Sniper Elite VR seeks to bring the long-running flat screen series into the immersive field without sacrificing what makes those games so loved to begin with, bullet cam and all. It has often been a sentiment of the VR community that while having new and exciting IPs in the market to help the medium stand out from the crowd is crucial, it can’t be denied how effective the bringing of an existing property into the virtual world can be for both quality of the game—and, of course, sales. Skyrim, Half-Life, Fallout, Iron-Man, and The Walking Dead all rank as well-received VR titles, as well as being an easy go-to starting point for those who are on the fence on VR—having that familiarity of a world be elevated in a virtual environment really does change your perception of VR.
Taking place in Italy during the Second World War, you are transported into the shoes of an elite sniper (makes sense) as you must stomp out the fascists from your homeland by any means possible. There is a bit more to the plot than this, with the 18 missions being strung together with a loose narrative that details your teams thinking behind each movement, giving a sense of reason as to why you would find yourself in the given mission other than needing to snipe some Nazis in the nuts.
Where the thin plot truly loses itself is with the delivery of it all. VR games often struggle with conveying story at the best of times, with the best answer so far being Valve’s way of storytelling through gameplay as was seen with Alyx, yet elsewhere it can often come down to you standing still while exposition is thrown at you. Sniper Elite doesn’t quite end up at that level, but its alternative to this might end up being worse. The story is given to you entirely through the narration of your character, given in the third person as if you the player are being told the story by an old relative. In theory this is a decent idea—but in practice it’s an absolutely gruelling experience, with dialogue feeling uninspired combined with a vocal performance that is mind-numbingly dull.
All that said, most won’t be here for the narrative—most just want to snipe. And snipe you shall. With those said 18 missions, they can easily be grouped into two types of design; your traditional sniper in a nest wave shooter, and the more complex linear levels that allow you to progress and complete set objectives. The latter is certainly the more engaging here, as they allow the title to stand out from the very crowded wave shooter genre in the VR market, encouraging you to be strategic with your sniping skills rather than just going guns blazing. I use the word “encourage” as Sniper Elite doesn’t truly penalise you for how you play it—hiding your shots under the sounds of a passing plane can often yield the same results as popping shots like you’re 360ing off the top of Rust. Yet playing silent will earn you a better score by the end of the level, as well as often being a factor in securing the three-star objectives given to each level.
Ultimately, it all comes back to the sniping, and thankfully that has been pretty much nailed here—perhaps more than any other VR title. Snipers feel tactile and responsive, with each bullet loaded having a great feeling to it as you get into a rhythm of popping off shots while being ready to load in the next round as quickly as possible. Holding the virtual weapon to your face allows you to see through the scope as you would expect, and while there can still often be a hint of shakiness to the weapons as you try to focus, the feeling is fantastic overall—and this, of course, bleeds into the bullet camera.
This bullet cam is arguably what the series is most famous for and, surprisingly, it works quite well in the VR space. Upon triggering the animation, which is done at random and can be decreased or increased via the options menu, the screen very quickly fades into the target you have shot showing them as a skeleton as the bullet passes through the specific area you have targeted. It can be pretty brutal at times, as your shot passes through the skulls of your enemies, but you will struggle not to let out a scream of glee the first few times it happens. After that, though, I did turn down the frequency as it began to feel intrusive in the flow of my gameplay, breaking the more immersive moments I would find myself in—kneeled down on my floor, back to the virtual wall, trying to take well-calculated shots at my targets before the cam quickly took my focus away.
That very quickly becomes the bread and butter of Sniper Elite VR, for better and for worse. You move from mission to mission slowly, increasing your skills as a sniper or opting to use your secondary assault weapon for a more FPS approach, and that is pretty much it—what you see is what you get here and it is difficult to say if that is even a bad thing. With the impressive graphics on the Quest 2 and the ease of access with that device, hopping into this world makes for a quick blast of excitement; yet the world here never feels realised, with there being a distinct lack of immersive elements in play. A lack of environmental objects to play with, along with the levels feeling separate from the player and the game itself due to not feeling the weight to any of the structures, makes for a disappointing style of traversal. Of course, you can crouch down and take cover, but nothing ever feels tactile out of the guns themselves, with you easily being able to stick your head through walls and continue the gunfights with ease.
If you’re looking for the classic Sniper Elite experience in VR, then you will likely be satisfied here. Even with my very little experience with the series, I could tell this was pretty spot-on with what I had played in the past—yet the flat screen version never resonated with me either. While the campaign is a decent 5 or so hour romp, it feels needlessly padded out, with some levels being locked until you go back and earn more stars in a previous mission, adding some needless filler in an already well-priced package for what you get. With a lack of depth and dull piece of storytelling, Sniper Elite VR is a relatively fun ride I have no desire to jump back onto to anytime soon—but for others, it might just be the VR title that they are looking for.
[A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes]