Sniper Elite is a series that has always put an emphasis on stealth and long range head shots, but it hasn’t always done either of the two very gracefully. Sniper Elite V2, while modestly improving on the original, was still very much a wonky and unpolished experience. In that regard, Sniper Elite III shines through as a prime example of recognizing mistakes and correcting them. It’s clear that Rebellion Developments have put a lot of time, care, and effort into assuring that Sniper Elite III would succeed where its predecessors have failed.
Players once again step into the boots of Karl Fairburne, as he travels through Northern Africa in an attempt to uncover a secret Nazi plot. The linear gameplay of Sniper Elite V2 has been scrapped in favor of more open ended levels, enabling players to take advantage of multiple paths and instilling a much needed sense of freedom into the gameplay. As with previous entries, satisfaction comes from quietly moving through populated areas and picking off your targets with slow motion, x-ray styled sniper shots.
This time around, Rebellion has put a big emphasis on bullet ballistics, drop off and other factors. Playing on the normal or cadet difficulties don’t do much for this, but the higher difficulties is when realism comes into play. Aiming the sniper rifle, you can attempt a free shot or hold your breath while looking through the rifles scope. Holding your breath will steady Karl’s heart rate, slowing down time and placing a red diamond where your shot will land. The longer you hold your breath, the smaller the diamond gets and thus – the more precise your shot becomes. However, holding your breath too long will cause Karl’s heart rate to become erratic and your rifle will begin to sway.
The kill cam in Elite III is oh-so-satisfying. I never got tired of seeing a bullet exit from the barrel of my gun in slow motion and watching in awe as it journeyed toward the target – penetrating their chest and collapsing their lungs, or crushing the enemy’s skull into fragments. The only downfall of such satisfaction, is that other weapons and explosives were significantly less appealing. A silent pistol, known as the Welrod, was the only other weapon I really used in addition to my trusty rifle.
You do have the option of playing through Sniper Elite III with guns blazing, but I don’t recommend it. For a true Sniper Elite experience, players will want to quietly take down their enemies with hand-to-hand executions, or pick them off quietly with the Welrod as they search for a good position to set up and snipe. The best places to snipe from are usually fairly obvious, such as lookout towers and the tops of other structures. There are also a number of generators littered around each level, which Karl can sabotage to make intermittent noises. The noises generated can then be used to mask the sound of Karl’s gunshots, allowing you to pick off a number of targets in the area without being noticed.
If you miss the queue to fire a shot while the generator is masking your bullet noise, enemies will immediately become aware of your presence. At this point, the game will encourage you to relocate as guards begin to move in on your last known position. A meter on the lower left side of your screen will keep you apprised to the alert level of your foes at all times, and will even prompt you again when the coast is clear. Also, an icon of an eye at the bottom of your screen will keep you aware of how visible Karl is (or isn’t) in your current position at all times.
Sniper Elite III’s A.I. is a mixed bag. When enemies are alerted to your presence, they seem fairly intelligent – closing in on your position, while firing shots and lobbing grenades. However, all a player needs to do for escaping danger is follow the prompt on screen and relocate. Running a mere 50 feet from your last known position and ducking behind cover will cause the enemies alert status to dissipate, with guards eventually carrying on as if you were never there in the first place.
The campaign mode of Sniper Elite III consists of only 8 stages, however each level will take well over an hour to complete. I actually spent a little over 2 hours on a few levels – sneaking around and killing guards, looting their corpses, moving the bodies, searching for intel, targets, etc. The locations and settings were definitely a high point in the game for me, as each area was well varied and felt completely original from the last. The story itself wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. It serves the purpose of providing a context for the game and its events, but beyond that it was ultimately forgettable. Voice acting was so bad that it was often comical at times, but it felt deliberate, and I was fine with that.
You can actually play through the entire campaign in co-op too, which was a welcome addition. I only played through a few levels in this manner, but it definitely felt much more fun playing with a friend. There is also a wave-based Survival mode, which can be played solo or co-op with a buddy. However, Overwatch was the ultimate co-op experience, providing a series of missions with one player as the sniper and the second as a spotter.
Elite III also features multiplayer, which was fun, but not on par with the experience you will get from other AAA shooters. In addition to the standard Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, Elite III also shines through with modes like Distance King and No Cross. Distance King is similar to Deathmatch, as players are trying to rack up kills, but with an interesting sniper twist – players need to kill their opponents from the longest distance possible. The player (or team) with the highest total kill distance wins the match. My favorite mode, No Cross, is also similar to Team Deathmatch, but teams are separated at the outset by impassable barriers. This leaves your only option being to set up shop, line up targets, and start sniping away.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Sniper Elite III. Much more so then I was expecting. The new, open level design is a huge improvement over Elite V2, making the game feel fresh and rewarding. Sniping and slow motion deaths through the kill cam are as satisfying as ever, and I never got tired of watching my bullets blast through the x-rayed skeletons of my enemies. Multiplayer is fun for a weekend, but I don’t see many people playing it much beyond that. Co-op on the other hand, is where it’s at in Sniper Elite III – Campaign, Survival, and Overwatch modes offer hours of fun for two friends to enjoy. If you’re a fan of sniping, or just looking for a good stealth shooter, then Elite III is definitely worth checking out.