Sniper Elite 3: A Review
Sniper Elite 3 was released on June 27th 2014 in Europe and July 1st 2014 in North America for Windows, Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One and Xbox 360 (reviewed).
About the Author
John Roberts is a video game critic on HubPages and YouTube, reviewing that he sees worthy of the former, whilst reviewing Playstation One games on the latter channel. When he isn't penetrating people's skulls and laughing with excessive glee, he's often scrounging for things to complain about.
The last time Roberts was involved in assassination, he tried to get the attention of the Nazis by singing "Hitler's only got one ball" so the Resistance could get a clear shot. He was arrested and he only had one confession: the other was not in the Albert Hall.
It's a pretty sad state of affairs when I can simply glance at a game's cover art and say "that's not worth £60" without seeing any footage, interviews or cinematic trailers. If you've been reading my articles for any length of time you'll know why this is; I've been crushed with disappointment by most of this year's releases and I find it's far easier to be cynical about a game rather than bite the bullet and see something about it. While this isn't the healthiest attitude to have it beats being hyped for something and then have my expectations shattered, which is what has happened for the seven months of 2014's life. But when a game like Sniper Elite 3 comes along and blows my socks off the feeling is far better than being proven right about a game I look forward to. It's a pleasant surprise rather than a petty victory which is quickly forgotten, and SE3 has had a long lasting impact on me in the short time I've owned it.
After Sniper Elite V2 - a game I didn't play enough to fully appreciate - I didn't think the series could do much more or even boast a lot two years later. Apart from its legendary kill-cam Sniper Elite 3 doesn't seem to offer all that much on the surface. I've also seen people cringe at the thought of this being a World War 2 shooter but with all the lacklustre urban military shooters I welcome the scorching sands of Nazi-invaded Africa. I don't mind WW2 shooters provided they're not in excess or suffer the "follow the leader" syndrome that the industry thinks is contagious.
You are Karl Fairburne, a sniper who has as many syllables in his name equal to the amount of times you'll hear it. Armed with a character model you've seen in about 20 games this year alone and a sniper rifle, it's your job to discover what the Nazis are doing in Africa and what they can gain from this territory. I'd tell you more if the plot wasn't told through mumbling and terrible subtitle text (because deaf gamers are a fairy tale, right?), or even terrible exposition before each mission it would probably be a lot clearer. To the game's credit however the intel you find around the maps is worth a read, and gives a lot more information on the current objective from a soldier's point of view.... if you can find it. Now without looking at where I said it, can you remember the protagonist's name? A fiver says you can't.
"Those 10 seconds are the so euphoric you could class Sniper Elite 3 as a Grade A narcotic!"
But where Sniper Elite's story could've been good but is obscured by bad story telling, the gameplay has nothing to hide and is rewarding at all times. Make no mistake; this is a game for sniping and that's where the focus lies, but you can still have fun causing chaos without remorse. As a sniper, you're expected to do more than just line up your sights and as an infiltrator you're expect to keep awareness to a minimum. Your shots will be affected by heartbeats per minute, as will your weapon of choice (and all its customisation), your stance and your terrain. Subtle elements such as hiding in shadows and foliage actually work, as opposed to games that say it helps reduce enemy visibility when it's hardly noticeable. Heck, even shooting when the noise is masked by an explosion or anti-air gunfire makes the experience all the better for people who take the time to plan. You'll even be rewarded if you take advantage of cover, noises, terrain and premeditation with additional accolades, achievements and experience points.
Sniping is far harder than bringing your sights over a target's head and pulling the trigger. There are no trickshots here; it's all about cold hard calculation, considering wind speed and direction, when that next cannon is going to fire, when the guard is going to turn around and where you need to go if it goes pear shaped. But at the same time if you get the perfect shot not only is there a popup which congratulates your excellent marksmanship - there's also the kill cam. Even if you don't get a headshot but tick just a few of the boxes in what you're doing right, you'll still get to watch the bullet whizz through the air silently before it penetrates your target's vital organs (of which there are many to choose from) and shatter their bones like internal grenades! It's stunning how much attention to detail was put into the almost pornographic kill cam, and there's no feeling like the belly laugh you get. Those 10 seconds are the so euphoric you could class Sniper Elite 3 as a Grade A narcotic!
If you insist on using anything but the sniper rifle to kill your foes and play this like Contra, you can still have fun.... to a degree. Because health regeneration is extremely limiting to the point where you'll be begging for a bandage as a sniper, taking on Rommel's forces as the protagonist of Commando will be tough. The various weapons such as submachine guns, shotguns and pistols are few as intended, the same with ammunition, so trying to play the game like this is only going to give short term gratification. If you want to completely avoid the sniping aspect of the game you're basically paying £25 for the worst third person shooter since Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard.
