Review: Clumsy Rifle Handling Spoils Otherwise Good Sniper Elite VR
I’ve been a sucker for the Sniper Elite games for about a decade now. I’m especially fond of the Zombie Army games, but I’m definitely partial to Sniper Elite’s brand of sniping—which, while not really having true to life distances, is still a lot of fun. I was curious, then, to see how Sniper Elite’s mixture of stealth and combat translating to virtual reality, and I have to say: it’s a little bit of a mixed bag.
Sniper Elite VR is an action virtual reality game where you take control of a freedom fighter, fighting against the Nazi occupation in your homeland. It’s a departure from Karl Fairburne and his gravelly voice, but one that manages to hold a more emotional weight, especially because of its setup: the entire story is being told from the point of view of an old man, long after the fact. And yep, you’re given wrinkly hands and everything as you flip through your book of memories that serves as the mission selection. It has all of the setup for a pretty good game, but it goes wrong when it comes to the gameplay. For a game that centers around sniping, it’s just not a fun activity in Sniper Elite VR.
Okay, so I have to say right off: I hate using sniper rifles in Sniper Elite VR. I mean, using any gun in that game is a bit clumsy. Some games, like Half Life: Alyx feel so precise that you almost forget you’re holding a controller as the game just does what you want it to. That isn’t the experience I’ve had with Sniper Elite VR. I have to point out that I played the SteamVR version with my Index headset and controllers, so mine might not be an experience shared across all configurations, but weapon handling in Sniper Elite VR is awkward. Sniper Elite VR set out on an impossible task: to approximate using a sniper rifle in VR. To do that, they went with the requirement of holding the rifle with one controller, while steadying it with the other. That’s a great idea in practice, but the execution is lacking in a few fundamental ways. First of all, there is no way to hip fire the sniper rife. You can’t see down the scope unless you’re holding the rifle in the specific configuration required to aim. Second, steadying the rifle is about as easy as trying to steady a virtual rifle between two controller points can be. There’s a way to focus your aim, just as in the non-virtual Sniper Elite, but even then it requires a steadiness that I didn’t readily have. And finally, working the action on the available sniper rifles is miserable and imprecise. There were so many times that I thought I had the bolt seated forward only to not be able to shoot. Fumbling with your rifle under fire just isn’t very fun.
It’s too bad shooting sniper rifles in Sniper Elite VR isn’t that great, because that’s the draw. What makes it even worse is that Sniper Elite’s notoriously short sniping distancing persist in VR, with enemies sometimes about a stone’s throw away—literally. Which I thought would be great when I got ahold of some grenades, but throwing grenades is wonky, and I was never able to toss them very far. As much as I hated the sniper rifles and disliked throwing grenades, I actually enjoyed using the rest of Sniper Elite VR’s arsenal. Firing the submachinegun isn’t perfect, but it’s satisfying, and the same was true with the available handguns.
If you were hoping for Sniper Elite, but in virtual reality—you got it with Sniper Elite VR, but with caveats. Sniper Elite VR takes a while to ramp up, and you’ll have to go through several missions before you’re given the freedom to approach levels in a more open ended fashion. Stealth is still important, but enemy reaction time feels slower in this VR version of Sniper Elite, though I did die a few times trying to escape while panic teleporting—but if you’re wondering if full locomotion is included, it is. If you’re also wondering about Sniper Elite’s famous kill cams, they’re also included in full virtual reality gory—er, glory. While I’m not a fan of gratuitous violence, there’s something about Sniper Elite’s kill cams that always feel silly more than gross, and this effect is amplified in virtual reality, as you watch bones snap and organs pop as you’re given a disembodied view of the gnarly x-ray action.
If you’re someone who gets motion sick while playing some virtual reality games, like me, then you’ll be happy to know that Sniper Elite VR does a ton to alleviate motion sickness. There are lots of comfort settings to make Sniper Elite VR as comfortable as possible.
Overall, Sniper Elite is approximated pretty well in VR—for good and for bad. Sniper Elite VR is best when it gives you the freedom to do what you want, with the weapons you want. It’s too bad, however, that setting up long range shots isn’t as satisfying as it could be, especially with the troubles I had with my virtual rifle. Practice and patience could change that, however, and Sniper Elite VR has the potential to be amazing—if you have the patience and time to put into it. That’s a hard sell when there are a bunch of other great virtual reality games, but if you’re burned through all of those, Sniper Elite VR definitely has its moments.
Sniper Elite VR is available today on SteamVR, PSVR and Oculus Quest.
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