Depending on your luck, your experience with VR is probably going to be quite different from other people. If you were unlucky to have drawn the short straw in the inner ear department, then playing most VR games is like chugging a bucket of ipecac. A good VR game goes out of its way to make the users as comfortable as possible, but there's only so much they can do to make VR palatable to some people. Enter Sniper Elite VR, a game that combines a great set of VR comfort features with gameplay moments that will make your inner ear and eyes feel like they're occupying different continents.
Sniper Elite VR | Shoot, Bang, Ouch
Sniper Elite VR is the latest entry in the ongoing, and now insanely huge, Sniper Elite tactical shooter series from Rebellion Developments. As the name suggests, you control an elite sniper on the battlefield, taking down your enemies from a distance through the lens of a high-powered sniper rifle. Also as the name suggests, this entry takes place in virtual reality, but still has many of the hallmarks that make this a Sniper Elite game, including taking place during World War II, and giving you an X-ray close-up of your victim's insides exploding outwards.
The storyline follows the activities of the partisan Italian resistance movement during the height of World War II. With the country under the oppressive boot heels of the fascist german military, you and the rest of the resistance members must work together to fight back against the much more powerful military force, and that means using stealth and guerilla tactics. The story is entirely told through the framing device of the main character as an old man, living through his memories of the war. So, spoiler alert, you survive.
Jokes aside, the story in Sniper Elite VR is actually pretty interesting, in concept at least. While there have been plenty of movies about the Italian resistance, video games haven't really covered it much outside of the occasional mention or level in other war games. In the details, the storyline falls apart. The only real character in the game is you as the narrator and protagonist. You don't get characterized too much, and there are no real cutscenes to tie everything together, you just move from level to level with a still image and the same voice-actor narrative everything.
Sniper Elite VR | Line Em Up
The story being a little weak doesn't really matter too much. It seems very clear that the main draw here is being able to feel like a real sniper in VR, and the game does manage to pull off a decent amount of immersion at least. When you first boot the game you choose from 3 options for different levels of comfort, and these settings affect both visual and control changes. On the lower settings, you have no freedom of movement, relying on teleporting around the place to make your way through the level. There's also some vignetting when moving and turning to reduce nausea.
On higher settings, you get full 3D movement and can run around the level to your heart's, or stomach's, content. While the full control does give you much more control, it's let down slightly by the hardware. To control the game on PSVR you use 2 PlayStation Move controllers, neither of which have an analog stick. Instead, you have to use the face buttons on your right hand to look and strafe left and right, and the buttons on your left hand to move forward, backward, and crouch. This control scheme technically works fine, but there were so many times throughout gameplay that I ended up spinning around instead of strafing or vice versa. It feels like playing a PS1-era FPS game.
You'll also have to deal with those classic Sniper Elite X-Ray shots when you make a headshot or other good hit on an enemy. This involves the camera zooming into the enemy and showing you the bullet traveling through their body. While this is very cool looking in VR, it's incredibly disorientating, even for someone like me who has never experience VR-induced sickness. I have it on good authority that if you do suffer from VR-sickness, these scenes make your stomach feel like it's trying to crawl up your throat and kill you.
When it comes to actually fire your weapons in Sniper Elite VR it relies on motion controls. You have large guns slung over your shoulders, two side arms at your hip, and grenades and ammo on your belt. You use your hands to grab things and use them on other things, as you'd probably expect. This mostly functions fine, but there are a few niggles that make it annoying at times. The developers went into a crazy amount of detail with the action you need to take, and honestly, sometimes extra detail isn't actually a good thing.
Sniper Elite VR | Draw, Bolt, Load, Bolt, Fire, Bolt
Being a World War II shooter, all of the rifles and machine guns in Sniper Elite VR are either bolt or lever action. That means that you're constantly having to pull a bolt back, either when loading or firing depending on the gun. The issue is that the bolts on most guns are really close to where you have to grab the gun with one of your hands. So, whenever you're trying to grab onto a gun to resume firing under pressure, you tend to accidentally grab the bolt, instead of the gun.
There were numerous occasions where instead of firing and taking out an enemy sniper, I would take hits because while I was trying to grab the trigger, the bolt had been knocked back. There are just so many steps to take when reloading and fire, and it's not like some VR shooting games where reloading feels simple and easy to do. Sure, it's realistic, but that doesn't make it any less annoying. It's even worse when you have to pull backsliders on handguns, as they're much smaller, and therefore even more fiddly.
Annoyance aside, the actual gameplay does have its moments as long as the tracking is behaving. At its best Sniper Elite VR feels awesome. Slamming a new clip inside your gun, pulling the bolt back, and immediately headshotting an enemy taking aim at you feels insanely satisfying. As such, the game comes into its element when it's just you in a raised location, taking out enemies all around you. It's at its worst during stealth segments and when you're being asked to protect something, thanks to the difficulties when moving around.
Sniper Elite VR | Tracking Troubles
The real thing that takes out the stealth is a combo of faulty tracking and the fact that enemies just notice you too quickly. Even if you move around carefully and stick your heads around corners, you're probably going to be spotted by an enemy before you can spot them. This is why most stealth games give you some sort of enemy sensor or map. Obviously, that would have made it less realistic, but infinitely more playable.
The other problem, both with stealth and just generally, is the tracking. Not with the hands, but with your best of supplies. Occasionally the belt your wearing with all your ammo and weapon on seems to get skewed to the side. So you'll be reaching to put a gun on your back and find you've dropped it, or reach for grenades but not be able to reach them without contorting your body. The game also has a nasty habit of telling you that you're outside of the gameplay area, even when you haven't moved at all. Plus, you're constantly being told to reorient the camera by holding 'option' down.
It's sort of difficult to put into words, but despite all of these troubles, Sniper Elite VR is still worth your time. The reloading might be finicky, and the tracking, not the best, but the moments where the game truly comes alive are worth playing, and it's even worth making your way through the annoying sections to get to them. At least, that's the case with the lowest difficulty. On harder settings, it's not too difficult to stay alive, but protecting friendlies or locations is just nearly impossible on the higher difficulty settings thanks to the weird controls.
Sniper Elite VR | Final Thoughts
All-in-all, Sniper Elite VR is an interesting VR experience for those who can stomach it, although it is let down by the hardware it's running on. On a system with a real analog stick and more accurate tracking, the game could be something truly worthwhile. Even within these limitations it's worth slogging through the more annoying moments to get to the gems because when the game hits its element, there are not many other experiences on the platform that can compare to a real Sniper Elite game. Just try to hold onto your stomach when those X-ray moments happen or you might lose your lunch.
TechRaptor reviewed Sniper Elite VR on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the developer. The game is also available on PC and Oculus Quest.
- Gameplay Feels Great Under the Right Circumstances
- Double-Drawing Sidearms is Badass
- It's an Incredibly Immersive Shooter
- PSVR Tracking Isn't Accurate Enough for the Gameplay
- Stealth and Protection Gameplay is Annoying and Frustrating
- X-Ray Moments are Nausea Inducing