Sniper Elite III - Review
Sniper Elite III asks one thing: how much do you love bullet time? The long-running franchise has pretty much made its slow-mo death scenes the main appeal of the series, with an abundance of YouTube videos paying tribute to many a player's obsession with bullet-based orchiectomies. Shots hurtle through the air before punching through muscle, bone and sinew with spectacularly gory results, before you move on to the next target, and do the same thing all over again.
Sniper Elite III sees the series attempt to mix things up a little, primarily by being set in Africa. It's an interesting location for a game, and one that's still criminally underused in video games as a whole. Unfortunately, developers Rebellion can't quite capture the setting as well as you'd hope.
Missions, initially, seem rather non-linear, with the game dumping you on the map and then being left to your own devices. At first this is rather impressive, Sniper Elite III commands a different pace than most modern military games, channelling the likes of Operation Flashpoint: Dragon's Rising and the older Conflict games rather than Call of Duty.
Its job as a military simulation is keenly felt to, with the option of having your sniper shots take into account wind, recoil and a host of other factors. Even on the standard difficulty you're given a heart rate to keep an eye on; no sprinting across open ground for five minutes only to drop prone and land a headshot. No sir, Sniper Elite makes sure you take your time and in that sense at least, it's mighty satisfying.
While not an out-and-out stealth game, Sniper Elite III does make sure you take into account the noise you make. Your sniper rifle can't mask its gun shots in any way so you're encouraged to time your shots when planes pass overhead, or trucks drive by, effectively eliminating your rifle's sound.
Alternatively, if you must open fire, enemies will quickly locate you if you remain in one spot, encouraging players to move around, flanking groups of enemies and staying on the move. It's rare for the game to allow you to take out a host of enemies simply from sitting in one positions. For a game about shooting people at a distance, Sniper Elite III is keen on getting your hands dirty.
Sadly, a lot of this goodwill is then lost thanks to some incredibly dull mission objectives. Most early missions simply involve shooting X number of commanders and collecting notes from their dead bodies. Later missions add in tank fights and the occasional "go here and push the button" but it's never especially exciting. What's worse is that Rebellion repeat the same old tricks, with many levels requiring you to backtrack to the same parts multiple times, usually at opposite ends of the map, in order to complete several parts of a given mission. It doesn't take long before you start noticing a pattern and the game's objectives steadily become a chore.
Similarly, that often talked about sniper kill-cam is far less interesting than the developers seem to think it is. After seeing around ten deaths in meticulous slow-motion the appeal begins to fade and by the time you're finished with the game, it's likely you'll be skipping through the animation in order to get back to the actual gameplay.
This is far more noticeable during the more action-oriented segments, such as when you're tasked with covering an escaping prisoner from a military base. It's one of the game's more thrilling set pieces but when the mission is stopped every five seconds to show you what organ you've punctured with your latest bullet, it starts to get a bit irritating. It's like someone stopping and start a movie just when it's got to the best bit.
Likewise the tank battles that start to act as the game's bosses are prone to frequent bouts of frustration. It's never quite clear what gadgets can kill one, sometimes a random grenade will blow one up, other times a land mine might do the trick. A lot of the time however, you'll simply need to skirt around the back of the vehicle and snipe the vents on its armour. It gets incredibly tedious and results in no small of amount of anger when you get blown apart by a random tank shell seconds after opening fire. There's a reason snipers aren't the best choice for taking out armoured vehicles.
In fact, the A.I. in general is a rather weak point in the game overall. Enemies will either suffer from astonishing cases of myopia, incapable of seeing you when you're only a few feet away, or will spot you instantly from across a huge chunk of the level. Soldiers that are in cars are especially annoying in this regard, seemingly blessed with 360 degree vision despite usually only having one guy poking out the top.
Even the game's levels suffer from some poor designs. Despite being in Africa and initially seeming rather large, you'll quickly realise that many areas rely on being set in canyons or between two cliff faces. Doing so means that, despite being set outside, many levels are in fact forced back into being rather dull, wide corridors. It makes for some boring levels to play through, made even worse due to the repetitive objectives.
There is some customisation on offer, with your equipment being free to tweak as you see fit. More health packs or more land mines? It's up to you. New items are unlocked as you level up your experience, it's an odd mechanic to have in the single player portion and means that unless you're snatching up points left and right, many of the game's load-out options won't be available by the time you finish it.
The level-up mechanics seep over into the obligatory multiplayer which, quite frankly, is not worth playing. Since the emphasis is on sniper fights, many death matches feel like a really boring version of the encounter with The End in Metal Gear Solid 3, only with other players. Usually you'll spend half the match crouched behind cover only to pop up and get your head blown off. It's sure to appeal to the hardcore fan perhaps but for even the most open-minded player it's likely to be like watching paint dry.
Sniper Elite III is not a bad game, at least not in the sense that it's clear that the developers genuinely do seem to care about crafting a good game. At times, the stars align and Sniper Elite can become good fun, at least for a little while. Sadly, the technical aspects and a few sloppy design decisions can make for incredibly annoying moments. Once the veneer of the sniping simulation has been dusted away, you end up seeing the game for what it really is; a very mediocre third-person shooter.
Sniper Elite III was released in July for the 360, Xbox One, PS4, PS3 and PC.
This review is based on the Xbox One version.
© 2014 LudoLogic