There's a scoreboard at Rebellion's booth at E3 2019, but it's not for killstreaks or speedruns. No, in true Sniper Elite style, this particular score board is clocking who's pulled off the most testicle shots in a single run through the Sniper Elite VR demo. As someone who's intensely competitive – seriously, I can make Scrabble a competitive sport – I needed my name to be the top of that board. So I channeled the deep seated aggression I've been holding onto against any human male in my lifetime, and put it into running through the Sniper Elite VR demo.
But as soon as I'd strapped on the PSVR, the idea of competition and any residual male anger I carried with me melted away. Not because Sniper Elite VR is in any way relaxing – quite the opposite actually. In typical Sniper Elite fashion, you're thrown headfirst into a battle, and you immediately need to run up the stairs and edge along a stone wall to find yourself a good perch to get your shot. There are enemies aplenty trying to tear holes through your body, but thankfully you're armed with your trusty sniper rifle and the best VR shooting experience ever made.
Scope and snipe
Sniper Elite VR really is just that good. I've only played a 15 minute or so slice of the game, but it's clear that this is the same Sniper Elite experience we all know and love but it's you being the shit hot sniper rather than controlling one from afar. Sniper Elite VR takes the fantastic sniper accuracy the series is known for and puts it straight into virtual reality. I was playing with the PlayStation Aim controller, which of course help with immersion, but it's the little gameplay touches that really aided just how realistic the shooting feels here.
When you lift the rifle to your eye, you're literally looking down the scope at the awaiting enemies. Although it doesn't technically help, I found myself closing one eye inside the VR headset because that's exactly how awesome it feels. There's a clarity, and precision there that I haven't found in any other VR shooters, and according to developer Rebellion there's a trick to that:
Looking for something new to play while you wait for Sniper Elite VR? Why not check out our list of the 10 best PSVR games that you can play right now.
"We literally inflate the scope as you raise it to your eye," explains Steve Bristow, Assistant Head of Design at Rebellion, "so as you go into focus mode, the model of the scope actually blooms out. It's not very noticable, it just feels like you're getting your face closer to it, but it prevents the thing that happens in other VR games where you lift the scope to your eye and you clip through the front plane."
And it really works. If Sniper Elite VR had to get something absolutely spot on, it had to be that feeling of bringing the rifle to your eye, and looking down the scope, before taking your shot. It's so realistic I didn't realise just how much I was holding my breath before squeezing the trigger, physically attempting to steady myself in the real world for the in-game moment. The same kinds of considerations form the main series are brought into the VR game too like bullet drop, and wind direction depending on which difficulty you choose, upping the ante on your brilliant slow mo kill shots.
That's got to hurt
As you'd expect, the Bullet Cam the series is famed for is still around for this VR edition. It's not quite as cinematic as the mainline series in its presentation, but it's very in your face, and still manages to perfectly deliver that weird mixture of grizzly gratification and distaste as you watch a rifle bullet pierce a lung, heart, eye or maybe even testicle. "That sort of blend of emotions is quite the signature feeling for the franchise," chuckles Bristow.
"I's a difficult thing to capture," he continues. "We couldn't just translate Sniper Elite's version of it, because that has these dynamic camera movements, and all these cool cinematic events that just don't translate into VR in a comfortable way. It's got to have energy and impact, but do that in a VR specific way."
"It has the same kind of impact, and the same kind of emotional impact. I'm really pleased with how that comes across, but there's a lot more to do."
Aside from the actual shooting, the movement feels great too. It's not third-person as in the main series, but all first-person perspective as you'd hope from a VR game. There are a variety of comfort options, but for me the ability to run around freely as you would in other games was liberating, and helped make me feel like an expert gunsman. An effect where when you run the edges of the screen automatically vignette was implemented as default for the demo, which is intended to help minimise any uncomfortable feelings as you peg it around the little Italian village.
"We've got a lot of comfort options, and some of them are on by default, and others you can select. We've been making what I'd hope to think are quite experimental and challenging VR games for a while now, so we're well aware of the range of things about the experience that can affect people's comfort in VR, and it's very important to us that as many people as possible can play it and enjoy it. It doesn't matter how good the game is, it's a failure if someone can't play it just for reasons of comfort."
Trust me, with this E3 demo being just a little taster of what the full game will offer – which is yet to gain a release date – you're going to want to try this out. It's the kind of mad, violent, and incredibly satisfying gunplay that you'd expect from a Sniper Elite game, but Rebellion has gone a step further and put you firmly in the gunner's seat. And don't worry, folks. I got a hat-trick of testicle shots, just for you.