions to earn enough stars to see out the rest of the campaign. It pretty much destroys the pacing and is an arbitrary way to pad out the game’s length when in truth it doesn’t need padding.
You can additionally return to Partisan HQ when you feel like to set up customised loadouts or practice your aim at the shooting ranges. It’s nothing mind blowing but having multiple loadouts you can personalise and select from for each mission is a cool touch.
Graphically, Sniper Elite VR is par for the course with the more limited VR system. Edges are jagged and rough. Textures muddy and lacking detail. Some of the environmental design is good though and there are some decent levels with strong lighting effects to keep you engaged. Enemies tend to blend together and spotting them at distance is more about seeing the grey/blueish blob sliding around than discerning an actual human being. It’s fine and serves the purpose, but it won’t blow you away. There’s also occasional glitches where enemies can fire at you through or behind cover but you can’t hit them.
As a package, Sniper Elite VR offers quite a lot of content. With a multitude of missions which varied from 5 to 30 minutes, stars to earn, leaderboards to top and sniping to perfect, there’s a lot to keep you occupied. It was a real mix of elated immersion coupled with aggravating frustration, but I overall enjoyed my time with it, just about. Once the PSVR technology improves, I imagine a title like this will be very, very good indeed. As it is now however, the technical limitations and wonky tracking made the art of sniping far less precise and satisfying than it should be.
Sniper Elite VR is a commendable attempt to bring bone-crushing, organ-splitting violence to your eyeballs. Its attention to detail, authenticity and amount of content make it a solid package. Unfortunately, a lacklustre story, inconsistent movement tracking, wonky physics and poor AI knock this scope off target. There’s indisputable fun wrapped up in nailing that perfect headshot, especially in VR. It’s just a shame the technology holds it back from landing a clean shot.
Sniper Elite VR is available now on PS4 (review platform) and PC.
Developer: Rebellion, Coatsink, Just Add Water
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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