May's the month for shootin' Nazis.
It's the time of the year when the video game release schedule slows down a bit. Over the last couple of months, we've had a Destiny 2 expansion which I've managed to completely ignore, Elden Ring - which has swallowed me whole, and a couple of high profile PS5 games that I can't play... yet. And now, here we are - cruising gently along into May. My birthday has been and gone, the nights are getting longer and turning warmer. I wore shorts a couple of days ago, and sat outside reading a book in the sun - every year, the ability to do that seems to arrive a little bit earlier and come around a little bit faster than the year before.
I'm quite busy on the game playing front. My break from Destiny 2 has lasted for six months so far, and shows no sign of ending anytime soon - and as ever a couple of games have slid into rotation to fill the void left by Bungie's magnum opus. A resurgent Sea of Thieves has captured my attention again in earnest (the new pirate legend voyage recently added is EXCEPTIONAL and will probably get its own write-up in the next few days), while a new season of Halo Infinite is only a couple of days away.
There's something else on the near horizon though that I'm really looking forward to - the latest entry in a series I've loved for years and one that feels like it often flies under the radar. I'm talking about Sniper Elite 5 - due to land on 26th May. The Sniper Elite series is one I've quietly been a fan of for a long time. The first one I played was Sniper Elite V2 on the Xbox 360, and I've picked up every one that's come out since. There's something about them that appeals to me enormously - and it's not just the fact that you can blow Nazi's testicles off (although it'd be remiss of me to fail to acknowledge that it's a mechanic that never grows old).
The Sniper Elite games, for me, offer up a glorious sandbox of destruction and gore that I can work my way through at my own pace and in whatever order I so choose. Revisiting Sniper Elite 4 for a couple of hours ahead of putting this blog post together, I was reminded of just how much freedom the game gives you. Each mission gives you a series of objectives and a bunch of optional side bits and pieces, and then drops you into a sprawling sandbox. The order in which you approach them, and how, is left entirely up to you. Whilst it's tempting (not to mention extremely good fun) to decorate every wall with Nazi brains as you progress through each objective, there's nothing to say that you have to. Whilst your trusty sniper rifle is going to be your weapon of choice as long as you remain at distance, the game offers up lots of other amusing options to take down wayward Reich members.
The strength of Sniper Elite is as much in its sandbox as it is in its shooting and stealth mechanics - and it was on later playthroughs of the games that these really came into their own. Why shoot an enemy through the head from half a mile away when you can shoot through a chain above him and drop the digital equivalent of a piano on his head? Why shoot individual troops when you can learn a convoy's route, drop a teller mine in front of it and then hang back - shooting the fuel tank of the final truck in the convoy just as the first hits the trap and then watching the chain reaction of destruction that ensues?
The game rewards stealth and planning - exactly as you'd expect for a game that's all about a talented sniper, and it's at its best when the player leans hard into its roleplay offerings. Optional and self-imposed challenges are some of the most fun things it offers up - and the sandbox worlds of the game are flexible enough to accommodate most of the things you can come up with for yourself. Trying to complete a mission's main objective without being seen is always a fun one, as is trying to take out only your designated target while leaving every other soldier on the map alive.
The last gen iterations have held up well - firing up Sniper Elite 4 on my Xbox Series X actually impressed me with how well it's presumably upscaled, and the framerate remains as smooth as silk regardless of what chaos is going down onscreen at any moment. Sniper Elite 5 then, has some excellent heritage and the graphical benchmark is high. I'm looking forward to its arrival enormously. It's been a while since I played a game that offers what this one is going to - and I've a feeling it's going to be a bit of a breath of fresh air when it arrives on 26th May.