- Format: PS4 (version reviewed), PS3, 360, PC, Xbone
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: 505 Games
- Developer: Rebellion
- Players: 1 (offline), 2-12 (online)
- Site: http://www.sniperelite3.com/
Sniper Elite V2 was a great game with an incredibly tense atmosphere, that punished mistakes mercilessly. The latest entry in the series keeps the Sniper Elite heart pumping, but makes a handful of changes, with mixed results – newcomers and casual fans are welcomed more than ever, while sniping purists may find themselves frustrated.
The uninitiated may not be aware, but Sniper Elite isn’t simply about taking out enemies from great distances. The basic premise is that you make your way, alone, through areas chock full of Nazis (with an odd lack of Swastikas). You carry your trusty sniper rifle of course but also explosives, a pistol, and a submachine gun. There will sometimes be individuals you’re tasked with killing, but in terms of enemy contact the rest is largely up to you. It’s in your best interests to stay undetected for as long as possible though, so that you can always plan your next move and avoid a horde of enemies rushing to your position. Sniper Elite III generally features larger and more open areas than its predecessor, often giving you the option of sneaking past enemies entirely.
The story here could be written on the back of half a postage stamp, with yet another gruff-voiced Chad McAmerican saving the world by killing lots of people and blowing stuff up. Dialogue is mercifully scarce. Why mercifully? Well, one of the final cutscenes even uses the line “We are the same, you and I” with no apparent sense of irony. Good God!
Forget about the story though (we certainly did), because while playing through the campaign, you’ll spend almost every second caught in the moment. Arguably the best thing about the game is that no two people will play through a mission in exactly the same way. The aforementioned openness of the levels is sometimes illusory – we once found ourselves prevented from walking through a river to take a shortcut, and another time a none-too-steep incline refused to allow us up – but generally speaking, you can exploit the environment to its fullest. Each area is a masterclass in level design. Shadows and long grass are scattered around to help conceal you at a distance, while low walls and buildings are everywhere for you to exploit at both long and short distance. Explosive barrels and crates are a tired idea in games, but make perfect sense here in context; and there’s a great variety of vantage points in each level to observe from above or below.
You can shoot weak points on vehicles (including tanks) to take them out, but we rarely did that, preferring instead to observe movement patterns and lay explosive traps (which can be fun for infantry too). That’s what the series is all about, observation and planning. We would sometimes tensely look through our scope for minutes at a time without firing a shot, waiting for a soldier to become isolated and unobserved and/or waiting for a loud noise to briefly but vitally hide the sound of our rifle. Further enhancing the idea of ‘do it your way’, you can here earn and unlock different weapons and equipment. You can then customise your loadout (and even your sniper rifle) each time you start a mission according to how you play. Do you sacrifice health items so you can carry more explosives? Do you want your rifle to deal greater damage at the cost of greater recoil? And so on.
On all difficulties but Authentic you get a bag full of assists, which will probably prove to be a sticking point for some. When an enemy starts to notice you, a giant circle appears above their head turning from yellow to red; you can tag enemies to see them at all times, even through solid objects; a mini-map automatically shows nearby enemies you haven’t spotted; you can now save at any time; and, most sacrilegious of all, holding your breath while looking down the scope provides a second reticule showing exactly where the bullet will land, rendering gravity and wind almost inconsequential to your aim. It’s still a furiously addictive game, but a little less tense than V2, where a mistake was easy to make and meant losing so much.
Authentic removes all of the aforementioned assists (and your on-screen health bar) but, crushingly, also removes saves. Fiddling with Custom difficulty will allow you to replicate Authentic while retaining saves, which is arguably the very best way to experience SEIII; but that means forgoing all difficulty-related achievements/trophies.
This is 2014, so there’s an online element. The whole campaign can be played in co-op (invite only), as can some specially designed levels and a (slightly ill-judged) Survival mode. There’s also a competitive element that boils down to deathmatches – though one mode rewards total shot distance rather than kills, and another prevents you getting close to your opponents. These work very well, encouraging you to be just as careful as offline, and leading to some great sniper battles – but at time of writing (on PS4 at least) over 50% of connection attempts fail or even crash the game, and there are a handful of minor but annoying bugs.
Speaking of bugs, there are a few atmosphere-ruining ones in the campaign. They’re few, far between, but very much noticeable. A corpse caught on scenery will jiggle about amusingly/disturbingly, or you might catch a soldier patrolling the same ten square feet of sand as though he really needs a wee. Once, a group of enemies refused to pop into existence until we had stepped into the small area they were guarding.
Despite the issues that should have been addressed before release we had enormous, undeniable fun with Sniper Elite III. The freedom afforded you adds replay value, and online is great fun – when it works. If only the bugs and connection kinks had been ironed out, we would have happily added one more to the score. As it is, it’s still well worth your time and money.