Sniper Elite 5: First impressions

I’m a total newbie to the Sniper Elite series, but I found myself swept up in the hype for the latest entry. With Sniper Elite 5 being available on Xbox Game Pass on release day, there was no reason not to give it a shot! The game was even available to pre-load (i.e. to download ahead of its actual launch) which is a time-saver on my slow internet connection. Although this isn’t a review of Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft once again gets high marks from me for their subscription service!

First up, Sniper Elite 5 on PC seems to have a bug related to its anti-cheat software. This bug prevented me from launching the game after it had been installed, but luckily there was a simple workaround: right-click and then choose “run as administrator” in order to make it work. An easy fix, but unfortunately for Sniper Elite 5 it didn’t exactly get off to a spectacular start as a result.

Lining up a shot in Sniper Elite 5.

However, the game itself seems to be well-polished. I didn’t encounter any major bugs and only one visual glitch in the couple of hours that I’ve spent with Sniper Elite 5 so far. Considering that recent years have seen too many games rushed out the door to meet arbitrary release windows, the fact that Sniper Elite 5 at least on PC seems to be in a decent, playable state is good news. It shouldn’t need to be good news, but that’s a reflection of where the video games industry as a whole is right now.

I’d been dimly aware of the Sniper Elite series, but I’d never given it serious consideration until now. I’d seen pictures and clips online from time to time – especially of the franchise’s signature X-ray kill cams – but beyond that I kind of dismissed it. In shooter games I rarely choose to play as a sniper if I have a choice, and stealth missions have never been my favourites in any action or adventure titles. So for those reasons and more, past games in the Sniper Elite franchise just never seemed like “my thing.” I’m not sure what it was that Sniper Elite 5 did with its marketing to change my mind and convince me to give it a shot this time around; perhaps it’s simply the relative lack of big new games as a result of pandemic-enforced delays.

Taking cover.

Regardless, I was curious enough to give Sniper Elite 5 a go, and I’ve been having fun. For some reason I had it in my head that this would be a first-person game; perhaps the screenshots and clips I’d seen in the past left that impression, as first-person mode is basically required for sniping. But when not using binoculars or the sniper scope, the rest of the game takes place from a third-person perspective. That was unexpected for someone who (clearly) had no idea what they were letting themselves in for! I like the mix that this provides; third-person gameplay for stealth and action combines well with looking down the sniper scope from a first-person perspective.

Gameplay itself is polished, and both major sides of the game – sniping and third-person stealth/action – work well. Sniper Elite 5 has some neat level design with expansive open areas and isolated, hidden spots that are perfect for spying or lining up the perfect shot. So far I’ve only participated in a couple of missions, but I like what I’ve seen.

Whee!

In terms of graphics and visuals, Sniper Elite 5 looks decent. I wouldn’t describe any of it as being stunning or beautiful; for my money there are more visually spectacular titles. The use of a lot of green, khaki, and brown tones is period-accurate for World War II France, but perhaps that kind of colour palette doesn’t lend itself to being described in those terms. Graphically, Sniper Elite 5 could go toe-to-toe with many games of the Xbox One/PlayStation 4 generation, but at least on my PC I didn’t feel it could offer much more than that.

This is a broader point that we should probably talk about in more detail some time, but the lack of availability for the Xbox Series S/X and PlayStation 5 has meant that many games are still being developed with the previous console generation – and its limitations – in mind. Sniper Elite 5 is playable on hardware that’s almost a decade old at this point, and that’s naturally going to hold it back. Every new console generation brings with it cross-gen titles like this, but the unique difficulties faced by new machines seems to have dragged out this period. By this point in the Xbox Series S/X and PlayStation 5’s lifecycles, I’d expect to see more titles like Sniper Elite 5 ditching last-gen consoles in favour of new hardware.

Sniper Elite 5 looks okay… but visually it’s nothing to write home about.

