It’s wild to see how things improve over time. It feels like only yesterday that I was at PAX South (RIP) trying the first Sniper Elite VR when it was still in development. I remember thinking at the time that it was a little too much like a shooting gallery to feel like a proper Sniper Elite game. I seem to recall you were also confined mostly to your rifle. Flash forward to 2023 and I wasn’t sure what to expect with Sniper Elite VR: Winter Warrior, a sequel set in the winter theaters of World War 2 Germany. I surely didn’t expect one of the most satisfying stealth-action shooters I’ve had the pleasure of sniping and sneaking my way through. That’s what we have here in Winter Warrior.
Have Nazis, will snipe
Sniper Elite VR: Winter Warrior has a decent enough story to speak of. You play the role of an exceptional sharpshooter, now an old man, who reminisces about the part he played in special operations in Germany during WW2. From sabotaging beach artillery to tracking high-value targets and taking them out to discovering and destroying Nazi secret weapons, this game is a pretty interesting menagerie of stealth and combat over the course of its campaign. I won’t say it’s a looker, though. This game often looks like PS2 graphics, which might be a bit off-putting to some.
A big part of the fun here is the freedom Winter Warrior provides. You have your trusty rifle and can collect more as you go like the German Kar98k and Russian Mosin-Nagant. You’ll also find secondary weapons like the MP40, M1A1 Thompson, and MP44, as well as sidearms that include revolvers, Lugers, silenced pistols, and more. Every gun that you find that isn’t part of your arsenal already becomes available to add to your starting loadout in future missions or replays. While missions have a set path, you also have the freedom to navigate wide areas however you wish. Going in guns blazing is a good way to get killed fast, but picking enemies off carefully and quietly with your weapons of choice and using cover and sound effectively makes outmaneuvering enemies a satisfying tactical endeavor.
Weapon handling and interaction is one of the big winners here in Winter Warrior. Almost every gun feels good to handle, reload, and fire. Between snapping the bolts out and locking them back in on rifles, opening shotgun chambers to load new shells, and loading magazines into SMGs and cocking them, only to put a fresh magazine in so you get the extra bullet in the chamber, there’s a ton of satisfying tactile engagement. One of my only issues with the game is that it’s not very left-hand friendly with some weapons. Your default rifle has a scope that is offset to the left for your right eye to look through. The game does not offset the scope to the right if you’re using left-hand primary settings.
I’m also not fond of the break-action on weapons like the shotgun and revolver (folding the front of the gun down to open its ammo chamber). For one, you have to grip the stock of the shotgun and grab its barrel to open it, but getting it off your shoulder has you holding it by the foregrip in your offhand by default and your ammo is on the right side of your belt. It’s awkward to maneuver the stock of the shotgun into your offhand so you can open it and comfortably grab shells to load in. For two, you can’t flick either weapon up to close them. Now maybe I’m spoiled by games like Resident Evil 4 VR, but I like the stylistics of flicking similar weapons in that game to close the chamber when you reload. For all the tactile functionality, it’s a bit of a bummer to not have an interaction like that.
Outside of these qualms, the weapons feel fun to use. There are even challenges associated with each firearm that award you bonus points for things like heart or head shots, or shots while your sound is masked by environmental effects, and leveling up weapons is a pretty fun little side hustle in the game.
Focus, and then fire
The sniper rifles are what we come to Sniper Elite VR for and they work well for the most part in Winter Warrior. Throughout each mission, you’ll slip through enemy lines, navigating an array of bases and picking off enemies as you go. When you decide to draw your rifle and fire, every moment feels deeply intense, up until you land a glorious kill shot or feel your heart drop from a narrow miss that draws attention to you. The focus feature makes it all the more impactful. With rifles, if you hold the focus button, you’ll zoom in further and begin to slow time, as well as seeing a bullet drop reticle on default difficulties. Lining up your target, waiting for the perfect moment, and then letting it rip feels so good, especially when you’re treated to the trademark Sniper Elite x-ray cinematics of your bullet ripping through the target on a successful shot.
You don’t have to rely wholly on your sniper rifles, though, and that’s a refreshing take in Winter Warrior. There was a mission where I had to infiltrate a cliffside mansion and it was almost all close quarters. I used a single-shot silenced pistol throughout nearly that whole mission and it made me feel like a World War 2 Agent 47 icing every Nazi I came across on my way to my objective without ever being seen.
Objectives are nicely varied in Winter Warrior as well. Of course, you have your high-value target assassinations, but there are also parts where you plant explosives, steal important intel (and crack a safe to do it), and move through towns trying to escape pursuing patrols and reinforcements. One of my favorites was when I had to take down a burly tank with explosives, only it stopped short of where I planted them. I had to snipe the explosives, break the tank’s treads, and then take it down with scattered panzerfaust explosive launchers to finish the job. On the other hand, I’m not crazy about when this game makes you fight enemies head-on, which happened in that very same mission. I’m a decent shot, and you have weapons like SMGs and pistols to help with intense encounters, but I still don’t think head-on shootouts are Sniper Elite VR’s strong point.
Thankfully, the game provides a decent suite of options to try to make itself more comfortable for you. To my absolute delight, it has a belt adjustor that lets you widen your waistline to reach your ammo satchel, grenades, and sidearm. I’m a big guy so that was very helpful. It also includes an enormous amount of other options like various smooth and snappy movement, snap turning, tunnel vision, turning off bullet cam, and even colorblind modes, which I don’t think I’ve seen in many VR games. It feels like a great collection of options to make sure you’re feeling as comfy as you can be.
Dead in my sights
How far it feels like the concept of Sniper Elite VR has come. I won’t say this game is perfect, but I will say it’s one of the most visceral and satisfying stealth-action shooters I’ve played in VR. The weapons handle nicely, the missions and locations are hugely varied, and the comfort options are abundant and easily understandable. I wish it catered better to left-handed shooting and that some weapons had better interactivity, and I’m just not crazy about head-on combat here. It’s also not exactly a looker. That said, what a step-up from what I know about Sniper Elite VR. When the dust settles, I’ll have a hard time thinking of a game that made it more satisfying to look down a scope and deliver distant absolution to virtual fascists.
This review is based on a digital copy on the Meta Quest 2. Sniper Elite VR: Winter Warrior comes to Meta Quest 2, 3, and Pro on November 30, 2023.
Sniper Elite VR: Winter Warrior
- Most weapons feel enjoyable to handle
- Sniping, x-ray cam, and focus fire feel excellent
- Missions and locations are widely varied
- Lots of comfort and accessibility options
- Hitting the perfect shot is exhilarating
- Wide open areas to explore at your pace
- Some weapons feel awkward
- Graphics look dated
- Head-on combat is available, but punishing