Sniper games are all about perching on top of a building and punching holes through bad guys from a mile away with the help of a high-calibre rifle. Whether it’s the challenge of compensating for bullet drop, or the simple pleasure of watching an enemy base descend into panic as you pick its occupants off one by one - the best sniper games thrive off moments like these.
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Sadly, there are very few games that focus solely on making the player feel like the ultimate ghost warrior, but there are a huge number of sniper games with realistic sniping mechanics and sniper missions to satisfy that itchy trigger finger of yours.
Here are the best sniper games:
- Sniper Elite 4
- Arma 3
- Battlefield 1
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered
- Couter-Strike: Global Offensive
- Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising
- Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2
- Far Cry 4
Shooting Nazis just never gets old. Sniper Elite 4 continues the series’ gradual transformation from linear stealth game to fully-fledged sniping sandbox, marking the occasion with a switch to fascist Italy. The sniper game chops are intact, so expect realistic bullet drop and plenty of scope sway unless you’ve managed to slow your heart rate.
Sniper Elite 4 also fleshes out the franchise’s gory pièce de résistance: X-ray killcams. Now, in addition to being able to shoot out a nazi’s testicle from a mile away, you can see the internal damage caused by stabbing an enemy in the back, or shrapnel flying out from a nearby explosion. And what else are sniper games really about if not waving your crosshairs over a bad guy’s head, pulling the trigger, and then watching in morbid curiosity as their skull disintegrates.
But it’s the sandbox levels of Sniper Elite 4 that are the biggest improvement over its predecessors. Each one is alive and full of possibilities - whether that’s side-quests, a glut of potential environmental kills, or sniper nests waiting to be uncovered and used. Each level demands to be replayed and retried over and over again, and that means more sniper game brilliance for your buck.
On top of that, Sniper Elite 4 also got more single-player content in the form of Deathstorm, a DLC mini-campaign in which you infiltrate a naval base. This campaign add-on released in chapters following the game's launch alongside free multiplayer modes and maps. As sniper games go, Sniper Elite 4 has a lot to offer.
Being a sniper in Arma 3 is no mean feat. It’s a war simulator and as such it prides itself on painstaking realism - you’ll have to use a rangefinder, zero your scope, and steady your breath ahead of every long-range shot. You’ll also have to engage with extreme caution, as making your position known when you’re operating as a ghost behind enemy lines will get you killed very quickly.
Arma 3 is so realistic, in fact, that some snipers pair up with a spotter who handles all the sums for them and points out new targets. Unlike many sniper games, Arma 3 makes sniping a cooperative experience. Better still, Arma 3 is always receiving new updates and expansions, so it's never too late to fall in love with this military simulator.
Online matches with 64 players means one important thing: more targets. And not just the boring on-the-ground targets, either - you can take out a plane’s pilot and watch it plummet from the sky, or explode a jeep from a mile away with the help of the Tank Hunter's behemoth 13mm anti-tank rifle. No other sniper games can top the blockbuster credentials of Battlefield 1.
You’ll also be dealing with century-old equipment, which makes long-range shots incredibly difficult to pull off due to extreme bullet drop and antique rifle scopes. It’s tricky to get a handle on, but you’ll still have a huge advantage over everyone else at long range.
Battlefield 1 also has a sniper mission in its spectacular single-player campaign, which sees you ghost your way through a village occupied by German soldiers, armed with a sharpened spade and a silenced sniper rifle. The gameplay is a huge departure from the scripted bombast of the campaign’s other levels, leaving the player free to tackle this sandbox-like mission at their own pace.
While there isn’t a sniper role in Squad, there is a marksman class - and if you don’t think there’s a difference between the two then Squad probably isn’t for you. This game is all about teamwork, and as such there’s no room for lone wolf roles like snipers. A marksman’s job, on other hand, is to accompany the fire team wherever they go, providing the team with a response to longer-range fire and generally extending their effective reach when attacking and defending.
Communication and teamplay are essential in Squad, even for prospective snipers. Engaging targets over 500 metres away will yield little success, but a higher-magnification scope and superior stopping power ensure the marksman always has the upper hand in long-range skirmishes. Just the way it should be in sniper games.
It’s not as realistic as Arma, nor is it as user-friendly and frag-laden as a Call of Duty game - Insurgency is somewhere between the two sniper games. Don’t expect much in the way of bullet drop, as not only does most of the action in Insurgency play out across urban battlefields, Insurgency also started out as a Half-Life mod, which means no fancy projectile models to master.
So what does Insurgency offer the prospective sniper? Purpose. There’s no HUD, no mini-map to detail enemy positions, no red markers hovering above every visible target. As the team's long-range specialist you can use your scope to recon enemy positions and provide fire support over open terrain. You might not have much use when it comes to storming the objective, but if you’re using a headset then you’re practically indispensable.
