Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
While shooters in VR are hardly new, many of them lean towards the more arcade like, wave-based formats that focus heavily on high quantities of enemies and fast reflexes. However, my personal preference in shooters leans towards sniping, even in online games like Call of Duty. Sniper Elite VR brings a different flavor to virtual reality shooters, and despite a few rough spots here and there, the overall experience is enjoyable.
The Sniper Elite series has long been my favorite of its kind. There’s action, but more to it – there’s a good deal of strategy in picking your spots and figuring out how to take out your target and then survive the counter attack. While the focus is certainly on getting that one, perfect shot – there’s plenty of action to be had in the series as well. I was curious how that would be handled here, as the series has grown over the years to feature larger, more explorable environments that tend not to work so well in VR. Missions in the series can run rather long as well, which can be an issue if you’re a gamer with a sensitivity to VR sickness.
To their credit, Rebellion seems to have taken these considerations to heart when designing Sniper Elite VR. For one, the stages are in somewhat smaller, more digestible bites that seem like the right call given what I said about motion sickness and how some people just can’t sustain thirty-plus minutes of VR action. You essentially have a couple types of missions, ones revolve around stealth and the other around getting set up to take out your targets. They have a certain ebb and flow where you find yourself aggressively stalking a target, or holing up somewhere to fend off your would-be killers.
The stage design might be a bit controversial for fans of the series, as it eschews the larger, more open-world level design of the most recent Sniper Elite titles for narrower, more focused passages and objectives. To me, this is the right call. You can walk or teleport to nearby locations as your locomotion options – something done in many shooters in VR, and both work well here. However, I think the somewhat more controlled passages and chokepoints suit the gameplay of Sniper Elite VR quite well. Certainly having larger areas to explore would have a certain level of appeal, but the risk is that the game would be frustrating to play as well. While the name of the game is sniper, you do have other weapons such as machine guns and grenades (no melee options though, which seems at odds with some of the stealth mechanics when you have to pop up and shoot someone with a pistol instead of a more silent takedown technique) – but the focus is on the sniper gameplay. To that end, having people coming at you from a variety of angles at all times would have likely been a problem in VR that is largely mitigated in a more traditional shooting game, so I have no qualms with how the levels are laid out.
Admittedly, the stages themselves are a bit lifeless. There’s little to no interaction outside of finding your hiding spots or perhaps shooting an explosive red barrel strategically located here and there along the way, but the actual visuals are pretty great in virtual reality. In terms of the visual aesthetic, I see a lot of Sniper Elite III assets applied here. The setting is 1943 Italy and is told through a gamely voiced narration, even if I never really got hooked by the story itself. The rest of the presentation is quite solid. Audio is generally good in this series to begin with, and that holds true here. It’s nice that directional sounds can tip you off when you’re being shot at, or you’re ducking behind the environment to try and avoid detection. Little things that help to support the bigger picture, so to speak.
Where Sniper Elite VR is at its best however, is the actual sniping gameplay – and yet sometimes at its worst. I think if VR hardware continues to improve and gain precision, titles like this will only become more enjoyable. The nuts and bolts of aiming and shooting are generally quite solid, with the controls having you raise your hands up in front of your face, a gentle pull of the trigger simulating how you can hold your breath to steady the shot as you steadily take your shot. With the angle of the scope affecting things like focus and shadowing within the scope lens, the level of attention is fascinating and when everything comes together, Sniper Elite VR is exhilarating. I was holding my breath even as my character was, even though there was no real impact on the game – it’s just that in those moments, I was really losing myself within the immersion.
Unfortunately, the technology is not always there yet, and there were times when the PSVR seemed to lose center of focus, or the controllers didn’t quite track the way they felt like they should have been. While this did not happen overly often, the times it did were major impediments to the illusion, taking me out of the moment to deal with whatever technical issue was taking place. There were a few times those hiccups cost me my shot because I lost my narrow window of opportunity to a hitch in the system. Undoubtedly when that happened, it was frustrating – but given that it worked far more often than not and those moments where it all came together were just so damned intense? Sniper Elite VR comes out ahead far more often than not in this exchange. However, I did try several of the levels just using a traditional Xbox controller versus the Move (usually when I had to repeat a stage due to needing additional precision after a technical issue caused me to fail the mission), so you have options there depending on your preference.
There is a decent amount of content to be had here in Sniper Elite VR as well. I mentioned that the stages / missions were broken up into what felt like bite-sized pieces, and that is true throughout almost all of the eighteen missions. There are multiple levels of difficulty here too for those looking for a challenge or more of an arcade-style experience. I think I spent a bit over a dozen hours playing the game. There were a few do-overs required, as mentioned above, but by and large the experience felt appropriately sized and streamlined and certainly provides far better bang for its buck than a lot of the rather shallow shooters that have come out for VR over the last few years.
Sniper Elite VR pulls you in with flashy kill shots and some interesting presentation around the actual process of sniping. The PSVR’s tracking is not as precise as this title needs at times, but that is more a limitation of the hardware than the developers. Stage design makes sense, even if it perhaps seems a bit simplified when compared to the last couple of entries in the Sniper Elite series, and stealth feels a bit barren without any kind of melee options. These quibbles however are relatively minor in the big picture of what this title delivers. Sniper Elite VR is intense, immersive and simply put – a whole lot of fun.Score: 8 / 10