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Game preview: Sniper Elite VR aims for perfection

GameCentral reports back from E3 on one of the most immersive VR first person shooters so far and the best ever use of the Aim Controller.

We’re not going to lie, one of our favourite things about Sniper Elite VR is that we managed to make it to number two on the E3 leaderboard. Our silver medal tarnished only slightly by the obvious surprise of the developers that we’d managed to do so well. We have always been pretty good at playing the role of a sniper in various games, but in Sniper Elite VR there’s one very significant helping hand: the best use of the PlayStation Aim Controller so far.

We imagine we’re not the only ones that expected Sniper Elite VR to be just a retooling of Sniper Elite 4, especially as both games are set in Italy during the Second World War. But while it clearly reuses some assets this is a completely separate game in terms of story, location, and gameplay.

The plot revolves around destroying the Nazi U-boat threat near Sicily, although the mission we played involved defending a half-destroyed Italian village from German forces. Although there are other weapons in the game this is primarily achieved via the business end of your sniper rifle, which looks and feels incredibly real when you’re holding the Aim Controller and using that to aim and fire.

The Aim Controller is obviously a fairly expensive piece of kit, with relatively few games that use it, but it really does transform Sniper Elite VR into something special. We’re sure it works fine with a DualShock or Move controllers, but you’re certainly going to be missing out on some of the novelty without it. Although the PC version, which supports Oculus Rift, SteamVR, and Viveport, has access to a range of more accurate and versatile controllers that are likely to be almost as good. But at E3 we were using the Aim Controller… and it was great.

We weren’t actually all that keen to play the game at E3 though, or any VR title for that matter. Given how exhausting touring the show can be it made us worry that any problems with VR nausea would be horribly magnified. But Sniper Elite VR is one of those odd VR games that seems to defy everything we understand about the technology and even though what you’re doing seems like it should make you seasick from the first moment we didn’t get even a twinge.

There is a teleporting movement system as an option but after being cajoled into using normal movement we found it worked without any trouble (the Aim Controller has two analogue sticks, just like a DualShock). A black border does move into place when you’re turning fast, which limits any problems, but we’ve still felt woozy after far less in other games.

The most impressive thing, from a VR perspective, is that the X-ray kill cam is still in the game and yet having your point of view follow a bullet as it pierces a Nazi soldier’s fleshy parts doesn’t cause the least distress. It’s essentially simulating having your head fired out of a cannon and yet if anything we just ended up getting a little bored of the effect after a while and wondered if there was an option to turn it off or decrease its frequency (there is).

The real star of the show though is, of course, the sniping itself, which since you’ve already got a fake gun in your hand doesn’t require much in the way of embellishment. Lining up a shot is extremely intuitive and hugely satisfying when you’re on target (which we were 70% of the time, thank you very much). The only additional help you have a is a ‘focus’ option which zooms in further. This is handy but it means you have to be extra precise as you hold the controller, as it becomes harder to line up the sights so that they’re dead straight.

Most of the time we just did without and that felt even better, and presumably closer to what it would’ve been like to wield the actual weapon. There were also some grenades other guns but we never seemed to need them, not even against the tank that somebody else on our side blew up before we had a chance to worry about it.

If Sniper Elite VR had been a static shooting gallery we wouldn’t have been too surprised, and probably quite entertained. But it’s a fully functional first person shooter with full freedom of movement, something that’s extremely rare with VR games and which we’ve never seen pulled of as well as this. The fact that you naturally have to be quite still while lining up a shot does help, but that just proves what a good match of gameplay and hardware this is.

Formats: PlayStation VR (previewed) and PC
Publisher: Rebellion
Developer: Rebellion
Release Date: TBA

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