For nearly fifteen years the UK-based studio Rebellion has been trying to make players feel like actual snipers in a war with all the intensity and adrenaline that comes with it. They believe that each new entry in the Sniper Elite series has gotten them one step closer—so VR was the natural choice in continuing towards that goal.
“With each iteration of the Sniper Elite franchise we’ve gotten closer to bringing the player into the war, we’re setting our story in,” Rebellion’s assistant head of design Steve Bristow tells Variety. “Our first experience developing for VR with Battlezone was a paradigm shift in our understanding of what it meant to be a player in that world. It’s very hard to communicate that this is happening to you and not an avatar. Your being shot at.
“It’s a natural extension of that principle that follows through all the Sniper Elite games.”
Sniper Elite VR, which is the fifth entry in the Sniper Elite series, is a first-person shooter set in the second world war where you play as a sniper fighting alongside the Italian resistance against the Nazis. The story is set prior to the events of Sniper Elite 4. Aim, Move, and Dualshock controllers are all supported in Sniper Elite VR for PSVR. Bristow said they are aiming for a multi-platform launch, although there is no confirmed release date yet.
Battlezone, a first-person tan combat game released alongside the PSVR, was Rebellions first and only foray into virtual reality development and while it received average reviews from critics many players cite it as the reason they bought their PSVR hardware. While many other launch games, and many VR games long after, were seen as proof of concepts and not complete experiences, Rebellion believes that their experience on Battlezone has prepared them to make something special with Sniper Elite VR.
“It is still early in development and there is a lot more to come, but the Sniper Elite franchise isn’t one that we take lightly. We’re not going to be delivering anything other than a full game,” Bristow said. “I would argue that Battlezone was one of the first full, legitimate FPS games in VR. There were a lot of amazing experiences when the PSVR first came out but they were relatively short or mono mechanical. Battlezone was designed to be a full game right out of the gate.”
I played a short demo of Sniper Elite VR and it was quite rough. Various glitches like enemies clipping through walls and blurry visuals hounded a playthrough that only lasted five minutes (it was a short demo). Even still, it felt great to bring the scope up to my eye with the aim controller, find an enemy soldier in my sites and pull the trigger. It’s still early in development but Rebellion is following the right path in capturing the essence of controlling a sniper crawling through the rubble in the middle of World War II.
“Our perception of how to create a world in VR was shaped by getting it wrong and trying new things a lot,” Bristow said. “It taught us not to take for granted how VR works, the assumption that you can take a flat game and transfer it to VR isn’t wholly correct.”
Bristow told me the world would be much bigger with more detail in the final release and that they had only just started to reach something close the visual benchmark they’d been going for. Their goal at the beginning of development, however, was to focus on the experience and feeling of being a sniper in VR.
“Our main goal here is to get the core mechanic of the game down,” he said. “Holding that gun up, looking down that scope, and pulling the trigger. Getting all the emotional resolution, if you’d like, that comes with that moment to match the rest of the Sniper Elite series. So this a proof of the concept of the sniping mechanic and getting here we’ve gotten a lot closer to understanding what we want the game to be.”