I really enjoyed the original release of Sniper Elite VR and gave it a glowing review on this site. There was a huge sense of relief for me that a flat game series I enjoyed so much was treated with respect and played well in VR. It wasn’t perfect, but on the whole, it was well-wrought and enjoyable. Like the flat Sniper Elite series, it didn’t overreach or try to reinvent the genre; it set modest expectations and exceeded them. Now, the sequel, Winter Warrior, has arrived. It somehow evaded our early warning radar system, sneaking past our sentries and onto the Meta store without making much of a stir. Will it knock us out with a coveted 9 rating, or will we be sprinting for the alarm button to warn everyone off it? Let’s get it in our sights.
COLD, COLD GROUND
Upon loading Sniper Elite VR: Winter Warrior, there’s a sense of familiarity. Menus look and sound the same, and the narrator and protagonist from the original VR release—an amiable elderly Italian partisan reminiscing about his time as a crack-shot sniper in the Second World War—remain. In the first outing, he related his tales from his sunlight-dappled garden, where his young family frolicked, enjoying the freedoms he fought for. This time, he starts in bed, with a blizzard outside snowing him in, triggering memories of snow levels he didn’t mention previously.
After a brief but effective tutorial firing range, which you can leave without completing if you’re on another save, we’re dropped into the first level proper. Well, sort of. It’s still actually a tutorial and quite narrow in scope (no pun intended, for once). The gameplay is familiar: sneak, snipe, use environmental sounds to cover your shots, kill everyone, plant a bomb, and then get to the exit. You know the drill, perhaps too well.
Let’s start with the positives. Many of the nice things I said in my review of the original two years ago still hold true. The sniping is surprisingly intuitive and effective, the slow-motion bullet kill cam is well-realized, and the graphics are largely lovely.
The sound is good, and there’s a core to the gameplay that’s undeniably fun. If you were a big fan of the original Sniper Elite VR, you’ll know what to expect from Winter Warrior—it provides more of the same, mostly. However, I can’t help but feel let down and uninvested in this sequel.
GUNPOWDER FROM ICE
Despite being a standalone title, Winter Warrior never really feels like a sequel. To be fair, it’s half the price of the original and probably conceived as additional levels rather than a full game in its own right, and it shows. The game has a pervasive tiredness about it, like it’s just going through the motions. The Partisan starts in bed and never really gets out of it. Music cues, assets, animations, and sounds are reused from the first game. Missions should feel like playgrounds of possibility, but are actually a staid and workmanlike series of checkpoints and triggered events. There’s a surprising lack of emphasis on stealth and, believe it or not, sniping. Limited enemy numbers mean that after you’ve killed a few, the game spawns more in, sometimes alerted regardless of how stealthy you’ve been.
‘Letters From Home’ and other collectibles are scattered around levels but can’t be read—they’re just busywork, not additional context. There are challenges in each level that add some fun and replayability, but this idea, too, is regurgitated from the original. The déjà vu is strong, and it contributes to the hollow feel of the game.
THINGS HAVE CHANGED
Sniper Elite VR nailed some core experiences and basics that other titles like Medal of Honor and Onward didn’t. It felt like a lot was riding on it, and it confidently quelled many fears. That relief allowed me to overlook some jankiness because it had heart.
The sequel, however, does nothing to advance itself and suddenly feels dated. The lack of engaging VR interactions is grating and reveals a laziness and lack of ambition. Handguns can’t be held with both hands. Door handles, keys, switches, satchel charges, and the like are operated by reaching out a hand and holding down a grip button until a bar fills up—flat game mechanics that break immersion in VR. You don’t feel like an elite sniper; you feel like you’re just waving a pointing finger in the air. These interactions are crucial for VR, and we deserve better. Michel Roux famously asked potential students to crack an egg for him, saying that if they could do that well, he could teach them anything. I feel similarly about VR games handling keys in locks or opening cupboards—if this feels good and intuitive, the rest of the game might have the right attention to detail to be a winner. In this game, those aspects are lacking and definitely hurt the quality of the final product. Reloading and charging guns were nailed in the first installment—now, where’s the rest of the game? The remote pull for ammo and objects is fiddly and inconsistent, with no sense of weight. Enemy animations are basic and staccato, making reading the levels annoying at times. The enemies don’t feel enough like combatants, just paper marionettes waiting to be decommissioned.
One unexpected disappointment in Winter Warrior was the character of The Partisan himself. While there’s nothing wrong with the acting per se, the structure of having him narrate the action as a series of memories means the affable old man persona never lets up. Everything he says has the tone of an advert for authentic pasta sauce, without really conveying the urgency of the player’s situation. Remember the bit in Lord of the Rings where Gandalf suddenly drops the genial grandpa act and reveals he’s a powerful, ancient soul with the weight of the world on his shoulders? That never happens with the Partisan, and a potentially interesting narrative about a lovable old chap who was a super-assassin evaporates in a cloud of whimsy. It would be great if, while peering down the scope of a sniper rifle, the voiceover matched the mood, rather than making me think I should be tucked under a tartan blanket falling asleep in front of Countdown.
A FROZEN, ROTTED ROAD
The snowy theme of Winter Warrior is apt, as the game feels like the first one but frozen in time. It never really thaws, losing a lot of charm and goodwill to frostbite. It will be overshadowed by other releases around it, perhaps deservedly so. With a bit more care, I’d be more positive. As it is, Winter Warrior feels like a dead end. I hope there’s another VR installment of the Sniper Elite games, one that pays more attention to its competitors and respects its audience.
Stick with the original or wait for it to go on sale. It’s got more charm and imagination than this ersatz sequel, which will leave you cold.
If you’re a big fan of the original, you might add a point or two to my score. But if you’re like me and love the original but want more this time, this game feels like less.
Sniper Elite VR: Winter Warrior | Review
TLDR : Summary
A lazy trudge instead of a thrill ride, Sniper Elite VR: Winter Warrior is a gelid lump of a game that detracts from the original while using most of its assets and gameplay.