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Sniper Elite VR

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Rebellion
Developer: Just Add Water (EU), Rebellion (US)
Release Date: July 8, 2021

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PC VR Review - 'Sniper Elite VR'

by Andreas Salmen on Aug. 9, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Sniper Elite VR is a dedicated VR stealth-action experience where you fight for the Italian Resistance in a daring mission to rid World War 2 Sicily of the Nazi U-boat menace.

The Sniper Elite franchise has had a long and successful run with a dedicated fan base because few games capture the tense and visceral sniping action that Sniper Elite has perfected over the years. The announcement of a full VR experience, built from the ground up for the platform, was promising. Sniper Elite VR isn't a masterpiece, but it delivers some seriously memorable moments that often make up for its shortcomings. No matter which VR headset you have, there is likely a version available; I played it on Steam via the Oculus link on a Quest 2.

Sniper Elite VR borrows its setting and appearance from the latest main entry, Sniper Elite 4. Across several stages, we sneak and shoot our way through WWII Italy in a variety of ways. The story is narrated by an old veteran looking back at his past deployments from the comfort of an armchair, but the voice acting and delivery are only an excuse to string together some missions. There is little emotional investment and even less payoff, so you won't miss too much by skipping or ignoring the story interludes. It's a missed opportunity, but thankfully, the gameplay makes up for the lackluster story introduction. The missions are tied together with narration and flow in chronological order, but they feel relatively segmented due to their length and content. Some missions may take a considerable amount of time and feel like a proper mission behind enemy lines, while others can be completed in a couple of minutes. Added to the bland story presentation, the varying mission length doesn't help the pacing, causing the story to feel unbalanced.

The Italian country house from which our protagonist narrates the story also functions as a training ground with shooting range and loadout settings. As you progress through the story, more guns become available, and organizing them into three different loadout boxes lets you test them at the shooting range. The basic gameplay will be immediately familiar to anyone that has tried a VR shooter in recent years. From handguns to automatic rifles and a bunch of sniper rifles, each gun has its own reload mechanics and handling, although the latter is not great across all gun models.

As soon as you get into close-range combat with any kind of rifle or sidearm, the shooting becomes a tad floaty. There's no weight to weapons or handling them, which isn't a requirement for a game at this quality level, but it increases immersion when implemented. Compared to shooter games that don't use any form of weight simulation, Sniper Elite VR doesn't feel impactful when players don't use a sniper rifle. It lacks the punch and satisfaction of recoil, weight, and proper sounds that fit the deadly weapons you're wielding. This is a shame given how often you have to use other guns in the game.

A lot of the early gameplay involves figuring out how to reload each weapon, since some can be finicky. I also had frequent issues holding larger guns with two hands and reloading, since the grapple point to eject the magazine and the point to hold the weapon for stabilization are very close together on some models, prompting a few instances when I ejected a magazine instead of stabilizing the gun. I was initially disappointed by the fact that grenades are thrown via button press and a throwing arc preview — and action that I'm not a fan of in VR, either. After a short while, I figured that you can still throw and release grenades using motion controls, so both are an option, but the button press is usually more accurate and reliable.

Missions in Sniper Elite VR come in different forms. There are infiltration levels, where stealth is an option (rarely required), but you can shoot your way through a given stage or camp in a specific location to thin out the herd via long-range sniper shots. Similar to the mainline games, there are noises in the environment to mask your shots. Other stages are as simple as a wave shooter, crouching in higher ground, and raining down bullets until reinforcements dry out. While you may still be required to change locations mid-shootout, you're in a relatively confined area. I found these wave shooter segments to be the most entertaining, since they lean into what the game and series do best: excessively violent sniping. At the end of the day, if you expected more expansive mission areas, like in Sniper Elite 4, each mission usually takes place in a confined space or tunnel-like structure, so the game is relatively linear.

Several sniper rifles in the game function similar to one another, with minor differences in magazine size or scope location. Scopes can be held in front of your eyes to aim, making it necessary to close one eye for the best view down your magnifying scope. Shots are punchy and loud, with some decent recoil. For most weapon models, each bullet must be chambered manually by pulling a reload bolt, making it a very hands-on experience. Aiming, shooting, and immediately chambering the next round and taking new aim is very exhilarating when under fire, and it's super satisfying when you pull off great shots.

Each level also has explosives and other environmental hazards that can be used to dispose of several enemies at once. Your ability to hold your breath, which slows down time, is also useful to nail the toughest shoots (even with regular handguns). The most satisfying shot of all is the X-ray kill cam, which is synonymous with the Sniper Elite franchise. I was curious how well this would translate to VR and almost expected a 2D video to play whenever the kill cam is triggered, but that's not the case. When the X-ray cam is triggered, you follow the bullet for a very short distance of the shot (likely to avoid motion sickness) until your viewpoint is teleported next to the victim as the bullet hits. You'll get to see an X-ray version of your victim up close in a 3D space as their head or spine explodes right next to you. It's as bloody and gory as you'd expect, and it's possibly the best way of implementing it in VR. For whatever shortcomings Sniper Elite VR may have, sniping and the kill cam alone may be worth experiencing the game because they look, play, and feel phenomenal.

Sniper Elite VR is a solid WWII-themed shooter that does more right than it does wrong. Passable shooting mechanics and a somewhat lackluster story are contrasted with really satisfying sniper gameplay that completely hooked me and made the entire experience worthwhile. It's not an easy game to complete depending on your difficulty modifier. If you're up for the task, higher difficulties add realistic features, like bullet drop for long-range shots. That's where most of the challenge ends, since Sniper Elite VR's enemies aren't the smartest German war criminals in video games. They may sit and reload in the open without taking cover, or they may even run out of cover to reload to jump back into cover again. They're cannon fodder and only dangerous when in larger groups or firing from several directions. It can get challenging, but that usually isn't connected to anything that the NPC AI can muster on its own.

Thanks to frequent checkpoints, the game didn't feel like an unbearable challenge at any point in its seven-hour campaign, but there is some replayability due to additional difficulty levels, three star challenges per mission, and some levels offering stealth sections. The only points that tripped me up were later missions, which unlocked with a certain number of completed star challenges. You may end up replaying missions long before you reach the end credits, which is disrupting to the overall flow.

Comfort and movement options in Sniper Elite VR are full of modifiers that can accommodate any type of player. From teleportation, view blinders, and snap-turning to full locomotion and smooth turning, there are enough options to ensure a good gameplay experience regardless of your VR comfort level. If you're not fond of the kill cam, you can even adjust the frequency of the gory interludes to your liking.

Sound design across the board is decent, with some less-than-stellar examples in weapon sounds and some standouts for anything sniping-related. Generally, as a sum of its parts, it feels solid, which extends to the visual presentation. Even on the PC, the game is not going to win any awards for its graphics. Sniper Elite VR very evidently had to take all of the release platforms into account, which include a native PSVR and Quest 2 version. While Sniper Elite VR runs and looks better on the PC, the simple color palette, level design, and texture quality are a far cry from what the platform can do. It doesn't hurt the experience profoundly, but it's also far from a graphical showcase title.

Sniper Elite VR delivers where it counts the most — great sniping mechanics and a gory X-ray kill cam that looks phenomenal in VR — but the rest of the experience is a mixed bag. There's a forgettable story and mediocre shootouts when you're not handling a sniper rifle, and they both keep the game from standing out among more refined VR shooting offerings. If you are a fan of the franchise or you yearn for a good sniper rifle experience in VR, Sniper Elite VR is worth checking out.

Score: 7.0/10

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