The stealth game genre seems to be an exclusive club, one that’s very difficult to make your way into. As much as you can say your game has all the right stealth elements, it will not always be accepted by hardcore fans of the genre as a true stealth experience. Sniper Elite v2 was one of these games that had a very inconsistent stealth system that didn’t seem completely necessary or was easy to overlook. However, I have no doubt in my mind that Sniper Elite 3 hits the mark in this respect. Pun intended.
Set in North Africa, 1942, we take on the role of Karl Fairburne, an American agent, investigating reports of a Nazi superweapon. That’s about it. It is absolutely possible to say more about the story, but Rebellion’s failure to create an engaging story here is just disappointing. Shooters have never been regarded as a good medium for storytelling, but Sniper Elite 3 does not even bother to make an effort. It would have been even more effective had they taken a different approach and ended the story of Fairburne in Sniper Elite v2, leaving Sniper Elite 3 without a narrative and allowing players to go on various missions completely without context. However, it is possible to skip the dull cutscenes and get straight into the action with the simple push of the button, something I highly recommend as it is mindlessly dull.
Thankfully, this isn’t a quality that the rest of Sniper Elite 3 shares. As a contrast to the dark and gritty streets of Berlin in Sniper Elite v2, the bright open plains of North Africa are a welcome change. Vibrant yellows and greens are a big part of this new environment and it truly is a pleasure to look at and traverse through. The expansive scenery and the detailed geography gives you this sense that the maps are even larger than they already are. However, despite this detail, there are some graphical glitches that, whilst minor, are still very noticeable in parts. It’s something that can be distracting, but far from game breaking.
Despite all these changes in setting and size, Sniper Elite 3 brings back the much loved and iconic bullet cams. With the X-Ray vision returning from Sniper Elite v2, there has been even more added detail in these brutal sniper shots. Being able to fire off a bullet and then seeing exactly what damage it does in graphic detail is one of the most satisfying feelings in any video game. There are some odd graphical inconsistencies, like how the blood splash doesn’t seem to be nearly as detailed as the rest of the effects, but overall, it’s a brilliant cinematic part of the game.
When you get your hands on the controller, Sniper Elite 3 shows why it’s a game worth buying at full price. Abandoning the narrow streets of Berlin, this new iteration places you in large open maps and gives you various objectives to accomplish. Whether it involves taking out a target, planting a bomb or searching for secret documents, you will need to use everything at your disposal to make your way through undetected. So because of these larger, open maps, you have way more options to choose from. Some areas may have a larger amount of enemy soldiers, but it might mean you have a better vantage point for your objective. It’s decisions like these that make the stealth experience here. Constantly weighing up the odds and making the intelligent or unintelligent choices will define your playthrough and make it unique. Sniper Elite 3 is one of those games that’s great in conversation. You will want to go to the pub and tell all your friends about that time you snuck through secret tunnels, sniped a tank driver and got the infamous testicle shot.
One of the most significant changes this time around is something that makes me consider Sniper Elite 3 less of a sniper simulation game, and more of a brilliant stealth game. This is the sound and relocation mechanics. In previous iterations of the Sniper Elite series, it was perfectly normal to take out multiple enemies from one vantage point, and it was generally considered to not be a big deal if you get detected. In Sniper Elite 3, this is not the case. If you fire off a sniper bullet, everyone within a very large radius will know exactly where you are. With maps as open as these, where enemies are everywhere, this is pretty much fatal. What you’ll need to do is escape undetected to a location several metres away and you will once again, be in the clear. This relocation discourages players from staying in one place and encourages them to explore the large map and try out different ways of taking out enemy soldiers. Only sound masking can allow you to stay in the same place and this requires concentration, and precise timing, once again, adding another level of complexity to the stealth.
Something I must address, though, is something that I still do not believe should be in the game at all. Sniper Elite 3 is a fantastic 6-8 hour game and although it is short, padding this out with a shoved in multiplayer mode is not what players want. A mode that takes all the complexity away from the stealth and how you move around, and reduces it to a game of whack-a-mole, where the first person to stand up dies is not even close to what Sniper Elite should be about.
Sniper Elite 3 is a tense game. You do not want to be discovered and the music or lack thereof is a key part of this. You can hear your footsteps, you can hear enemy soldiers chatting, you can hear AA guns firing in the background. All of this is valuable information that you can use to navigate and stay undetected. Only when you end up in a firefight, does the music start blasting, and with this contrast, it suddenly becomes hectic. It takes away your ability to hear the finer details and encourages you to escape and get back into a situation where you are undercover once again.
Sniper Elite 3 is a fantastic game. It brings the fun, satisfying sniping from previous titles and combines it with a completely fleshed out stealth system that together, creates an unforgettable experience. Just skip through those cutscenes.
This video review is based on a PC review copy of Sniper Elite III provided by 505 Games.