I have a heck of a lot of respect for the Sniper Elite series. Here we have a shooter that blends both third and first person gameplay, yet it isn’t focused on run-and-gun action. Quite the opposite, as the games instead encourage stealthy, long-range tactics through the use of sneaky environmental know-how and your good ‘ol sniper rifle. Sure, you have the option to run around like Rambo, but more often than not you’ll quickly find yourself floating in a pool of your own blood. In an age where ACTION ACTION ACTION is all shooter fans are really fluent in, a new entry in the Sniper Elite series feels refreshing.
In case you’re half asleep while reading this article, Sniper Elite III is the third iteration of this series developed by Rebellion Oxford. However, it’s actually set several years prior to the events of Sniper Elite V2, as we follow Office of Strategic Service Officer Karl Fairburne during World War II. Fairburne learns of a secret wonder weapon program that is being used by Nazi forces, which of course means that it is Fairburne’s duty to go in their and take care of business before the world ends.
Sniper Elite III marks a big improvement over previous entries in the series, as we are now dealing with larger environments and more ways to go about completing objectives. Types of environments and terrain are much more varied than before, giving the game more of an open-world feel that gives you much more freedom to roam around in. The premise remains the same, though, as you have a sniper rifle and targets that need taking out in a stealthy manner. Find a good spot that gives you a good range of the area, and when you have a shot that can be taken without alerting others you pull the trigger. Ridiculous, slo-mo x-ray shots that are more detailed and gruesome than ever follow.
Though the bones of what this series has always been remains intact, there is much more meat and polish than there has ever been before. To enhance the stealth gameplay and add quite a bit more tension to every encounter, an eye icon has been implemented into the game that displays the player’s level of detection by the enemy. Going deeper, each enemy also has a circle meter over their heads that displays how aware they are of your presence, with yellow meaning they’re suspicious and are going to look around a bit and red meaning that they saw you and are going to alert their allies. If you are spotted, you must quickly relocate to a new area so the enemies lose your trail and the alert status concludes. This stealth system works really well, as it is easy to understand but difficult to pull off flawlessly every time.
A nice bit of depth is added to the gameplay by way of the point system, which is a system in which certain actions or objectives that you successfully complete will result in points that go towards higher ranks and weapon customization. Thankfully, the game highly favors all stealth kills, meaning that a sniper shot to the head from long range or an assassination will be much more rewarding than just running around shooting everything in sight. There are also collectibles scattered throughout each level in the game, including collector’s cards and journal pages. These items range from minor objects that simply go towards unlocking an achievement to fleshing out the game’s backstory.
As far as story goes, Sniper Elite III is very bare-bones, though I don’t really have much of a problem with that. What it basically boils down to is you being sent in to assassinate an evil general and uncovering his secret diabolical plan. There will be bits of dialogue before each mission and some strewn in between them to give necessary context, but there is nothing here that will come close to getting you invested in the characters or the narrative. Story isn’t really something you expect from a game like this, though, and this has plenty of other things that more than make up for a ho-hum story.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t other core areas where the game could be improved, though. There is an unfortunate amount of texture popping that happens whenever you zoom in with your sniper rifle, which means that you will be seeing movement that you may confuse as an enemy when it really isn’t. This problem becomes even more apparent in the game’s online mode, which becomes very aggravating when you are caught off guard due to focusing on something that isn’t there and then you are subsequently picked off like a sitting duck.
Regardless of texture popping, the game’s online mode is still a lot of fun. You have your standard deathmatch and team deathmatch modes, though in a game that focuses much more on stealth these modes feel quite different. Instead of running around looking for your next victim in deathmatch, here you find a spot that gives you a good field of view and patiently wait to notice someone moving about. Patience rather than aggressiveness is rewarded just like in the campaign, and it’s definitely a nice change of pace. There is even an interesting mode called Distance King, which uses total distance of kills rather than kills themselves to tally points and crown the winner. I love this mode because it reinforces what the game is all about and encourages it to be played in a stealthy manner, which makes it much more difficult for the inevitable jerk to ruin the experience.
Rebellion Oxford has done a damn good job with Sniper Elite III. The series definitely didn’t come out of the gates roaring, but as time has passed they have learned from their mistakes and fine-tuned everything they have done up to this point in a solid manner. The core gameplay experience has been vastly improved across the board, with bigger and richer environments, tighter and tenser gameplay and a great multiplayer mode to boot. It’s not going to win any awards in the story department, but with gameplay this involving I don’t feel that it detracts from the experience very much. If you’re looking for an alternative to the typical shooter that is popular today, Sniper Elite III is the best option to do so.