Five games in and sniping Nazis still hasn't gotten old. Whether it's a well-placed bullet in the back of the skull, a shot right through the iris of an unaware enemy, or a 200-yard peach that collides with a pair of testicles, Sniper Elite's schlocky long-range action remains gloriously fun. It's in the moments outside of the sniper's scope where the series has previously struggled to compel, but that all changed when Sniper Elite 4 arrived with refined stealth mechanics and massive, open-ended maps. In picking up where that game left off, Sniper Elite 5 doesn't feel quite as revolutionary in comparison, but with some smart new additions and a more ambitious emphasis on player agency and experimentation, this is another thrilling Nazi-hunting adventure where sniping is king.
Once again, you're thrust into the mud-caked boots of American marksman Karl Fairburne, this time deep behind enemy lines in occupied France. Sniper Elite 5 is set in the weeks and days just before, during, and after D-Day, when Allied forces launched a joint sea-based and airborne invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Your initial mission is to covertly disrupt enemy operations in preparation for the French theatre of war, destroying AA guns, disabling communications, blowing up fortified coastal positions, and so on. It doesn't take long, however, before you unearth yet another dastardly Nazi plot that could turn the tide of war, so it's up to Fairburne to put a stop to their plans and save the world from catastrophe.
You'll do this by sniping, blasting, and stabbing your way across various locales in northern France, from a picturesque chateau in the middle of the verdant countryside to the obliterated coastal town of Saint-Nazaire, where the Loire river heads inland. These environments are often gorgeous, especially early on, with the colorful scenery providing a stark contrast to the violent bloodshed happening all around it--bloodshed that most frequently bursts forth from the barrel of a sniper rifle.
Aiming your crosshair at a Nazi's head before taking a deep breath and pulling the trigger still feels magnificent. There's a gratifying rhythm to lining up your shot, adjusting for distance and wind, and then watching your bullet propel across the map until it collides in the most grisly way imaginable. Sniper Elite 5 has mastered the cinematic bullet camera, with each shot ending in a violent cacophony of broken bones, ruptured organs, and exploding eyeballs, all captured in X-ray vision to reveal the brutal details. Close-range combat with pistols and SMGs is solid by comparison--with enemies crumpling from your shots in a satisfying manner--and you can now switch to a first-person view and aim down sights to achieve slightly greater accuracy. Fairburne still isn't quite as nimble or fluid in his movement as, say, Metal Gear Solid V's Venom Snake, so you will encounter a few awkward moments where you struggle to get into the right position to perform a takedown or mantle over a piece of cover.
Combat does feel more personal in Sniper Elite 5, though, thanks to the inclusion of a deep weapon customization system. There are various workbenches scattered throughout each mission, with each one allowing you to augment your guns with a wide variety of different attachments and add-ons. You can choose from numerous scopes, muzzle attachments, ammo types, foregrips, and more. They might not all be strictly period-appropriate, but tinkering with a weapon until it's tailor-made for your playstyle is a treat. You might opt to equip one of the many suppressors and then combine that with subsonic ammo to shrink your sniper's audible range, letting you take out targets without having to mask the sound of your shots with a misfiring generator or the thunderous roar of a passing Luftwaffe. The trade-off is that doing so will increase the amount of bullet drop, making long-range shots harder to pull off, but you can also alleviate this side effect somewhat by equipping other property-enhancing attachments.
Taking the stealthy approach is encouraged, but there's nothing stopping you from charging in guns blazing or adopting a chaotic mixture of the two disparate playstyles. This has been the case in the series before, but Sniper Elite 5 is also more willing to give you increased agency in how you complete a level. Recon planes and French resistance fighters will sometimes provide you with intel on potential routes or points of interest within a level. You might find out that a bridge in the west is lightly defended but encounters semi-regular traffic from patrolling vehicles, while a path through the forest in the east is heavily guarded but offers more sneaking opportunities due to the tall grass surrounding the area. Alternatively, you might simply plant mines on the road to destroy any vehicles before they can reach the bridge, or head to the top floor of a house overlooking the forest and snipe each foot soldier from a distance. There are dozens of possibilities no matter how you choose to approach a given situation.
