Even during the heyday of the World War 2 shooter, the war in North Africa was a setting rarely visited in games, which were often fixated on the fighting on the in Europe and Russia. Sniper Elite 3 – which is actually a prequel set three years prior to Sniper Elite V2 – takes Lieutenant Karl Fairburne to the blazing heat of this continent.
It’s a major shift, and one that really helps the game to stand out from the crowd in terms of visuals, as it opens briefly with the Siege of Tobruk, tasking you first with taking out a trio of snipers, to get used to the sniping gameplay, and then to lift the barrage from an artillery emplacement.
Much like the satisfaction you get from a well-crafted shotgun in the likes of Doom or Wolfenstein, there’s an art to making sniping fun in games, and the Sniper Elite games have done an excellent job of honing their sniping mechanics to a tee.
Any respectable modern shooter will have several elements to the sniping. Naturally, as you aim down the sights, the scope will gently wobble back and forth unless you hold your breath, making aiming difficult, as well as the bullet drop which you will need to factor into your shot.
However, whereas games like Battlefield will have you playing in often frenetic fights, Sniper Elite 3 is really a stealth game, with the third person viewpoint giving you a greater awareness of your surroundings. It wants you to move around at a slower and more considered pace, requiring you to stay still in order to lower your heart rate and let you steady your aim. In doing so, Karl takes his breath, time slows down, the camera zooms slightly and a bullet drop indicator appears on the scope, giving a perfectly accessible and endlessly satisfying sniping system.
Getting those well-placed shots away leads to the ultra-slow motion killcams, a calling card from the series. As the bullet leaves the barrel, various stylish visual effects and camera angles show its path to your victim, before the game peels back their skin to show the damage that is wrought as the bullet passes through the body.
While there’s the addition of vehicle killcams, that show off the bullet passing through an engine, for example, you’ll generally see it applied to humans. It’s often quite grizzly, especially as this game has added more detailed organs and muscles which the bullet will smash through, yet it’s also perversely entertaining to watch them unfold. There’s also the opportunity, via DLC, to shoot a certain someone’s bollock off.
The sniping, however, is really just one facet of the game and one option in tackling the objectives which you are handed. The second half of the opening level introduced the more close quarters stealth play, with melee kills and a silenced pistol backed up by other louder weapons for when things go wrong. However, this really came into focus during the second level.
Here I was now given choices and options on how to progress. Several connected areas featured guards wandering around on their patrols, and I had to decide whether to get up close and personal or to try and snipe from afar. Close quarters would be silent, while sniping would need me to disguise the attention grabbing crack of the sniper rifle by breaking a nearby generator and timing my shots with its spluttering.
Getting it wrong brings the enemy troops, an appropriate mixture of Germans and Italians, to my sniping spot, and with dozens of potential enemies in an area, it forced me to relocate and move elsewhere as quickly as possible. However, this in turn starts an interesting shift between being the hunter and the hunted, as you know where the soldiers will be heading to, allowing you to get the drop on them and use your own sniping to draw them out like bait. Additionally, relocating without even being spotted enables Ghost mode, a snappily named experience multiplier that encourages such stealthy play.
It does what any good sequel should, taking the solid foundations of Sniper Elite V2 and evolving them further. Co-operative play will return for campaign, overwatch and survival, alongside bespoke maps for various competitive modes, and I soon found myself aping the habits of play that I had when playing V2 with a friend, getting myself into all sorts of trouble and dying many times as I messed about in the small sandbox arenas it presented me.
It’s also beautiful looking game that’s set to run in 1080p on both PS4 and Xbox One – alongside releases on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC – and sporting some gently stylised graphics that step away from chasing ultra-realism. It’s not pushing the absolute limits of what these consoles can achieve, but the over-saturated and blooming yellows that dominate the daytime visuals give way to the deep blues of the subdued nighttime which is easy on the eye.
If you enjoyed Sniper Elite V2, then this is certainly one to keep an eye on when it’s released at the end of this month. Though it can feel like there’s a thin veneer in some areas – bodies quite amusingly didn’t sink into water, for example – it takes what worked well and pushes on in several areas for a game that’s easy to pick up and play, but that can give you a bit of challenge if you go looking for one.