Despite its flaws, I enjoyed Sniper Elite V2. For a game that looked so serious and realistic at a glance, in reality, it was a just a dumb game where you got to snipe at Nazi testicles all day long. It was sort of great!
However, when Rebellion started to unveil Sniper Elite III, I wasn't really that excited. It looks remarkably similar to the previous game and for the most part, that's true. The core controls, the gameplay and the overall feel of Sniper Elite III will be immediately familiar to veteran fans. However, there are just enough additions and improvements here for me to say that this is easily the best game in the series so far. Despite this, the overall experience was still a little too similar for my liking.
Sniper Elite III barely has a story at all and what is there is bland and superfluous. You play as Karl Fairburne, who you may recognise as the same protagonist from the last game. The keyword in the last sentence is may as he really does have about as much personality as a dog turd. Nevertheless, this time his mission is to go after this Nazi General named Vahlen and there's a new prototype super tank called the "Ratte" that needs to be put out of commission... and that's it really. The conflict is still based on World War II but instead of hanging out in bombed out buildings in Europe all over again, we are now blasting Nazis in Africa, which is a nice change of pace.
Story clearly wasn't the focus for Rebellion when creating Sniper Elite III, and that's fair enough, but I do think that this series takes itself far too seriously. For a game that has such over-the-top violence throughout, the game should have a ridiculous story to go along with that, but instead, they play it safe by just giving us the typical gruff nobody hero, killing Nazis because what else is he going to do? After playing Wolfenstein: The New Order, my standards for stories told in World War II shooters have risen and Sniper Elite III is nowhere near meeting them.
But like I said, Rebellion clearly don't care much about the story so I am not going to harp on about it anymore. Instead, I am going to talk about shooting Nazi's in the heart, over and over again. The core sniping mechanics here are pretty much identical to the last game, which is to say that they're rock solid.
Depending on the difficulty level you choose, it changes what you need to take into account if you want to line up the perfect headshot. On the easiest difficulty, you can just set your sights on a guy and pull the trigger, just like in most other shooters. On normal, you need to start worrying about bullet drop, which I didn't find to be too difficult, unless you were sniping from extreme distances. On the hard setting, you need to start thinking about wind and at this stage, sniping your foes is significantly more difficult but each kill feels much more satisfying as a result.
What really helps you out in a real pinch is holding your breath. Obviously, this helps steady your aim but it also slows time time briefly and gives you a small red indicator telling you exactly where your bullet is going to go. You can't hold your breath forever though, and if you have a fast heartbeat from running around too much, then you can't hold your breath. The game does a pretty good job of telling you what is your heartbeat rate is at all times and as long as you are creeping around, I found I could pretty much hold my breath almost all of the time when taking shots.
For the very serious sniping fans, they will be happy to know that the hardest difficulty completely takes away the entire HUD, which is just too much for me but that option is there for those people out there that were reaching for the puke bucket after reading that last paragraph.
Speaking of the puke bucket, some players might be put off by Sniper Elite III’s over-the-top violence. By default, most sniper rifle kills result in a slow-motion bullet cam, which shows the bullet slowly penetrate the enemy’s flesh and shows off their internal organs being destroyed. Personally, I love this effect and after two games (those pointless Nazi Zombie games don’t count) it still has never gotten old. I am slightly disappointed that the overall effect is very similar to that of V2. If you have played that game, don’t expect the gory kills to look any different. For those who do get tired of the effect or just can’t stomach the violence, they can turn it off or reduce the frequency of when they appear.
Apart from your trusty sniper rifle (of which there are multiple types of), you also can also carry two secondary weapons and you have multiple slots for additional equipment. The secondary weapons are for sub-machine guns and pistols, both of which should only be used as a last resort. However, the additional equipment can prove to be very useful and you have a lot of flexibility as far as what you want to take with you into a mission. You can bring items like sticks of dynamite, mines and grenades, all of which have their uses.
But you won't have access to all of this equipment from the offset. For the first time in the series, there is now an experience and levelling system, which works exactly as you would expect. You do get XP just for killing guys just like in any other game, but here, you can get much more XP depending on how you take out your target. So if you take the time to line up a silent headshot multi-kill or something, you are going to be rewarded with much more XP than just shooting a guy willy nilly with a sub-machine gun. Overall, this new XP system is welcome over the pointless points system that V2 had. Despite this though, the XP system doesn’t dramatically change the way you are going to play the game anyway.
What does change the way you are going to play Sniper Elite III is the vastly improved level design. The biggest problem with the previous title was the overly linear and restrictive missions that make the game feel more like a shooting gallery and you didn’t have the freedom to tackle levels in whatever way you wanted. All of this has been fixed for the third instalment, giving you much longer and larger levels that allows you to call the shots. You will often be given a series of main objectives that you have to finish and the order that you do these missions is up to you. Each level also contains a series of optional objectives and collectables to find. While these are nice in giving the game additional replay value, you aren’t rewarded particularly well for doing this stuff. You might gain a little bit of experience but that’s it.
