Sniper Elite 5

The opening level in Sniper Elite 5, The Atlantic Wall, feels somewhat reminiscent of the opening level of Sniper Elite 4, San Celini, at least in the first few minutes — perhaps that’s mainly because both serve as tutorials.

But once you start to peel back that onion, you’ll find a multitude of layers beneath its exterior. Once you freely weave your way through open buildings in order to avoid street patrols, or along serpentine alleyways and up and down various stairways and ramps in one of the small coastal villages that make up the enormous opening salvo of a level, you’ll start to see how far the level design has evolved since the previous Sniper Elite title.

Whereas the first mission of Sniper Elite 4 was very much a hand-holding slog of a tutorial, practically made rendered un-playable after the first time through (at least for my personal tastes), Sniper Elite 5‘s tutorial elements don’t drag the experience down by forcing you along a linear path while walking you through the basics. These elements feel far more natural and nuanced in Sniper Elite 5, and the map itself feels more like an actual level as well. Plus, there are a number of side objectives and collectibles to discover along the way, which reward replay and exploration.

Sniper Elite 5

Discovering these side objectives — which in some cases will require you to back track a little bit or take an elongated detour while making your way towards the main objective — feels organic and fresh. Sometimes you’ll be rifling through the pockets of enemy soldiers you just rifled (in a completely different way), only to find a piece of intel that perhaps contains the combination to a safe somewhere in the level; other times you might find a key that unlocks an armory you couldn’t gain entry to earlier. I have to say that Rebellion has really stepped up it’s mystery-box approach to level design.

The second and third missions pivot a bit from the mostly open, rural, and coastal countryside setting of the first level, dropping you into a more confined area, with small farmlands and beachheads circling towering central castles you need to infiltrate. There is just as much to discover here as there was in the first map, but it’s compacted into more tightly controlled labyrinths replete with winding passageways, out-of-the-way corridors, and claustrophobic interiors.

Each location feels lived-in but at the point of collapse due to this exhaustive war. I get some strong Hitman 3 vibes from some of the design choices for these levels, and I felt like I had only managed to see maybe 40% of each in my initial playthrough. That feeling was corroborated by my lack of completion for the collectibles list for each level in the menu screen.

Sniper Elite 5

Environmental traps also make a return in Sniper Elite 5, although these are few and far between, and they always feel canned once you discover them. A group of guards — or even just one lone unsuspecting Nazi — will eventually find their way underneath that conveniently placed dangling platform that is holding a couple of boxes mid-transport. The precariously loose gargoyle affixed to the castle wall just so happens to be where that one guard takes his apple-eating break. These feel a little too on-the-nose and gamey, and as a result I rarely ever engaged with them, preferring instead to get my hands dirty with an up-close and personal touch.

I spent just over three hours in the first map alone (that’s three hours clocked, but probably more than that due to the trial-and-error nature of my session), which I think emphasizes just how dense and interwoven these levels can be. And it truly feels as if the game is rewarding your efforts to explore off the beaten path or to try alternate routes. In fact, much like in Hitman, you can even find and unlock alternate or more convenient starting points throughout each level, which will knock off a bit of the infiltration time on your next attempt.

Sniper Elite 5

Overall, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well these first three levels are designed, As a longtime Sniper Elite fan, I think these are the best levels across the entire series. That feeling when you stumble upon a tunnel tucked away in a seemingly random corner in the hopes of sidetracking an enemy motorcycle and sidecar patrol, only to realize that this leads to a long-forgotten backdoor that not only saves your time and hassle but also bullets, is a thrilling one.

I’m not a developer, but I get a sense that this feeling is hard to get just right. After playing three levels of Sniper Elite 5, I think Rebellion so far has nailed it, and I am definitely looking forward to seeing what the rest of the game’s missions have to offer.

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