Sniper Elite VR brings Rebellion’s dependable design to headsets with refreshed energy and a few new tricks. More in our Sniper Elite VR review.
The Gewehr 43 is Sniper Elite VR’s worst-best weapon. On PC and Quest at least, most of the game’s arsenal of long-range skull shatterers require routine: load the clip, pull the bolt, line the sights and squeeze the trigger. Then –unless you’ve got the gestures down to a tee — bring the rifle back down to load once more. This isn’t an animation, this isn’t a button press, it’s your physical actions.
But the Gewehr’s ability to unload multiple rounds without interruption makes it an attractive alternative to all of that exhausting manual labor. It also makes you sloppy, tempting you to pull the trigger safe in the knowledge you can course-correct any mistakes with the next round a moment later. And so a game of lethal precision turns more into a round of bowling at a drunken birthday party; sometimes you’ll shoot straight, most of the time it’s going in the gutter, but you’ll get to the end all the same. It’s a dangerous reminder that, without Sniper Elite VR’s invigorating physicality, without the dependency on player skill and consistent performance, the game wouldn’t be all that memorable.
Thank god the thing only puts in an appearance in a handful of levels, then, because Rebellion’s long-running series — here co-developed by Just Add Water — feels wholly refreshed with any other rifle (or other firearm) in your hand.
Sniper Elite VR plays very much like a mid-tier console shooter: modest length (5+ hours depending on difficulty and skill), pleasing production and the usual gamut of mission types that you’d expect any campaign to cycle through. Throw in the WW2 backdrop and it’s essentially an exercise in nostalgia for a bygone era of console shooters. But, whereas alternating between sniper and infiltration missions (peppered in with a few action setpieces) might feel familiar with a gamepad, in VR it’s both a welcome step up from a lot of other shooter campaigns and even enhanced to some degree.
It’s the weapons that really shine. The game’s far from a simulation, automating some of the busy work behind reloading and aiming, but strikes a great balance between accessibility and maintaining some sense of authenticity. Along with bolt-action rifles, most guns in the game require some combination of removing and replacing a clip then pulling a charging handle or something to similar effect.
What first feels cumbersome soon becomes a process, one that instills a sense of urgency for each and every bullet you fire. Miss the mark in a sniper’s nest and you’re not only giving the game away, you’ll also have to fumble a reload under fire before getting your bearings through the scope once more. Charge into a Nazi bunker with guns blazing and, if you haven’t killed everyone by the end of your clip, they’ll likely tag you before you’ve fully restocked.
This, and the need for a steady hand for a straight shot, makes Sniper Elite VR a shooter that demands effort and attention, even if its guns don’t carry quite the same weight as, say, The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners. Playing on the medium difficulty, I often found myself pinned down behind desks and rubble, swearing as I hurriedly tried to switch out clips and then training my eye to my sights as I risked leaning out for quick, controlled potshots. Machine guns convincingly rattle if you hold the trigger down for too long and a shotguns’ wide spray makes it great for instant return fire but a death sentence if you get caught needing to reload every individual shell in the middle of combat. It really helps underscore that you’re fighting in a different, more archaic era of weapons technology to a lot of other VR shooters.
Moreover, there’s an almost incidental degree of added realism that really works when it comes to the sniping. I was always aware, for example, of the minuscule movement my hand would make as I squeezed the Oculus Touch trigger and how that would impact my aim. Sniper Elite VR also doesn’t need that feature where you click in the stick to hold your breath because, guess what, you just hold your breath. In some senses, it genuinely does feel like the series has found a natural new home inside VR.
Not everything works. The melee combat is an obvious afterthought that sees enemies fall down with so much as a tap on the head. Its feather-light implementation stands in huge contrast to the otherwise weighty combat, but Rebellion and JAW still got a lot more right than they did wrong.
And, yes, the campaign’s pacing is pretty routine by traditional gaming standards; you’ll sneak a bit and snipe a bit, maybe provide cover fire for an ally in one mission then defend a certain zone with them in the next. Sometimes you’re setting explosive charges, sometimes you’re clearing an area of all enemies.
But, here’s the thing, we could actually use a bit of routine in VR shooters right now. Sniper Elite VR might not have the impressive realism of a Boneworks, for example, and it won’t go down as a groundbreaking experience, but it is a game made with undeniable expertise. It knows how to pace a campaign, when to open up environments and how to make its enemies behave in combat. Its laundry list of FPS objectives might be unoriginal by flatsceen standards but, in VR, it also offers rare variety. It’s exactly what so many VR gamers repeatedly ask for; a fresh, story-driven campaign that isn’t just a disguised arena shooter or padded out with roguelite mechanics. You can, it seems, teach an old dog new tricks.
Stealth, for example, works really well here. That might be because there’s no real incentive to leave enemies untouched, so they usually end up dead before they can do anything too silly. But the lack of that clumsiness helps keep the experience grounded, and poking your head out from behind cover, scoring a headshot with a silenced pistol and then slowly weaving between desks to move on undetected works better here than in a lot of other stealth games. That said, objective markers and stealth indicators aren’t exactly complementary to an immersive VR experience and, to that end, you can entirely strip the UI should you so desire.
Less forgivable, though, is the campaign padding which is unashamedly cheap. There are a decent number of levels in the game and a decent chunk of them are even on impressively large maps, sometimes even with multiple routes to objectives (though there are some shorter, less dimensional missions too). But there’s also a handful of times you somewhat conveniently revisit past locations in missions that are more remixes than they are genuinely new. And in what feels like a knowing attempt to pad the experience out even further, campaign missions require you to gather a certain number of stars before unlocking them, which means you’ll almost certainly need to replay older missions over again once you’ve unlocked better starting weapons. My final playtime for the campaign was definitely over seven or so hours, but I’d estimate at least two hours of that was spent grinding those stars.
Sniper Elite VR Review – Final Impressions
Sniper Elite has always been a bit of a b-movie treat by normal gaming standards and, while that’s still true of Sniper Elite VR, some of the series’ staple elements are really enhanced by the platform. Aiming down the scope, steadying your sights and pulling the trigger before readying the next round is a calculated and convincing process with perfectly streamlined authenticity. Throw in a variety of other objective types across a decent-length campaign, including comprehensive stealth segments and brilliantly rustic street shootouts and you’ve got a VR FPS that will tick a lot of boxes for a lot of headset owners. It’s not the platform’s most groundbreaking shooter, but Sniper Elite VR is proof you can teach an old dog new tricks, and that’s more than enough.
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