This kind of play also makes the game feel a lot more shallow, as gameplay objectives very rarely change from "destroy these AA cannons" or "assassinate these colonels and loot their corpses". However if you play the game as intended you'll find that you couldn't care less about what the mission tells you to do because you're too busy having fun destroying the opposition from a distance. For the eight missions you'll do, each of them feels like a different test where you learn from the journey as opposed to the reward at the end. The amount of missions there is might sound underwhelming, but for my first playthrough I spent two to three hours on each mission mostly out of trial and error to iron out mistakes for the second playthrough.
Rebellion Oxford boasted that each of the levels had multiple paths to take which is a false fact. There aren't multiple paths to take so you can choose which objective you want to do first (for the majority of the game), but it is true that the maps are huge and the amount of ways you can approach the individual objectives are numerous. It feels very similar to Dishonored where there is an objective at the end of the level, but getting there all depends on how well you use your abilities to navigate the map. Good map design, but the objective placement could've been better. If the hardcore Sniper Elite players can prove me wrong however, that would be hugely appreciated.
SE3 also wouldn't be a true 2014 shooter without obligatory multiplayer which, much like the rest of the game, was a rather pleasant experience. I didn't spend much time with it however as my Xbox Live subscription had run out on the same night that I was experimenting with the game's versus capabilities, but what little I had played was challenging and interesting. It was limited to deathmatch style rules for the most part, but tweaks involving points rewarded based on distance and CQB restrictions made it a lot better. The co-op experience not only had two players doing missions together but there was also an endurance mode called Survival Missions, and with all the gadgets and traps you can set in SE3, this game can get away with including a Horde mode. Did I feel it warrented me renewing my subscription fee for Xbox Live? At the moment, no. It isn't revolutionary at all and the few tweaks don't justify you getting the game just for its multiplayer. It's an additional bonus for those who liked the single player and want to take the action online with a friend/group of friends, but it will quickly get old for someone who wants some worthwhile innovation.
Visually Sniper Elite 3 is what I'd expect from an Xbox 360 game and considering it was made for previous gen, I didn't see the point in spending an additional £20 for the Xbox One version. The view distance is fair, if a little dusty beyond fifty metres, so trying to get a headshot on an unmarked target will cause you to lean forward and squint your eyes like you're driving at 90 years old. The attention to detail can't quite be appreciated on this version as opposed to PC, but it's enough to make me take the time to survey the land not just for scouting purposes, but to breathe it in. Considering I haven't seen Africa in a War game since Hour of Victory, I took the time to take a virtual vacation. But what really impressed me was the animation work and while I've already praised the kill-cam, the animators took the slightest bit of time to extend the movements of characters even when idle. The enemies you face and the character you play as (Kurt Fairbanks?) are always doing something adding to the feeling of this being a "living breathing world", a term that is trotted out so much it's become a joke. I wouldn't mind seeing the guards conversing more, trading cigarettes or checking magazines while patrolling or standing around; it's just the little touches in a game like this that can make a whole world of difference.
What bothered me was a lack of soundtrack and while that's understandable for the purposes of concentration, I think there should've been something that played when detected, under fire and other rare occasions. Even the cut scenes have few songs I remember. Not much to say here other than it's disappointing but I can appreciate the reasons.
Final Verdict: Average
To conclude, Sniper Elite 3 was a fairly decent experience and welcome change to the grey modern military shooters that we've become accustomed to. The story needs a lot more work before I can say I was immersed in Kris Fairytale's exploits and as someone who hadn't played previous titles I can't fully appreciate his skills. The combat remains true to what the franchise had built upon over the years and provides a steep, if somewhat forgiving, learning curve for players new to the series. Don't expect to do much more than sniping though, and you may find the gameplay to be repetitive after long periods of time. It's a game that's not going to be completed in a weekend and because of the obscure collectables and need to push oneself harder for those perfect ratings, I can see this title staying on your shelf for a few weeks - if not months - longer.
Its arbitrary multiplayer mode didn't need to be here though, and it hardly makes up for the price of the game. Seeing as most stores that sell it fairly cheap though, you can't go wrong giving it a try should you choose to buy it. I'd still only recommend the game for previous generation consoles, or if you can get it for ~£20 on Steam.
When this game makes me want to go over older parts of a series I may have judged poorly, it's doing something right. This game isn't a must buy, but I can recommend you get it new at some point.
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