The maps themselves are absolutely huge, too, covering vast swaths of land where a single level might encompass everything from sandy beaches and dense woodland to open fields and small villages. Retrieving classified Nazi intel from the aforementioned chateau might be your end goal in that particular mission, but before you can even sniff its walls, there are numerous German patrols and checkpoints blocking your path, farms and ransacked houses just begging to be explored, auspicious sniping perches to uncover, and assassination targets to eliminate.
Fairburne's platforming prowess has been expanded upon to increase your options when traversing these large spaces. You can now use vines to scale walls, shimmy across ledges to infiltrate open windows, and utilize ziplines to quickly abandon a compromised sniper spot or cover a large amount of ground in a couple of seconds. This enhanced repertoire allows for more variety in how each map is designed, too. By spotting vines snaking up the outside of a building, you can climb in from the outside instead of resorting to blowing up a reinforced door to enter from an underground path, or simply rushing through the front door with a Thompson in hand.
The freedom each map offers is fantastic, but there are unfortunately a few too many moments where the illusion is shattered by invisible barricades, whether it's a waist-high wall you can't clamber over--even though it looks the same as the ones you can--or a thin row of bushes that prove impenetrable. The maps aren't linear in any sense of the word, but these barriers can make it feel like you're being guided in a particular direction at times. They also prove frustrating when you're trying to avoid an enemy patrol only to discover that you're trapped on either side of a path by foliage.
The AI is fine for the most part, but the Nazis you're up against do have a habit of oscillating between being deadly and dimwitted at a moment's notice. One of the best aspects of sniping is that, if you can do it discreetly, it's possible to kill an enemy who's surrounded by others and send everyone into a mass panic. It's here where they feel most human, as without hearing the shot or being able to physically see you, they have no way of knowing where you are. If they do hear the shot, they're able to triangulate your position, at which point they'll attempt to snuff you out. It's a little too easy to escape and simply circle around behind them for a few easy kills, but experimenting and devising new strategies based on the AI's behavior is a rewarding endeavor. That's less true when you're spotted by an impossibly eagle-eyed soldier or your cover's blown with no indication of how it happened. These instances are infrequent, but it's still disappointing when your plans are upended due to finicky AI.
Playing through the campaign with another player in co-op lessens these shortcomings a tad, but Sniper Elite 5 also introduces a multiplayer invasion mode that's similar to those found in the Souls games or Deathloop. By turning this mode on, you'll earn more XP for everything you do, which can then be spent on various upgrades like increased health and a larger inventory. However, you'll be susceptible to invasion from another player who can enter your game as an Axis sniper. This transforms the game into a tense cat-and-mouse affair as you both attempt to take one another out. The invader can make use of the AI to track down Fairburne, while the invaded player has the opportunity to phone a scout and reveal their hunter's last known position. Much like the rest of the game, there's a lot of freedom in how you handle an invasion: You might try to lure the other player into an open area, plant traps where you think they might go, or hunker down in a defensible position and hope you can snipe them before they snipe you. Whichever side of the coin you're on, invasions are a nerve-wracking new addition that play into the series' strengths with a focus on stealth and the thrill of long-distance shooting.
Sniper Elite 5 follows in its immediate predecessor's footprints with another massive open-ended sandbox for you to experiment in. There's a renewed emphasis on player agency this time around that factors into every aspect of its design, from the way each sprawling map is constructed, right down to the addition of a broad weapon customization system. Invisible barriers tend to break the immersion at times, and the AI can be overly finicky as it veers between competence and incompetence. Fairburne isn't the most graceful protagonist, either, but these shortcomings aren't damaging enough to seriously dampen the glee that comes from shooting Nazis in the face from 300 yards away. When it comes to long-range combat, Sniper Elite 5 has mastered the craft.