Having last played the super-cute Pokémon Art Academy for review, I was definitely in need of something a bit more ‘adult’, and where better to turn than the latest entry in Rebellion’s Sniper Elite series.
Set during World War 2, this third-person shooter sees you take control of Lieutenant Karl Fairburne in a bid to take on the Germans, who are rumoured to be building some kind of weapon that could win them the war outright. Now when I say “World War 2”, the first thing that might spring to mind is trudging through bleak, shelled out areas of Europe, with a colour palette that only shifts away from grey when there’s some black that needs showing. Sniper Elite 3 however, is set in Africa, and the Germans you’ll be taking on are the Afrika Corps, who seem to be a very dominant force. It makes for an interesting change, swapping concrete jungles for canyons and abandoned cities half covered in sand.
Rather than a run-and-gun type affair that you might expect from a game based in World War 2, Sniper Elite 3 is very much about tactics – in fact the tagline is “Observe. Plan. Execute. Adapt”. Every level, which is apparently three times bigger than those found in Sniper Elite 2, starts with a cutscene explaining the current situation, as well as dropping hints about how best to tool up. You are then given the option to choose and modify your loadout, which comprises of a main rifle, an automatic weapon, a sidearm, and various other items such as mines, bandages, and rocks (yes, we’ll come back to rocks later). Your rifle can be upgraded as you go, providing you find the correct parts littered about the place.
As soon as you hit the ground you’ll be given a target to reach, but it’s how you get there that is the game’s biggest draw. You are very rarely funnelled down a path, and instead encouraged to look around and react based on how you want to play the game. Various events throughout most levels, be it a plane passing low overhead or an old generator on its last legs, will generate noise at certain intervals. Find a decent sniping spot and time your shots to coincide with the increase in background noise, and you can take out a good few of the patrolmen without anyone even knowing.
Or, if you’re feeling brave, you can sneak right into an area crawling with enemies and systematically take them down one by one, which can also be done in a variety of ways. A silenced weapon is effective, but ammunition is sparse, so it might be better to throw a rock to distract the enemy and then sneak up for a stealth takedown. Don’t forget to hide the bodies though; as if they are spotted then you’ll have a fight on your hands!
You’ll inevitably raise the alarm at times, but even when that happens you can turn it to your advantage by ‘relocating’. Basically, if you’re spotted, then enemies in the area will rush to that point to intercept you, but you can use this to your advantage to move on to a new point and either continue on to your target or fight back. These are just a couple of ways to approach a task, but there are others. Be warned though, you are not Master Chief. On anything but the easiest setting you’ll only take a couple of hits before getting into trouble.
To reinforce the need for tactical behaviour, your shooting is affected by your heart rate, which is displayed at the bottom of the screen. Run all over the place and you’ll find it very difficult to snipe efficiently, as the scope will be wobbling all over the place. Remain calm, however, and you’ll have a steady shot and the ability to focus in close to a target, briefly slowing down time. The sniping element of the game is very satisfying, and the difficulty can be adjusted to take into account the effects of gravity and wind on the bullet.
Firing off a decent shot at a target will often trigger the X-Ray kill cam – an extremely brutal close up of your bullet entering whatever part of the enemy’s body you hit, before switching to X-Ray where you can see bones shattering and organs exploding, accompanied by a stomach churning gurgling sound as the victim seems to drown in their own blood. I’m quite worried about how much I like this feature, and there was a morbid satisfaction to seeing “Testicle Shot: 20 points” pop up – as if I needed any more of an incentive to shoot people in the balls!
It’s a real pity then, that the rest of the gunplay is so weak. Yes, I can appreciate that fact the game wants you to “go loud” as a last resort, but sneaking around dominates the game such that if you do find yourself needing to use your side arms, you’ll find Lieutenant Karl Fairburne has turned from an ice cold sniping God to a flailing rookie. The guns lack any sort of punch and feel in his hands, and it really doesn’t help that the enemy can happily tag you from afar with similar weapons.
Outside of the roughly 11 hour campaign there are single-player challenges to take on, which involve surviving multiple waves of enemies. These are an enjoyable distraction and any XP earned can be carried over to the main game to help unlock things.
The game also has a multiplayer and co-op mode. I should say straight away that I haven’t been able to test either since, as you can imagine, the servers are pretty empty at the moment. The multiplayer is of the competitive variety, whereas the co-op modes come in “overwatch” and “survival” flavours, though you can also play the entire campaign in two player co-op, which sounds pretty great if you have a likeminded friend.
Graphically Sniper Elite 3 is inconsistent. Some of the levels look absolutely fantastic, but animation is incredibly wooden, especially when crawling. I’ve also encountered a number of bugs, which have spawned bizarre things such as enemies walking while in a sitting position, dead enemies having a continuous spasm attack across the floor, your character clipping right through objects and one example saw an enemy turning completely invisible before reappearing somewhere else entirely, making it impossible to successfully sneak past, as you couldn’t see him.
Some of the button prompts also had a tendency to be rather flaky. Many times the “search body” icon would simply not appear, even when looking directly at the recently deceased German officer. Also, there were times where inputting actions such as going prone just weren’t recognised. As far as I’m aware, I was playing the most up-to-date version of the game with the patch downloaded, but all of these little niggles certainly detract from the experience, giving it an unfinished air.
There’s a good amount of enjoyment and a fair old challenge to be found with Sniper Elite 3. Those who are after more than just another run-and-gun game will do well here, and the inclusion of two player co-op is the icing on the cake. Unfortunately the game is dragged down slightly by the number of glitches, which somewhat ruin the immersion. Still, if you’re after something both tactical and brutal, this is well worth a look.
Version tested: PS4