If you’re put off by the fact that Insurgency is effectively a decade old, then good news: it’s getting a sequel. Insurgency: Sandstorm isn’t due out until 2018, but it’s already shaping up to be a great sniper game thanks to the fact that it’s being made with Unreal Engine 4, which will let developers New World Interactive add effects like bullet drop and travel time at long last. Insurgency: Sandstorm will also launch with a story mode that will be playable either alone or cooperatively with up to three other people, which means there’s plenty of scope for sniper gameplay.
Quickscoping and noscoping may not be as feasible in Modern Warfare Remastered as they were in the original game, but the remastered edition of the game is still home to the best pair of sniper missions in gaming: All Ghillied Up and One Shot, One Kill.
These heavily scripted missions take the player through the ghost city of Chernobyl on a mission to assassinate a Russian ultranationalist-cum-arms dealer. The atmosphere is palpable, the surrounding narrative engaging, and the pace relentless - these missions ignited a passion for sniper games in everyone who played them. Modern Warfare Remastered is more than a shiny HD makeover, it’s a complete remake of the old game.
Hitman might not spring to mind at the mention of sniper games, but while Agent 47 traditionally makes do with a selection of silly disguises and a spool of piano wire, he’s just as devastating with a high-powered sniper rifle in his icy cool grip.
What Hitman lacks in convincing bullet physics, it more than makes up for in scope sway, which makes taking that perfect shot a tense affair. And in most cases perfection is your only option, as targets will be nearly impossible to kill after you’ve startled them with a near miss. Get it right, however, and you’re rewarded with a satisfying pink mist and an easy escape.
The episodic structure of the game also means that each level is its own assassination sandbox and, as such, there’s more to see and kill than in any level in the series’ past. The result? Hitman was one of the best games of 2016, and in its labyrinthine levels you’ll find an equally worthy sniper game. Better still: if you missed out on Hitman, you can now get all of the episodes in a boxed edition of the game.
The best sniper games are not all about taking that one perfect shot. In the hyper-competitive space of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive one perfect shot is not enough. You will need to take thousands of perfect shots, with a split-second to line each one up, and there's no margin for error. Forget the ghillie suit, CS:GO cares only for muscle memory and precision - nothing less will do. With that in mind, you might want to seek out the CS:GO console command for accessing the game's practice mode before you head into the killing fields of multiplayer.
We also have CS:GO to thank for what is arguably the best and most famous sniper rifle in gaming, the AWP. Why so much love for one gun? Aside from the pleasing kablammo sound each shot rings out with, it’s also the only gun in the game that’s capable of killing an enemy with a single shot to the torso. It’s Quake’s railgun distilled into a realistic form, and in the hands of a pro it’s just as devastating.
There are lots of loadouts to choose from in Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, but when you’re operating in a sandbox that’s roughly 200 square kilometres only a sniper rifle makes sense. Especially when you can command a squad of AI soldiers to do all the room-clearing and dirty work for you, leaving you free to take potshots at bad guys from the safety of a grassy knoll far, far away.
So far away, in fact, that it’s possible to kill enemies over 1,000 metres from you. There’s some considerable bullet-drop to take into account but few things warm the cockles like picking off an entire enemy squad without them ever figuring out where you are. What else are sniper games for? Of course, because Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is a war simulator, you’ll also have plenty of opportunities to pluck helicopters out of the sky with a single shot.
City Interactive did well to fix the myriad issues of the first Sniper: Ghost Warrior game for the franchise’s second outing - they fixed the horrendous AI, tidied up their level design and, most importantly, made the game all about sniping. That means a much slower, leaner experience, which is exactly what you want from a sniper game.
Perhaps the most important change present in Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 is to the sniping mechanics themselves. Gone are the amped-up environmental effects that would send a seemingly simple shot careening off the screen or falling humiliatingly short. You’ll still have to observe wind direction and distance, but they’ve been dialled down to realistic levels.
The Sniper: Ghost Warrior series might be a little shonky for most people's tastes, but as sniper games go they are tough to beat. If you want more, then you might consider checking out Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 as it boasts a few significant shifts from the second game, such as an open-world map and mission design, crafting, and overhauled enemy AI.
You might not have to think about the coriolis effect or hold a wet finger in the air to judge wind direction in Far Cry 4, but Ubisoft’s Himalayan-themed sandbox is full of menacing honey badgers and tigers to turn your honed trigger finger on. With a fully-fledged stealth component, an arsenal of high-power rifles, and free rein over how you choose to take on any encounter, Far Cry 4 is one of the best sniper games around, even if that was never Ubisoft's intention.
For example, if you’re up against a stronghold, simply head to higher ground and start picking enemies off one by one. Eventually, they’ll send some choppers after you, presenting you with two options: shoot the pilots, or equip a bow and fire some explosive arrows their way. Sure, Far Cry 4 has a lot in common with Far Cry 3, but it adds enough in terms of gameplay and spectacle to make the trip to Kyrat worthwhile.
Any sniper games we missed out? Let us know in the comments below.