Sniper Elite 3 represents a great step forward for an under-appreciated franchise.
Sniper Elite 3 puts players behind the deadly tandem of eye and trigger finger of elite OSS sniper, Karl Fairburne, during World War II, in Northern Africa of 1942. Browns and greys of typical WWII Shooters have been replaced with the glistening sun, hot sands, and lush foliage. Crumbled cities make way for settings like the Siwa Oasis, foreign temples, and landing strips surrounded by dunes. The palette swap is a welcome change, while still delivering a distinctly WWII experience, albeit one rarely (if ever) explored. While the visual upgrade is most certainly welcome, strangely there are some oversights that tend to lead to loss of immersion. In particular, beyond the borders of the area of play can seem muddy, dull, and sometimes gigantic seams can be found. In addition to the out-of-bounds issue, there remains some noticeable texture-pop in when zooming with either the riflescope, or the binoculars, sometimes resulting in troublesome target acquisition.
The campaign featured in Sniper Elite 3 consists of eight total stages, and whilst the number might seem slight, the content and calculated movements needed to feel true to the title surely deliver much more than “just eight levels”. Players can count on visiting some truly interesting and diverse locales through their rampage upon the German Afrika Corps. Sniper Elite 3 is most certainly not banking on a 20 hour campaign for a one time play, but more so that players will find entertainment and replay value in approaching the open-design levels differently, and seeking the ever addictive collectibles. Certainly the degree of difficulty at which players progress will dictate the length, as higher difficulties ratchet up the tension quickly by varying not only bullet drop, but wind speed and direction, as well as making enemies all the more unforgiving. The AI proves to be challenging, and barring a few "through wall/behind cover spots", were very fair in their sight lines, spotting abilities, and accuracy.
This design choice immerses the player in the mindset of a hunter, unnoticed by it’s prey.
A notable, and most welcome, change from Sniper Elite V2 is the open level design. Play areas within Sniper Elite 3 feel much larger, very open to interpretation, and like a true playground for the player. This design choice immerses the player in the mindset of a hunter, unnoticed by it’s prey. Secondary objectives present themselves as you explore the level as well. Taking the long way around players will discover structures like sniper’s nests, guard towers with armed spotlights, or ammo dumps that can be compromised in order to earn more XP, although completing secondary objectives does not have a meaningful impact upon story progression.
Another newcomer to Sniper Elite is the relocation system, which will undoubtedly save many a skin for those that decide to play the game. Once a shot is fired from without suppression such as a plane flying overhead, or a broken generator to create a noise mask, the player notices a yellow indicator. If the player does not relocate, as the system is named, they risk detection and a much larger fight than if they simply move X amount of meters from where the shot was fired. If discovered, players can choose to stand and fight, or flee to flank their foes. When attempting to flee, if line of sight with enemies is broken, the player shows a ghost like outline where their last known location was, quite similar to the past Splinter Cell entries. Just as in real-world practices, relocation is best for longevity.
The narrative web weaved is intensely predictable, and while somewhat interesting, when spoken by the stereotypical hard-chinned hero, seems to just fall flat or seem plain uninspired. Our hero is after General Franz Vahlen, in his campaign across the North of Africa, and eventual plot to develop a new Nazi super weapon. The story is entirely plausible and somewhat engaging at first, but seems to lose its fizzle when it needs it most, in the build to the climax. The trouble is, Vahlen never seems more menacing than a “typical Nazi”, that is to say, inherently evil. There was no real feeling of vindication, vengeance, or meaningful loss throughout the story.
The juxtaposition of a gravel-voiced protagonist in one-scene and exploding testes in the next could prove a turn off for some.
Those that have played earlier entries in 505 and Rebellion’s Sniper series can rest assured that the core concepts and heart of the series remain intact, while new additions and refinements, only serve to make the experience more immersive, and ultimately enjoyable. Some will undoubtedly be drawn to (with some help from marketing) the incredibly detailed and improved ballistic carnage provided by the X-Ray Kill-Cam. This feature, which might appear as not much more than a cheap gimmick or gore fest, actually provides some thorough enjoyment, varied results, and even some helpful information about enemies in the area that were previously behind cover. The X-Ray system can be viewed in one of two lights; a light-hearted yet thoroughly deep and detailed system to provide visceral feedback to the carnage your bullets cause, or simply a binge of excess in the fashion of good old fashioned gore. The juxtaposition of a gravel-voiced protagonist in one-scene and exploding testes in the next could prove a turn off for some.
Progression is handled as a lump sum in Sniper Elite, having players earn, upgrade, and utilize their equipment across all modes simultaneously. At first glance the XP system may be a bit confusing, as there are no perks, and XP is earned via different metrics like distance, kills, ghost score, etc. Soon it becomes apparent that the rifle unlocked by dispatching 35 Nazis may be used across all modes, and is definitively a different weapon than your previous firearm. Rifles in particular get systems more akin to Battlefield and Call of Duty with the ability to alter optics, reticles, actions, and barrels, all producing differing degrees of utility.
Wrap-up: Sniper Elite 3 provides a unique take on an overpopulated time period, in an overpopulated genre, but still manages to stand out. Utterly enjoyable, and customizable if you are not one for the X-Ray kill-cam, Sniper Elite 3 manages to make the carnage of killing something more about a means to an end. While the story may leave wanting, the experience within, and the collectible content, is enough to call Sniper Elite 3 a definitive step forward, and one we hope continues for Rebellion and 505.
*Examiner was unable to test the Multiplayer of Sniper Elite 3 due to matchmaking issues, and was unable to find or create games suitable for review. This review is not indicative of the Multiplayer portion of the game, and will be updated accordingly when the PlayStation 4 version is patched and stable enough to pass judgment.
**A copy of Sniper Elite 3 was provided by 505 and Rebellion games on the PlayStation 4 console for review by Examiner.com