When it comes to a lot of virtual reality (VR) shooters the tendency is to go big or go home, making you feel like you’re Rambo running around a jungle with a massive 50 calibre machinegun on your hip – and that’s even with realistic physics. That can be plenty of fun, yet if you’re looking for something a bit more intense where you’ve had to dive for cover because you’ve missed a shot, alerting the enemy and are now fumbling a reload on your bolt action rifle, then Sniper Elite VR is where it’s at.
Rebellion’s Sniper Elite series is well known for its action-focused gameplay with a dabble of realism thanks to its WWII setting. And Sniper Elite VR is no different, this time dropping you into Sicily as an Italian resistance fighter trying to free his home from the scourge of the Nazi’s. So the entire single-player campaign is one long tale being reminisced by this unnamed sniper as if he were reading a story to his grandchild.
Of course, this means you’re going to be doing a fair amount of sniping, taking your time to line up shots and whittle down the enemy forces whilst trying to remain a ghost. Developed by Just Add Water, it’s easy to tell the studio has put significant effort into the sniping mechanics, from the ballistic physics to the manual reloading the sniper rifles are certainly the star of the show. They all have the same blot action to them which can be finicky at first but you do get into a rhythm after a while. Even so, this does mandate a particular tempo to the gameplay because you’re not running in guns blazing, picking your spot and carefully selecting each target, really immersing into the experience.
All the other weapons felt very much secondary, whether that’s the SMG’s, the shotguns or pistols. They all maintain those realistic reload mechanics and when particular levels get a bit enclosed and narrow can come in use, but even then the temptation to use the rifle remains. Unfortunately, whilst there are a number of sniper rifles to play with they all feel virtually the same. The only one which stood out was a silenced version available later on, taking all the challenge out of being as sneaky as possible.
Immersion is key to all VR titles, especially if you’re WWII with realistic weapons and physics. Sniper Elite VR, however, toys with this aspect in such a way that at times you can become truly engrossed then jolted back to reality mostly by the settings you select. There are a wealth of options available and it can take a little while to settle on a nice balance, setting up Sniper Elite VR to be as realistic as possible or a complete arcade-style experience.
For instance, right out the box, the HUD settings can get real annoying, completely distracting you from the gameplay. During missions you’ll get objective markers pop up, a noise indicator to muffle your gunshots or the save location. They are useful if you really need them but having white icons constantly appearing does feel quite antiquated. Thankfully they can all be switched off. Another feature you can increase or decrease is the iconic X-Ray Kill-Cam the series is known for. Utterly brutal and visceral in the standard flat game, the VR version ups that by a factor of ten, as you can lean in and briefly look around during the few seconds it runs. When you’re nestled in a tower picking off enemies it can get a bit much on the higher settings, constantly pulling you in and out. It is completely comfortable though.
There were some other aspects that didn’t always sit right for VR. The manual save points were great yet they’d always swap to a separate saving screen which became quite disjointing. And the body holster became way too busy once fully loaded with two weapons over each shoulder, two on the chest and then an assortment of grenades and other explosives, occasionally grabbing the wrong one during a firefight as they are fairly close. With all the physical gameplay built into the guns and holster system, the environment itself didn’t provide much in the way of interaction. Apart from ammo to pick up and explosive boxes, all the bunkers, offices and bases had lots of items to set the scene without having that all-important presence.
Sniper Elite takes place across 18 missions which offer the usual selection of protection and infiltration style objectives. Most of the maps tend to be of a decent size with some of the larger ones allowing you to be a bit more creative. For the most part, their linear structure means that most have key positions to move between so don’t have complete flexibility when it comes to hunkering down. There’s also some notable repetition and padding to the gameplay structure, as earlier levels are used later on, just from a different perspective. You also need to unlock later missions by collecting enough stars, forcing you to replay previous levels rather than being able to run through the entire campaign in one shot.
Another nod to its arcade-focused gameplay, each level can award you three stars. These are gained by completing mission-specific parameters or simply scoring enough points. So you’re not just killing and then moving on, as you’ll gain bonuses for headshots, distance, remaining unseen and killstreaks. In addition to the stars, there are also numerous collectables hidden within each stage, increasing that replay factor for those that like to uncover everything.
A quick note when it comes to the PlayStation VR version. While most of the review was on PC, testing the PlayStation VR edition of Sniper Elite VR did bring up some interesting variances. These were all due to the controller input. Suffice it to say the DualShock 4 controller was less than adequate, just don’t even bother as it ruins the experience. PlayStation Move is supported so you can manually reload. However, movement is via the face buttons which aren’t great for stealthy wandering through Nazi fortifications. If you’re picking up Sniper Elite VR for PlayStation VR you need the Aim controller. On the downside it automates the reload process making rapid killing very easy, whilst the upside is a far more dependable control method.
So was Sniper Elite VR worth the anticipation and wait? Most definitely. It’s not without issues trying to find that balance between being a fun experience for all whilst giving VR veterans a videogame they can really get stuck into. When you do get into it though, Sniper Elite VR becomes a thoroughly engrossing VR shooter as you read the environment, study enemy movements and take that vital long-range shot. Doing that continually over the 7+ hour campaign seems very repetitive but lining up that perfect shot never is.