Voice acting in Sniper Elite 5 isn’t spectacular. It has a stilted, almost wooden quality that reminds me a little too much of amateur dramatics clubs and drama classes at school! Ten years ago I wouldn’t have found that to be worth remarking on, but a lot of modern titles have put way more effort into their voice acting and scriptwriting. Even games that don’t rely on big-name actors or celebrities to bring their characters to life have still managed to sound pretty great and realistic; I find that the writing and voice acting in Sniper Elite 5 kind of snaps me out of the moment.

The saving grace here is that cut-scenes seem to be relatively few and far between, with long sections of uninterrupted gameplay in between. German characters all speak German (with English subtitles) at least by default, which I will admit is a nice feature and adds something to the realism of the World War II setting.

I’m not wild about the voice acting or scriptwriting.

If you’ve ever played a third-person stealth game, you’ll be familiar with the way gameplay works in Sniper Elite 5. There’s a well-implemented cover system, the player character can conceal himself by ducking down, lying prone, or hiding in bushes or long grass. Enemies have line-of-sight that must be avoided, enemies can become alerted to the player’s presence and raise alarms, and making noise or firing weapons can draw attention. Nothing on this side of the game felt particularly groundbreaking, but all of it felt polished and well-constructed. Even as someone brand-new to the series, playing Sniper Elite 5 felt natural and intuitive, and I didn’t have to scrounge around to figure out the controls or how to interact with the environment.

Sniping works basically the same way it does in any first-person shooter, but with a few added extras that some faster-paced titles overlook. Most sniper rifles (as well as binoculars) have different zoom levels, the player character’s breathing can be controlled to steady the scope, and different body parts on enemy targets – including internal organs – can be targetted to get different results. Each shot feels unique, and I would wager that the game offers a decent amount of replayability; going back and redoing a mission will almost certainly lead to different ways to take down targets.

The view down the sniper scope.

This brings us to one of the Sniper Elite series’ signatures: kill cams, and particularly X-ray kill cams that show the damage inflicted inside of a target’s body. These things are pretty gory – even by the standards of a World War II video game – but they can be turned off in the menu if players aren’t interested in that level of brutality. For me, I’m pretty desensitised to that kind of thing, but I can understand if the raw, visceral nature of these slow-motion sequences is offputting to some folks.

As a technical feat, I think the inclusion of these X-ray cams is quite clever. Not only does the game have to detect where a bullet hit an enemy and whether they’re wounded, killed, etc., but it has to show a ballistic path from the barrel of the gun all the way to the target’s body. Then it has to calculate precisely where in the body the bullet would enter, which internal organs would be damaged, and what that would look like, then render it on screen in slow-motion but without stopping or interrupting the main cycle of gameplay. Regardless of whether it’s “your thing” or not, as a feat of game design I find it to be very impressive!

An example of the game’s X-ray kill cam.

Weapons can be customised in Sniper Elite 5, and this adds an additional dimension to gameplay. The player character can carry several different weapons at a time – as well as grenades, binoculars, health packs, and the like – and each main weapon can be customised and upgraded. Not all upgrades are available from the start, needing to be unlocked as the campaign progresses.

It can be fun in any game to customise a weapon and get it working exactly the way you want it to! Sniper Elite 5 offers a lot of options in this regard, and balancing the trade-offs between a more powerful but slower and louder weapon versus a quick and nimble one with a shorter range and less power is all part of the immersion and the experience. It’s possible to customise the player character’s weapon differently for different targets and different missions, and when combined with a variety of different weapons to choose from, this is another way in which Sniper Elite 5 makes the experience feel different each time. Cosmetic changes to weapons also show up in third-person mode when walking around, and I always appreciate details like that!

Customising a sidearm.

So I think that’s about all I have to say about Sniper Elite 5 at this stage. I may come back for an additional write-up/review once I’ve beaten the main campaign, but I’m not sure about that yet so don’t hold your breath! For now, suffice to say that I’m glad I stepped outside of my usual gaming niches to try something a little different. Stealth and sniping have never been my favourite aspects of action or shooter games, but Sniper Elite 5 manages to implement them in a fun way. Coming from me, that’s a pretty big compliment.

