Publisher: 505 Games
Platforms: PC (Version Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360
Release Date(s): June 27 (PC, EU Consoles), July 1 (Worldwide Consoles)
As much as I hate to describe a video game using this adjective, it is one of the few titles that truly earns it; Sniper Elite III is quite the visceral gameplay experience. How else would you describe the bullet-time slow-mo camera capture, one that follows a sniper round from launch to the final destination as your vanquished foe spews their blood and guts for the entire world to see? As deep-cutting as the action gets, unfortunately, the story and overall polish just scratches the surface, with Sniper Elite III showing much more promise than it ultimately provides. But first, let me sing the game’s just praises.
Continuing on from the previous entry, Sniper Elite V2, you play as OSS sniper Karl Fairburne throughout a series of 8 lengthy main missions centered around Northern Africa. No longer are you on the mean streets of Berlin, as the hallway-esque tactical shooting gameplay has been expanded greatly to provide an immense open world experience. The move is applauded, as the mountainous regions throughout Sniper Elite III provide various planes, terrains, settings and tons of area to approach each level in its own unique way.
The move to an open world game also renews the emphasis on planning, execution and retreat for all of your shots. What makes more sense in the moment; potshots at enemies and hiding away, or finding that one explosive barrel that will level an entire crew of Nazi militia? Due to the fact that you can plan from an altitude high enough to be considered a long-distance sniper shot, the world becomes your oyster, with a number of options that fit around your play style. Additionally, side missions in Sniper Elite III are planted so organically that they don’t feel tacked on to pad for content. You need to find them on your own, and add natural replayability to your adventure.
If you traditionally don’t like shooters because of their inclusiveness, Sniper Elite III is quite the opposite. In addition to regular multiplayer maps (with some of the most excellently designed maps for long-range online play), you can play through the entire campaign with a friend to help you out. Additionally, there is a great co-op mode called “Overwatch,” where you and your friend work as a team to take out enemies with one as a spotter and the second player as the shooter. Finally, you can just let it all out in a blaze of glory in a Survival Mode, letting you and your co-op partner face endless waves of Nazis. It may not have the same swagger of a Nazi Zombie mode, but it gets the job done well.
As the core, Sniper Elite III is an excellent tactical shooter with some excellent ideas to approach gameplay that really separates itself as a unique game. Unfortunately, there are some nagging issues that hold it back once again from being of the household-name quality.
First off, while the single player missions themselves provide varied looks at the same “kill everyone single-handedly” goals, there’s a laughable lack of even an attempt of characterization. The concepts behind Sniper Elite III seems interesting enough (top Nazi leader developing powerful technology that could turn the tide of war forever in the Germans’ favor), but outside of the idea of what you’re doing there’s little to go by. There are few characters involved throughout the campaign, yet each of them feel shallow, but are thrust into situations where the player is expected to care about the outcome. Being all about gameplay is fine; video games are about interactivity, first and foremost. Just try not to half-ass it, that’s all.
A gripe that I had when it came to actual gameplay of Sniper Elite III is the AI. Perhaps the game’s AI code is still tied to the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, but there seems to be an issue with the logic behind enemy patterns. If you somehow kill a guard while masked by sound, you’re in the clear. However, if the body is discovered, the Nazi’s react by doing…absolutely nothing. Perhaps they go into a frenzied mode at a higher difficulty (I was playing at the middle-most difficulty level), but despite the insistence and button prompts to hide bodies throughout the game, the limits to the penalties are minor suspicions. It immediately breaks the immersion.
Additionally, the game’s physics could do with some work. I can’t count the times I’ve either clipped above or into a wall while prone due to faulty collision detection, or the amount of times I’ve second-guessed an enemy in the far distance that turned out to be a flickering texture. That second issue multiplies in online play, as the advanced level of human players require the most precise of reactions and stealth.
It’s unfortunate because, at times, Sniper Elite III can be breathtaking. The developers truly looked into making a realistic sniping game be as true-to-life as possible. Not only can you go into a hyper-realistic mode that tackles sniping in as bare bones a way as possible (no UI, realistic bullet drop, no distance markers), but there is a great deal of effort to make your surroundings feel lifelike. As often as I find them frustrating as a player (due to enemies hiding behind them), the god rays shimmer brightly and with great purpose.
Sniper Elite III can act as a stepping stone to greatness for the series in the future. Its basic tenets in the excellent open-world maps, explosive and strategic sniping action and attention to detail prove that there is a strong core within. A tw0 year gap between titles (similar to 2012’s Sniper Elite V2 being followed with a 2-year turnaround) might not be enough to change course for the series, as the poor AI logic, basis of physics and half-baked story hold back what could be a special game. Who knows what’s in store for the Sniper Elite series, but the newest game is an admirable title worth putting your money down for. When the dust settles, that is.
(A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review.)