It was a stylish mix of old and new this year for Rebellion at E3 as two series of completely polar-opposite designs and intentions come with brand new entries. One series a recent favorite for shooter fans and the other harkening all the way back to the beginning of video games as a medium. Both Sniper Elite 4 & Battlezone (the very same Battlezone that debuted all the way back in 1980) were on show to test out — fully playable, the latter of which was seeing its modern-day return materializing on Sony’s very own PlayStation VR platform.
First up was Sniper Elite 4, set this time in Italy 1943 — the series now making its full proper jump to current-gen consoles without the strain of previous-generation platforms to worry about. While there’s nothing substantial as far as completely new mechanics come, Sniper Elite 4 finds the series making further refinements in its signatory stealth approach by further improving AI intelligence and making environmental risks that much more likely in approaching objectives. The demo offered up comprised of a primary objective with secondary missions cleverly tucked away in select corners of the map – something of which was executed both cleverly and cunningly as to promote exploration but constantly remind the player stealth remains ever-prominent.
As a result, the forth main entry in the Sniper Elite series, continues to place emphasis on exploration and experimentation with one’s surroundings. Similar to the way The Phantom Pain redefined stealth albeit an open-World sort approach (albeit in an open-World environment) without compromising on risk:reward benefactors, player choice feels even more critical to the way objectives are claimed. There are rarely any open or ‘easier’ paths to take and whichever route one decides upon — be it around a perimeter, in-between tight buildings or through the over-growth — AI presence remains an obstacle players will inevitably come up against. Of course you can still sneak your way past without ever firing a shot, but then you’d miss those brutal kill-cam’s — a key staple within the Sniper Elite series. But on top of the return of bullet penetration kills, replays now also cover melee hits, which demonstrate as much the same graphic brutality as conventional fire.
So even for those of you who regularly take the pacifist route, Rebellion are certainly making it even harder to avoid marking up a few Nazi’s with your trustee rifle. But take note that not all weapons pose as much the same offensive prowess. Side-arms still require a delicately precise head-shot to reassure an instant kill, while sub-machine guns for example control even less favorably with recoil tending to make the more louder spray of bullets a less-convincing tactic to use. It’s another smart-if-devious design choice to guide players more towards a slower but steady play-style but Sniper Elite 4 still, at least, feels like it’s trying its damnedest to live up to that title. And with a mix of optional objectives and a more expansive level design, this latest offering appears to be one of the more dynamic offerings in Rebellion’s World War Two-set shooter.
Across the hall and hidden away in a closed-off cubicle was Rebellion’s other notable offering, Battlezone. And like a fair few VR taste-test’s these past few months, there was a moment of surprise but acceptance at how well an added visual peripheral adapts to the gameplay experience.
A re-imagining of the classic 80’s throwback finds you in the very seat of the digitized tanks — controls and blinking dashboard figures peaking out from the corner of your peripheral vision. And taking a moment away from the game’s side-swerving combat, despite its minimal aesthetic and heavily futuristic backdrop, Battlezone’s latest incarnation certainly feels like it holds a notable level of depth. From the very start, setting yourself up for battle in what looks like some enormous cyber-hangar of sorts, there’s little love lost for the wide open space outside your vehicle’s control suite. But of course, it’s the game’s main combat gameplay where the focus lies.
Battlezone’s progression focuses on a hexagonal tile-based structure with particular zones indicated by one of two colors indicating regions already conquered and those needing conquering or removed from enemy control. The primary objective is to make one’s way across the grid via subsequently connecting regions. With decision made, players are pitted in large, open arena-style settings with intentionally tactile towers placed amidst to offer defensive support. Enemy forces come in a slew of forms and different offensive capabilities, from similarly tank-style foes, to sentries that require both precision and readjusted aiming, to aerial threats that shift and change pattern to add further risk to the flurry of geometric and vibrantly-colored bullet-fire and explosions.
You can switch between primary bullet-fire and alternative rockets on the fly and while the simple interface gives you a constant reminder of how to switch, the unfortunately small size of said hint may make it difficult for those easily forgetful or limited in vision. Nevertheless, the constant on-your-toes nature of Battlezone keeps things feeling fresh and challenging without feeling cheap or otherwise unfair in terms of the difficulty curve. For a game that is rather simple in its art-style and user interface, the gameplay is at the very least very easy and accessible to pick up, such matters on the level of detail put into the visuals of the interior cock-pit may end up but a minor gripe to what ultimately ends up as a satisfying to master style of play but evermore satisfying to survive.
Two completely different offerings from Rebellion this year, but promising upcoming releases nonetheless.