Also for the first time in the series, stealth is a valuable way of getting through the game. Due to the open level design, there is more room for you to sneak around and find alternate pathways. It is easy enough to take out guards silently. If you get up close, you can deliver a silent pistol shot to the head or a quick close-quarters stealth kill.
However, if you need to use your sniper rifle, you will need to find a way of masking your gunfire. Sniper Elite V2 had the sound-masking concept too but it didn’t work out too well as stealth generally in that game was a bust. Here, sound-masking is much more useful and there are more opportunities to use it. Like in the previous game, there might be loud aircraft flying by or nearby AA guns going off. Now, you can also sabotage nearby machinery to make a loud noise. When a loud noise is happening, the game has a visual icon on screen helping you time your shot, which is appreciated.
For those that insist on playing the game stealthily, it is nice that the game allows you to save your progress anywhere and loading a previous save state only takes a few seconds.
While it is possible to play through a mission without being seen, for a lot of us, it is inevitable that we will slip up eventually. When this happens, a new relocation system comes into play. It plays upon the “Last Known Position” mechanic which was also in the last game. Now, the enemies react differently depending on how many shots you have fired from the same position. When you have only fired a single shot, all of the nearby Nazis will hide and take cover. However, if you continue shooting, they will eventually start to fight back. The game does a really nice job of telling you how far you have to run in order to relocate, which effectively loses your alert status. It’s a really smart system that not only makes the rest of the level a turkey shoot but it also works well within the context of you playing as a sniper.
There is no doubt in my mind that Sniper Elite III is the best game in the series, thanks to all of these improvements that I have just mentioned. However, the core of the game really hasn’t changed at all and I did begin to start losing interest in the game only about halfway through the campaign. All of the missions have very similar objectives and the overall look of the levels never changes that much either. While it is great that the game takes place in Africa for the first time, the fact you are stuck there for the entire game is a shame. Since the story isn’t that important, it would have been nice if you played as several different snipers in different conflicts in World War II within the one campaign.
Sniper Elite III only has eight missions, which doesn’t sound like a lot but they are actually all quite long and you are likely to experiment with different routes and tactics within each mission. As a result, it took me about 12 hours to finish the campaign, which I was impressed with, given the fact that V2 was a rather short game. On top of that, I missed quite a lot of collectables and some of the optional objectives so there is further reason for me to play more of the campaign.
There is also a few co-operative modes for you and a friend. You can play through the entire campaign in co-op mode and there are also a few co-op specific missions called Overwatch. In Overwatch missions, one player is a sniper and the other player is just a regular soldier on the ground and the two players need to work together to finish the mission. These missions are good fun but there aren’t that many of them. There is also a wave based survival mode, which is just exactly what you would expect and you can play that alone or with a friend. I definitely would have liked to have seen more Overwatch missions but the fact you can play through the campaign co-operatively with a friend is a great feature, though it is certainly easier to mess things up when you throw two players into the mix.
There is also a decent competitive multiplayer element to the game. There are the standard Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes but there are others that focus on the whole sniping thing. There is a mode called Distance King, where the winner is whoever gets the longest distance sniper kill. There is also a mode called No Cross, where the two teams are unable to get close to each other and sniping is forced.
Overall, the competitive multiplayer is decent enough but it just isn’t my thing at all. There is certainly a level of satisfaction you get from sniping a real human player over a stupid computer man but generally, I don’t really like sniping in multiplayer games and a game that completely revolves around it just isn’t my cup of tea. However, it seems well made and there is a decent amount of maps and modes, something that Sniper Ghost Warrior 2 couldn’t brag about!
Graphically, Sniper Elite III looks good but it isn’t a massive leap from Sniper Elite V2, which is to be expected considering both games were created with the same engine. The game has good looking character models that animate well, along with big open environments that are well detailed. The graphics engine does a great job with lighting and shadowing effects, which help make the levels pop visually. But like I said, it’s still a very similar looking game to V2 and those purchasing the game for their shiny new PlayStation 4s or Xbox Ones will probably be disappointed that there wasn’t a bigger improvement on the graphics. I also noticed that the game was a bit buggy. Nothing serious, but clipping happens regularly and I have spotted a few breakdancing corpses, which a funny bug but it really should have been fixed.
Sound-wise, Sniper Elite III is mostly excellent, with loud, impactful gunfire and great, if slightly unmemorable music that comes in whenever the action gets heated. Explosions sound exquisite and generally, the sound effects used throughout are on point. The voice acting isn’t the best but that’s not a big deal.
Overall, Sniper Elite III is a very good game that does a good job of fixing the shortcomings that the previous game had. However, the core gameplay is slightly too familiar for me and the lack of variety within the missions hurts the campaign. Despite this, Sniper Elite III is definitely the best sniping game on the market at the moment and is definitely worth checking out, if you want to see punctured hearts!
FOUR OUT OF FIVE
(A great game that largely succeeds, but stumbles in some notable ways.)