I’m not sure how I’d feel if I paid full price for Sniper Elite 5 on one of the new consoles, especially given that its graphics and visuals are definitely last-gen by today’s standards. But considering I was able to get the game on release day (and even pre-load it) via Xbox Game Pass for PC, I honestly can’t complain.

So watch out, Nazis! Sniper Dennis is coming to town!

Sniper Elite 5 is out now for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Sniper Elite 5 is also available on PC and Xbox platforms via the Xbox Game Pass subscription service. Sniper Elite 5 was developed, published by, and is the copyright of Rebellion Developments. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Evil Genius 2 – first impressions

This is somewhat of a rarity for me – writing up my first impressions of a brand-new game while it’s still brand-new! Evil Genius 2 – or to give it its full title, Evil Genius 2: World Domination – was released for PC only yesterday. It’s the sequel to Evil Genius, a game from 2004 that I don’t recall playing at the time, but the fun concept and aesthetic appealed to me enough to give this sequel a shot.

Evil Genius 2 is a base-builder, but that hardly sums it up. You take on the role of the titular “evil genius” – a supervillain of the kind you’d expect to see in a James Bond film, and the base you build is their lair. Perhaps Dr Evil from the Austin Powers film saga is a more appropriate comparison, given the game’s sense of humour! With a casino as a “front,” the objective is to make money, run evil schemes, and build a “doomsday device,” all the while avoiding detection and capture by the forces of good.

The game’s title screen.

If you’ve ever played a tycoon game – the likes of Theme Hospital, Rollercoaster Tycoon, etc. – then the style of gameplay will be familiar to you. Evil Genius 2 confronts you with a lot of different screens showing every aspect of your evil empire, and you have the ability to micromanage practically all of it.

Hiring, training, and firing of your evil minions – and even executing them if they displease you – is one aspect of the game. Minions can be trained to perform different tasks, both in the casino and behind the scenes, with a number of different specialisations. Guards can man guard posts and act as security, and valets can work in the casino greeting (and scamming) tourists, to give two examples.

A worker minion (left) and a casino employee minion (right).

But minions also need to be looked after – at least in a basic way! They have needs, such as food, rest, and relaxation time, and you’ll need to balance your evil lair to make sure that minions aren’t overworked.

There are a number of different rooms that can be constructed – by digging them into your mountain lair, naturally. Every evil genius needs an office, of course, and then a vault to store their ill-gotten gold. There are rooms to train minions, house them, generate power for the facility, and many more besides.

A staff room for minions.

Building is not entirely straightforward. Like other tycoon games, rooms are built on a grid. However, in order to simulate being underground, not every tile is able to be built on, and there are some which are inaccessible – at least in the beginning. This can make building rooms a tad frustrating, as can the camera control. If you don’t get the room perfect and need to edit it before it’s built, it can take a few camera rotations and clicks to remove unwanted sections and get the room laid out the way you want.

I also found doors to be a tad frustrating. In short, doors can only be placed in an area four tiles wide, and need an additional two tiles of rock/dirt on either side. Not every room needs a door, some can simply be built directly off another room or corridor, but this requirement was odd and unexpected. Doors can be important for security reasons, especially in rooms like a vault!

This feels like it’s more than $40,000 worth of gold – at least at today’s prices!

As with any new tycoon game, it will take a while to fully get the hang of the way all of the different in-game screens, stats, and systems work. Evil Genius 2 throws a lot of different aspects at you all at once, and players who aren’t used to this kind of experience might feel overwhelmed. This issue is exacerbated by the lack of a tutorial. The game simply drops you into gameplay right from the title screen.

There are three game types available, the first of which is a “quick start” that drops you into an already-open casino. The second mode is a standard game, and this offers three levels of difficulty, as well as a custom difficulty selector allowing players to choose from a variety of difficulty options. This customisation is great, and is something I wish more games would offer. For example, it’s possible to tone down the threat from the forces of good to focus more on managing the lair, or to reduce the cost of different types of in-game events like evil schemes or scientific research. All of which is great!

The custom difficulty options screen.

