One of my absolute favorite genres in gaming is stealth. Ever since I first snuck around Shadow Moses as a kid back on the PSOne, I’ve loved any game that gives me the chance to forgo action for stealth. There’s just something that’s so fun and rewarding in methodically stalking an enemy and getting rid of them without anyone knowing.
For whatever reason, I’ve found this type of of game usually doesn’t translate very well to VR. I do enjoy playing things like The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners stealthily, but there’s yet to be proper VR stealth games on the Meta Quest 3 that’s wowed me. I’m a big fan of the Sniper Elite series and was excited to see if its superb stealth gameplay could finally be replicated in VR. And… well, it seems like it can't.
Hide and sneak
The best stealth games are the ones that give you a clear view of your environment so that the world itself can be a tool in your arsenal. Sometimes that means hiding in shadows until just the right moment, sometimes it means studying enemy patrol routes to know exactly when and where to lure them.
Although the levels in Sniper Elite VR: Winter Warrior are open, they’re linear enough that their openness ends up seeming tight and restricted, especially compared to the level design in Sniper Elite 5. It’s unfair to compare this to the mainline series as that degree of freedom isn’t something that can be easily replicated on hardware like this. But the fact remains that this is a Sniper Elite game that just doesn’t feel like a Sniper Elite game.
Like the main series, you’re encouraged to stay out of lights and stick to darkness to silently take out your enemies. The problem is that sometimes the world itself doesn’t allow for that. The most glaring example I can point at is the beginning of the second mission, where you gain a silenced pistol to take out an unaware guard in front of you. Beside the guard is an opening between a rock and a tree that is very clearly able to fit a person, but if you try to sneak through it, you’re met with an invisible boundary.
I have one question: why? Why have those objects arranged in a way that creates a person-sized gap if perfect for sneaking through if the player can’t actually squeeze through it? That’s not to mention how you can also get literally stuck in the environment itself, which doesn’t just break immersion but also makes the game feel dated.
One mission will task you with sneaking through a Nazi camp and maneuvering through well-lit areas and open tents. This should be a tense sequence given how vulnerable of a position you’re put in; you should need to think methodically about how you take out the enemies and be aware of your positioning. My go-to strategy is to sneak around the tent and sneak up on a guard.
That plan failed when I get stuck in the ropes holding the tent down. It’s hard to play stealthily when you encounter these types of problems. I've gotten stuck just on pebbles! And that all loops around to the main complaint I have so far as I make my way through Sniper Elite VR: Winter Warrior, which is that it just simply lacks good stealth gameplay.
In fact, stealth feels entirely optional. Sometimes it's quicker to just ignore the stealth component entirely. In an early mission, I realized the fastest way to deal with guards in a villa was to bait them by loudly killing their comrade and funneling them in through a doorway to die one by one, leaving me to explore in peace.
I love the cat-and-mouse gameplay of the main series and I’m unfortunately just not getting that here. It’s nice to be able to lure out an enemy by tossing a can and then taking them out with a silenced headshot, but that doesn’t offer the same level of thrills. This is made worse by the AI being so spotty. I’ve had issues with enemies completely walking right past me without realizing it despite the fact that I was clearly visible.
There’s also a very annoying checkpoint system that requires you to find a radio in order to create a checkpoint. I find it absolutely baffling that a game in 2023 doesn’t allow for manual saves and instead relies on save points. I’d like to be able to experiment with my strategy for a section without worrying about retracing my steps if it ends up going poorly.
Hit me with your best shot
Despite my complaints, Sniper Elite VR: Winter Warrior isn’t a bad game at all — it’s just very mid and I don't see it as one of the best Quest games. Though I’m apathetic to the game as a whole, there are individual elements that I really like. Sniping is obviously the star of the show and it’s a blast (even if I’m terrible at aiming).
One of the two new modes introduced in this installment is Sniper Hunt, which puts the sniping mechanics front and center. I’ve found it to be a lot of fun for this very reason. You take out a group of soldiers to lure out a Nazi sniper. It then becomes a battle of skill as you try to locate them while dodging their shots.
It’s admittedly a little shallow but because gunplay is where I think the game truly shines, this is the mode I can see myself coming back to regularly. The other new mode, Last Stand, has you setting traps and surviving waves of enemies. I don’t particularly like it, but it’s fun for what it is and does add some variety.
I’m torn on Sniper Elite VR: Winter Warrior overall. Maybe my expectations have been wrong; maybe it’s not meant to be a true and proper adaptation of the main series. But there are so few VR stealth games on the Meta Quest that I can’t help but to be let down by the lackluster stealth gameplay. Still, it offers enough enjoyable gunplay that there’s fun to be had here if the game is approached with the right mindset.
Sniper Elite VR: Winter Warrior is light on stealth and has some jank, but it still offers some sniping fun. A full campaign, a wave-based survival mode, and a cat-and-mouse sniper battle mode add a lot of variety and content to this WWII VR shooter.
Buy at: Quest Store
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Nick is a freelance journalist and games reviewer with a passion for RPGs, bad puns, and VR. When he isn’t guesting on podcasts or streaming on Twitch, he’s probably playing Borderlands with his husband.