Sniper Elite 5 tech analysis: Rebellion’s in-house Asura engine continues to impress

Sniper Elite 5 tech analysis: Rebellion's in-house Asura engine continues to impress

After five years of waiting, Sniper Elite 5 is here. This WWII stealth shooter offers rewarding kills and limitless flexibility, but it’s also a rare example of a great new title built on a single engine: Rebellion’s in-house Asura. With promised asset quality improvements and full support for current-gen consoles, has Rebellion achieved its goal? Or did their efforts fall just short of the mark? We reviewed the PS5 and Series X/S versions to find out.

Before we get into the deeper technical changes, let’s cover the basics. All current-gen console versions use dynamic resolution, maxing out at 4K on PS5 and Series X and 1440p on Series S. Minimum resolutions have been measured at 1440p on PS5, 1656p on Series X, and 864p on Series S – although 1080p is more typical.

The accompanying video gives more details on the visuals of Sniper Elite 5 on PS5 and Series X/S.

So far so standard, but this base resolution image is then cleaned up with post-processed AA, rather than more standard TAA. This unfortunately results in rather aliased results and in-motion stability issues. What looks like AMD’s FSR 1.0 technology is used to scale to the console’s final output resolution, resulting in a sharper image – albeit with highlights in foliage and specular elements.

Using these two spatial techniques means the PS5 and Series X end up with a somewhat noisy end result, but the Series S really struggles with coarse edge detail and extra shine. Using time information (as in TAA) would solve many of these problems, so it’s curious to see that Rebellion eventually opted to go with an older style non-time AA.

The PS5 and Series X/S versions appear to use a spatial upscaler similar to AMD FSR 1.0.

sniper elite 5 screenshots technical analysis

X-ray kill cams remain grisly, but mesh distortion is more evident in SE4.

Fortunately, performance is simpler. The PS5 and Series X deliver a locked 60fps during gameplay, but you can expect around 50fps during cutscenes and occasional frame drops during x-ray kill cams – noticeable, but ultimately not distracting given the wildly variable frame rate in Sniper Elite 4 on console.

The S-series version fares less well, with frame rates in the 50s during gameplay in scenes with many enemies or dense foliage, and in the 40s for cutscenes and kill cams . Given the game’s already low base resolution on the Series S, a 30fps cap might make sense to ensure more consistent results – and could allow the game to run at a higher resolution most of the time.

Resolution and performance are therefore somewhat mixed, but the graphics as a whole have made a marked improvement since the last Sniper Elite title five years ago. The first thing you’ll notice is that the game’s bloody X-ray cameras appear a little less gruesome this time around, with the incredibly realistic deformations of character meshes somewhat masked by particle effects and blood splatters. There are still technically complex changes to the mesh, but Sniper Elite 4’s older, more obvious approach arguably produces a more satisfying result.

sniper elite 5 screenshots technical analysis

Photogrammetry was used to achieve high quality assets, with thousands of photos taken.

Elsewhere, the game offers some definite improvements over its predecessor, thanks to the switch to a photogrammetry-based art pipeline. The result is more realistic materials on surfaces like wood and stone, refined indirect lighting, and more subtle specular highlights. Environmental mesh density has also been increased, with detailed meshes for incidental details like rocks and very finely sculpted natural geometry. Thousands of unique art assets are said to have been captured for this title, including old military hardware like tanks and artillery, and it gives the game a much more modern feel than previous entries.

Some of the accessory details also impress. Water ripples are a particular highlight, which show nice mosaic deformations as the player wanders through shallow areas. Shadowmaps also resolve with lots of fine detail and have minimal aliasing, which is especially noticeable on narrow foliage elements.

sniper elite 5 screenshots technical analysis

sniper elite 5 screenshots technical analysis

The AO is too strong in some scenes, while the player character casts a halo of shadow on nearby walls.

Although lighting and shading have improved, some interior scenes may look strange. The ambient shading, which appears to use a mixture of baked elements alongside SSAO, is very strong. Objects are surrounded by thick dark outlines, and the player character casts a halo of shadow on the surrounding geometry. A smaller effect or using a more advanced AO technique could have produced more natural results. Indoor lighting can also sometimes seem flat and some objects can look a little out of place, especially in rooms without strong direct light sources, such as those lit by stained glass windows. Elsewhere the character animations lack a bit of finesse, making for a cartoonish look, but thankfully the conversations between the characters are short and largely logged in cutscenes that end each level.

While Sniper Elite 5 is currently available on PC as well as Sony and Microsoft consoles, we might also see a Switch version at some point. Rebellion did an impressive job on their old Sniper Elite Switch ports, but narrowing that game down to run effectively on the Tegra X1 might prove more difficult. You can already play the Sniper Elite 5 handheld on the Steam Deck, where it hits 30 playable fps at 1280×800, but a more power-limited console like the Switch should prove a tougher target!

There are quibbles here and there, but overall Sniper Elite 5 is worth playing – especially if you can get it on Game Pass. It has a satisfying gameplay loop, built around careful long-range kills in open environments, and benefits from its visual upgrades and the team’s new photogrammetry-based approach to asset creation. The better performance unlocked by the PS5 and Series X/S also contributes to a more responsive experience. The main technical concern here really centers around the use of post-processing based AA and scaling, which produces crisp but temporally unstable results. Image quality isn’t quite where it should be, especially on the Series S, which could also benefit from a few settings tweaks to ensure a stable frame rate.

Still, it’s a series – and an engine – that we can’t wait to see more of. Rebellion is one of the few remaining independent developers to work with in-house technology, and the work they produce often fascinates.

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