The final game type is a sandbox mode, allowing players to build their perfect evil lair without limitations. As is often the case in games like Evil Genius 2, this is a great place to get started! Learning more about the way the game works and what some of the requirements are while not under pressure is a much more enjoyable experience – at least for me!

In the couple of hours I’ve spent with Evil Genius 2 so far, I didn’t see any bugs, glitches, or other issues, though there are two very minor points of note. Firstly, booting up the game prompted a warning message, telling me that my graphics drivers were out-of-date. This isn’t the case (I checked to make sure) so I’m not sure what caused this warning to occur. Regardless, the game plays fine once you get into it and doesn’t suffer from any graphical issues, low frame-rates, or anything of the sort. On my 4K display it looks fantastic.

The warning pop-up.

Secondly, on a 4K display (my monitor has a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels) the initial pop-up when the game launches is very small. The desktop icon is likewise a low resolution; both are clearly designed for screens no larger than 1080p even though the game itself supports 4K. This isn’t something you have to contend with very much, but it’s worth pointing it out. In 2021, games shouldn’t have these silly issues as 4K has become commonplace on PC.

The art style is cute and cartoonish, a step away from the realism a lot of modern titles go for. I like games that are visually different, and tycoon games like Evil Genius 2 do well with this kind of exaggerated style. If you’ve played Two Point Hospital I think you’d agree that the art style – bright colours, cartoonish characters, and bold, silly items and décor – is clearly drawing inspiration from a similar place.

I like the game’s visual style (minions pictured).

Evil Genius 2 has a pleasant soundtrack to compliment its visual style, and while I wouldn’t say I was blown away and need to rush out and buy a copy, it’s just fine. It works well in combination with the rest of the game. Sound effects are the same – they work very well with the overall cartoony style.

The voices for a couple of the game’s characters are interesting! Actors Brian Blessed, best known for his role in Flash Gordon and for being a mainstay on British television, and Samantha Bond, known for her role as Moneypenny in four of the James Bond 007 films (GoldenEye through to Die Another Day) star as two of the game’s evil villains (i.e. playable main characters). That was unexpected, and I had to double-check to make sure I’d got that right!

Samantha Bond (pictured in the 1999 James Bond film The World Is Not Enough) lent her voice to Evil Genius 2.

I like Evil Genius 2, but more than that I want to like it. I remember tycoon games from the mid-1990s like Theme Park and Theme Hospital with incredible fondness, and this is a great attempt to recreate that older style of gameplay. Some modern tycoon games can go overboard with the stats and micromanagement options, making just learning the basics of how to play feel like a chore and a full-time job. Evil Genius 2 seems to have avoided that pitfall and struck the right balance between recreating that older style of game, but bringing it into the 2020s.

With a 10% discount at time of writing, Evil Genius 2 will set you back £32 (or $36 US). That’s not cheap, but it’s also not catastrophically expensive either. However, there is a “season pass” available to purchase for an additional £23 (or $25). Judging by the size of the DLC screen, there’s room for a lot of potential future updates and/or expansions, so watch this space. I would suggest that expansions could add new lairs – there are only three in the base game right now – or new playable villains, as there are currently four. I don’t think that these feel like extreme limitations, as part of the fun of a game like Evil Genius 2 is going back and replaying levels, completely redesigning your base.

Emma, one of four playable evil geniuses in the game.

In short, there’s a lot of potential replayability even with the four characters and three levels currently available. The existence of a season pass, though, seems to suggest there won’t be significant free expansions or updates, and I would assume that if you want to take advantage of new content as and when it’s available you’ll need to either buy the season pass or buy the individual expansions. This makes Evil Genius 2 basically a full-price game at £54 (or $61 US).

Evil Genius 2 started strongly, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. Over the next few weeks I’m sure to spend a lot more time with it, and if I have anything more to say perhaps I’ll write more about it at that time. For now, suffice to say I’m having fun with it. Living out my evil genius fantasy is a lot easier in video game form than it is in real life!

Evil Genius 2: World Domination is out now for Windows PCs and is available to purchase on Steam. Evil Genius 2: World Domination was developed and published by Rebellion Developments. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.