There are dozens of high-quality shooters available at the moment, but few offer the pace, strategy and consideration of Sniper Elite 4. The follow-up to Elite III is set in 1943 Italy during World War 2.
As the title suggests, you're an elite sniper, Karl Fairburne; a covert agent helping the Italian Resistance take down the Fascist regime of the time. Played in third-person, switching to crosshair first-person view to fire your long-range rifle, the game has a good balance between the two viewpoints. It's like Hitman on steroids meets Metal Gear Solid, with some Assassin's Creed elements thrown in for good measure.
There's a glut of other weapons to take advantage of, too, from pistols to automatics, which can be allocated via the quick-select weapon wheel. Such guns are best for firing in closer quarters if you're not a stealth pro and get caught out in the field. Go too gung ho and you'll probably not get far though. But Sniper Elite allows you to make such tactical decisions, so playing through a level can be tackled in a variety of ways as you see fit.
The level we played at E3 begins to the side of a bridge with a giant artillery mortar cannon atop it. The mission is simple: blow the bridge. Which, as we found, is a lot harder than it seems. Partly because there are so many fun distractions and potential routes to take. Use binoculars to mark out Fascist opponents, set up mine traps for passing armoured cars, shoot explosive barrels to cause fiery carnage for those nearby.
It's the sniper aspect of the game that's critical though, which has been setup with added precision. Marked enemies have distance markers, which you'll need to keep in mind if you're going to hit a far-away target (scope zeroing has been added to this game too). From magnification zoom to heart-rate, critical crosshair placement can be aided by using the right bumper button to slow the flow of time slightly for a pinpoint strike.
Get that right and the slow-motion X-ray kill cam that follows is something special. Bodies' exteriors become transparent, revealing the bones and organs within, with critical damage observed in kills. We scored some headshots, but the game goes beyond this: we even scored an eyeshot once. And, if you've seen the gameplay trailer, you'll know that even testicle shots are possible. And you'll score extra experience points for such kills. It's kind of gruesome but totally awesome.
If you're a Sniper Elite 3 fan then you'll love Sniper Elite 4. It's a much larger campaign game, with each level considerably bigger than the series has ever offered before. It's meticulously crafted, too, with all sorts of places to hide, plus you can now traverse obstacles in a way that wasn't possible before. Clamber along the outside edges of bridges, drop between open windows; basically become a stealthy badass, Assassin's Creed style.
Should you get caught out and killed then the game works with a checkpoint system, so you'll be reverted back to your last major moment within a level. It's not cruel enough to bring you back to the very beginning each time.
The game looks sumptuous too. Running in 1080p on both Xbox One and PS4, there's as much detail on screen as there is in the game's sniper setup. And although we didn't get to play it, there's a dedicated co-op mode too - which we suspect will be a whole lot of fun.
If you've looked at Sniper Elite games before and thought "boring" then Sniper Elite 4 really ups the ante. It strikes a great balance between stealth and action.
Developers Rebellion might have been playing a fair chunk of Metal Gear Solid 5 in recent months, because we felt more than a hint of that in the gameplay. Which is high praise, given how much that game impresses.
Whether you're a World War 2 era fan, or just up for a tactical shooter challenge, Sniper Elite 4 strikes a sound balance. The big question will be whether it can maintain interest over a long campaign and inject enough variety to be a bona fide five-star release. We'll find out for sure in February 2017, but things are already looking very promising indeed.