Rebellion’s Sniper Elite franchise is a little trickier to quantify than your average, run-of-the-mill shoot-’em-up. While not strictly esoteric, the World War II-based blaster doesn’t pack the same universal appeal as other third-person offerings such as Gears of War or the more recent Resident Evil titles. No, what Sniper Elite does is find its own niche, snuggly camping down between the accessibility of its contemporaries, while injecting enough nuance to leave its own unique mark on the market. With Sniper Elite III however, Rebellion has upped the ante considerably, utilizing larger environments to allow for greater strategic freedom than ever before while remaining pleasingly user-friendly. Oh, and that’s not forgetting the iconic kill-cam cinematics, which announce your kills with a grisly, bone-shattering punch.
This latest entry marks a radical departure from Berlin-focused Sniper Elite V2, with the action instead taking place in the sun-baked warzones of Africa. Gamers find themselves in the well-worn boots of Karl Fairburne, a grizzly, hardened sniper who’s on the hunt for a Nazi super-weapon that can potentially turn the tide of war in favor of the flagging Third Reich. Still, you won’t find yourself really becoming too attached to the game’s story or protagonist; Fairburne is virtually indiscernible from every other cookie-cutter, stoic military grunt that has graced war shooters over the years, and the only thing that defines his character is his ability to slay copious amounts of Nazis. Fortunately, what Sniper Elite III lacks in narrative it more than makes up in adrenaline-pumping, satisfying gameplay.
The introduction of more open environments really gives the bread-and-butter sniping action a shot in the arm. Whether it’s rocky mountain bases, airfields, or high-tech facilities, gamers have a wealth of tactical depth to exploit. While your sniper rifle is your main weapon, Sniper Elite III doesn’t funnel you down a linear path and force you to utilize what it wants you to. Nope, gamers are free to employ whichever tactics they feel necessary, whether that be picking off you foes from a distance with your trusty rifle, mowing down foes with a Thompson, or surreptitiously slitting their throats with a knife. It’s immensely satisfying to know that the game is open to your own play style, and there’s an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment when you put a plan into action, and have it succeed. Indeed, Sniper Elite 3 has a personal touch that not many shooters can achieve.
As touched on in my hands-on preview last month, relocation is at the heart of Sniper Elite III’s DNA. Picking off a foe with a well-placed headshot will do the job cleanly and efficiently, but if you linger for too long, you’ll be swarmed by the enemy. As such, you must have it away on your toes and reach a safe distance where you can camp down and go for another kill. This is true of any weapon, be it a sub-machine gun or sniper rifle, as the noise you create when firing is enough to alert anyone nearby. Still, it’s the sniping that really gets the blood-pumping, and this is where I had the most enjoyment out of the game, as it plays to Sniper Elite III’s strengths; this is a slow, methodical shooter, where patience and planning will get you through in one piece.
Bloody kill cams will dominate much of your experience, with successful shots offering a sweeping, cinematic view of the bullet transitioning from the barrel of your weapon into the unfortunate cranium, testicle, heart, kidney, or other vital body part of your victim for an X-Ray view of the round’s devastating impact. Limbs spasm, bones shatter, and organs are obliterated during these visceral sequences, and though they can be skipped by hitting X, they never feel intrusive, and actually accentuate the feeling of accomplishment with every kill. Vehicles also get in on the action this time around, with Fairburne able to target vulnerable areas such as fuel tanks, rewarding you with a similar kill cam-style viewpoint of your target’s mechanical innards getting ripped to shreds, usually resulting in a massive explosion.
Combat isn’t just about getting one up on your enemy, either. Sniper Elite III boasts an extensive XP system, allowing you to level up in rank and acquire new gear to customize your arsenal with. You’ll net XP for hitting specific body parts, using sound cover to mask your shots, being overly stealthy, and other such factors. As such, the game encourages you to be as creative in your kills as possible, which makes dispatching the Nazi hordes that much more enjoyable. Any weapons you unlock can also be carried directly over to the multiplayer component, where you can select from four different loadouts to tweak to your liking. Here, you’ll battle against others in deathmatches and other such modes – made all the more entertaining due to the emphasis on sniper tactics – combat waves of foes with a mate, or take part in the full campaign via co-op, where double-teaming the enemy with a well-laid plan proves instrumental to your survival.
Appropriately, Nazi troops will make quick work of you if you’re unlucky enough to get caught in their crosshairs, and it’s not just grunts you’ll have to worry about, either. Snipers will attempt to pick you off at a distance, playing your own game against you, while vehicles will cause you more than a few headaches. In fact, the latter afford some interesting ‘boss’ battles, where Fairburne is required to snipe the fuel tank of an APC or Tiger Tank, all the while ducking and diving to avoid incoming fire. These encounters are especially tense, and really emphasize the game’s strategic side as you creep around the battlefield, taking potshots at your mechanical adversary while avoiding incoming fire. It’s a pity then, that the occasionally-obtuse AI can put a damper on the sense of impending danger, making it easy to exploit their behaviour. Enemies can be slow to react to non-fatal body shots, and they’re not as thorough in their search for you as one might expect, tending to give up too easily. Even if the area is strewn with the corpses of their allies, foes seem content to return to their scripted posts, oblivious to the fact a ‘Desert Ghost’ is systematically wiping out their entire squad.
Sniper Elite III runs silky-smooth on PS4, and visually it’s a competent title, even though it’s abundantly clear the game doesn’t do much to squeeze anything extra out of Sony’s latest piece of hardware. Locations have been punctiliously crafted and as such look highly authentic, while the excellent aural presentation works well to complement the gritty, wartime atmosphere, be it the wail of a Stuka siren, punchy gun effects, or the adrenaline-pumping score. On the flip side however, the game is marred by various performance hiccups, the most egregious being graphical tearing and buggy AI, which are a real immersion killer.
Overall, Sniper Elite 3 does exactly what it says on the tin. The game’s compelling marriage of stealth, strategy and methodical shooting marks a welcome change of pace from the brash nature of its contemporaries, and these elements only further shine in the online modes. The amount of extras thrown into each mission, such as diaries, optional objectives, hidden sniper nests, and more, will keep you plugging away for that 100% ratio for some time — a good thing too, as the single-player is over too quick. Yes, Sniper Elite 3 is let down by some questionable AI and performance issues, but that shouldn’t deter you from what is unquestionably a satisfying shoot-’em-up with a punchy, tactical edge.
Sniper Elite 3 was reviewed using a PS4 promo copy sent to us by Alfred London.