505 Games and Rebellion are back with their gruesomely satisfying Sniper Elite series, this third entry promises to be the largest of them all with vast open expanses to traverse and several new gameplay mechanics on offer. Can they expand on their ever improving series, or will this one be slightly off the mark?
It’s not long before Karl Fairburne, the elite sniper, is called into action in the dusty, unforgiving plains of Africa. Mere moments after been given control of our stoic, chisel jawed American exterminator, we’re tasked with clearing out a few pesky snipers and spotters from the overlooking cliffs ahead. One justly lined up shot later; you’re introduced to the series’ famed x-ray killcam in all of its glorious destruction. Instantly shocking, gratifying and curiously addictive, these killcams offer a slow motion insight into the life of a fatally wounding bullet. Not only will you see skulls crumple under the sheer velocity, but also lungs puncture, hearts explode, and should you desire, testicles rupturing. The scope of horrendous bodily harm you can commit to an unaware, meandering soldier never gets old, despite the player seeing it potentially hundreds of times during the course of the campaign.
Making the local coroners life easier comes with its own problems however. It’s often either too easy or too difficult to get your snuff fix, turning the difficulty up will add magnified effects such as gravity and wind direction/speed to contend with, however one quick tap of the ‘empty lungs’ button will place a cursor directly on your bullets predetermined destination. Electing to ignore the empty lung/cursor of death button isn’t easy, but can make for a more rewarding experience knowing you’ve earned the kill yourself.
In terms of difficulty, the AI can certainly make life either a trauma or a walk in the park. Possessing the hearing of a bat or an ancient geriatric, depending on your actions, they will remain blissfully unaware as you take down a room with the Welrod (your handy silenced pistol) Or you can creep and stalk your your enemy for as long as you please, provided you’re crouched. On the other end of the spectrum, they’ll hear and pinpoint your position from a misjudged sniper shot, even if it’s mere milliseconds out of the sound cover range.
Handily, Africa is packed full of easily malfunctioning generators, sporadically dotted about the map and often adjacent to elevated sniper positions. One quick sabotage later and you can mask your gunfire by timing it with the chugs of your ill mechanical friend, hopefully avoiding the new searching mechanic implanted into the local guards. Firstly, they’ll take cover from any other errant shots that might come their way, before attempting to locate your crafty position. Moving in flanks and small formations, they’ll push your last known/seen position, visually marked by a Splinter Cell esque outline of yourself. Relocating is the name of the game here, as escaping the radius of your crime will revert your foes to their initial patrols, despite them having to tiptoe over the corpses of their fallen comrades along the way.
Linear level design is slowly becoming a thing of the past now with Sniper Elite III’s larger open maps, however you do still have to complete objectives in a predetermined order, as they are marked along an obvious and plain route. Secret objectives can open up play a little as they are often not apparent until you’ve fulfilled a prerequisite requirement, such as searching a table for Intel regarding a passing through officer who’s ripe for early retirement.
Despite the main missions pointing you in the right direction, how you tackle them is left up to you and your imagination. Taking out key personnel could be achieved by anything from a silenced Welrod shot, to laying down a mine before retreating. It heavily encourages stealth, but doesn’t restrict you to it, letting you experiment with various methods due to the large sandbox style environments.
Gunplay is fairly solid, however strangely, what with the snipers being quite so heavily featured, the differences between rifles and their upgrades feels a little non distinct. The sub-machine guns feel as though they’re meant to be used only as a last resort, which in a stealth orientated game, is a plus point. Whilst the Welrod is suitably slow to fire and has a meagre ammo capacity at best, scavenging corpses and crates will often yield far more than is necessary. Despite not really knowing what sort of battle you’ll find yourself in, you can alter your load out pre-mission with anything you’ve unlocked via levelling up in the various modes. If you feel a silenced pistol is a little over powered, switch it for a revolver, love to go loud? Bring along a pocket full of dynamite and a few land mines at the expense of health packs.
Whilst it may not be the prettiest game on the PS4, there are not only some very nice lighting effects, but the frame rate is consistently high, making it a much smoother experience than you might be used to. Add to this that each of the eight levels on offer usually lasts around an hour each, and you’ll become increasingly impressed.
That’s not to say it’s been completely smooth sailing however, Sniper Elite III does have it’s drawbacks too. The enemy AI, whilst in alert mode, can be fairly competent, but the transition back to their designated patrols despite half a squadron lying at their feet instantly takes you out of the experience. Some of the context sensitive prompts can grate a little too early as well, actions overlap all too frequently meaning that the wrong task is occasionally performed if you’re not careful. Searching bodies requires deft usage of the right thumbstick before the option can appear; silently knifing someone in the back can often take multiple button mashes before registering too.
Your time spent with Sniper Elite III will vary from either being too easy at the upside of being daft, visceral fun, or too difficult along with some of the more infuriating technical blemishes peppered about the place. If you’ve played the others and still can’t fill that sadistic void with anything but slow motion testicle battery, then you’ll more than likely enjoy this instalment. If not, and you’re hankering after some stealthy fun; alongside being capable of brushing aside a disappointingly clichéd narrative and the occasional technical hiccup, Sniper Elite III might just have found its mark.