Have you ever bought a music album and the first few songs were complete shit? You listen for a while and you get really bummed out because you think: “Jeez. I sure wish I hadn’t bought this mess.” Then you get to tracks 3 or 4 and the music really starts picking up, and you say to yourself “You know, the rest of this is actually pretty awesome. It’s not perfect but it’s acceptable”.
That’s sort of what playing Sniper Elite 3 feels like. This is the newest installment of the semi-realistic (and I use that term loosely) stealth-action game from Rebellion Development, which puts you in the shoes of Karl Fairburne during the Africa Campaign of World War 2.
You may be wondering by now, what exactly makes this game such a mixed bag? Where does it go right and where does it go wrong? It’s hard to explain, and ironically it partly has to do with the difficulty settings, but first we’ll have to talk the basics. Strap your gear on and adjust your rifle’s scopes, this is Sniper Elite 3.
Checking out the AO
Like in any other stealth-action game, the setting of Sniper Elite 3 is incredibly important to gameplay, which is why Rebellion has taken their time to put an enormous amount of detail into it. Little things like the looks of certain items, props and other objects in the background help to reel you in, while the menacing tones of the Axis officers and the heavy gunfire around the area remind you of just what kind of trouble you could get into if you make one wrong move.
You can practically feel your throat dry up from looking at it
What’s impressive about Sniper Elite 3 is that they’ve managed to convert the African Desert (a location which by it’s very definition is barren) into a very interesting and rich location to explore; oases, patches of vegetation, and enemy fortifications make you feel that you are in the middle of a desert warzone, and encourage you to inspect every nook and cranny, discovering what secrets the game has in store for you.
The details don’t stop at the visual level however; sound plays a huge part in the environment of Sniper Elite 3, and is crucial for its gameplay. Planes, enemy AA emplacements, and conversing soldiers can be heard all over the area, and in many cases you have to pay full attention to all of these details to survive.
Heavier noises like artillery gunfire can be used to mask your sniper rifle’s shots, and in higher difficulty settings these sounds will be the only warning you’ll have of incoming danger. Sadly, this same care for environmental sounds has not been paid to the soundtrack or the weapon sounds, which pale in comparison (one of the sniper rifles actually uses the stock fire sound that Halo made so famous in the early 2000’s).
While the entire game only occurs in desert areas, all of the maps feel very distinct and unique from one another. Not one mission feels the same way, and the different approaches the game provides you are all well-crafted in the visual and design sense of the game itself.
It’s also worth mentioning that they’ve taken the time to work some realism in the officers and enemies you will be facing, as you aren’t just attacking German soldiers, but also Italian soldiers that were, in fact, there during the Afrika Korps campaigns. It’s a small detail that some history nerds will enjoy while playing, and it helps bring authenticity to the setting.
Fancy designer clothes for murder, just like the real deal back in the 1940's
The first stages are set in fortresses and small cliff areas, evolving into the end game areas crafted with huge ravines, massive constructions, and weapon caches, which beg to be blown away by your sniper fire.
Unfortunately, a videogame cannot hold itself up solely by its looks as we’ve discussed before on Gamebanana reviews; gameplay in particular is a factor that can make or break a videogame and it’s immersion, and sadly the gameplay in Sniper Elite 3 – while better than its predecessors – is in this case a factor against it, and it’s time we talked about it.
This is my Rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
Customization of your Loadout is a huge part of the gameplay of Sniper Elite 3, or at least the game tries to tell you it is. You can modify your sniper rifle, changing the barrel, scope, trigger mechanism and stock to get your weapon to suit your needs; you can also choose to carry equipment like grenades, dynamite, wire traps and even special armor piercing ammunition to take out armored targets like tanks.
The problem, much like what happened with the free-to-play game Loadout when we first reviewed it, is that there’s only one or two “winning” combinations; The Welrod, for instance, is the only silenced pistol you have available in the game, and it’s the only pistol most players will use because of this fact. You could say that it is the only pistol of this kind because of the era the game is set in – and you’d be right – but the fact remains that if the other replacements are going to be next to useless, why bother putting them there?
Let's see... Use the horribly noisy SMG/Revolver to sneak in, or a silenced pistol?... Wait, seriously?
Similarly, there are four sniper rifles available to you throughout the game, two of which are semi-automatic, while the other two are bolt-action rifles. The semi-automatic ones are usually the most favorable because of their higher rate of fire, and while they may not be as “powerful”, you will be hitting the heads of your enemies practically all the time, making it a non-issue.
On that note, those of you who may be looking at this game expecting a degree of ballistic realism may be disappointed. See, Sniper Elite 3 describes its ballistics as “genre defining”; they are indeed incredibly impressive ballistics, especially considering they also work very well in Multiplayer, but they are far from realistic. Sometimes you will be 50 meters away from someone and have to aim a notch below your reticle to hit your intended target. Those of you who know even the smallest detail about ballistics probably cringed at that statement.
It’s to be expected, really: the previous installment had the same type of bullet drop and wind system that’s being used here. To be fair it’s actually not that bad, and you will get used to it fairly quickly, but it’ll still be a big bother for those of you who do know a thing or two about guns.
Sniping is the main part of the game, and sadly, it's also the most frustrating
The lack of variety on the weapons can also cause some people to frown. Customization, as mentioned earlier, is a huge point for this game; however most of these customizations are simply custom fitted pieces, such as different scopes and stocks, and do not change the look of your rifle too much, with the only exception being the barrel attachments.
There is only one of these options that felt like it made a large difference, the scope variants, while the rest of these didn’t really impact the guns handling very much. There is a clear difference between Semi-automatic and Bolt-action rifles, but apart from that you need not worry about testing out new weapons unless you particularly like the looks of one better than the other.
Traps are thankfully a different story, as they have a higher degree of variety and creativity involved in the “how” you’ll use them. These traps can be just simple dynamite that you’ve set next to a fire so they’ll explode on a set time, to fully fledged anti-personnel mines that could take out 3 to 5 enemies if placed in the right locations.
This brings us to the second part of gameplay -- the actual sniping and the chases. This is where the game both shines through and falls apart a bit.
Lining up the perfect shot
Stealth is treated in a very loose and unique way in the Sniper Elite series, and this game follows that tradition a bit as well. You can go loud with your sniper rifle and not reveal your position immediately to your enemies, as well as using sounds from your environment to mask your shots and get away with murder quite easily. This is where things get quite interesting.
What everyone's been waiting for
The game presents you with several ways – some more creative than others – to stalk, mark and dispatch your enemies. A huge part of the game revolves around exploring and noticing exploitable points in the environment: places where explosives would cause the most damage; a spot in the enemy’s patrol where you could land a shot killing two guards at once; the perfect area to place a mine for that tank that keeps passing by every four or so minutes. You have to pay full attention to the areas that you are trying to take over, and thankfully the game rewards you heavily for doing so.
There are particular areas in the missions called “sniper nests”, where you will have a preferential point of view of an entire location, making it much easier to snipe certain targets and hide your location, as enemies will believe that the sniper in there is still on their side – at least for a few short lived moments. Special areas and items around the map can also be used to mask your shots efficiently.
Well placed shots are rewarded by the trademarked X-Ray camera that this series is known for, though at times it feels like it goes overboard with the amount of detail it shows you. It’s a good idea to turn the frequency of this camera down (which the game graciously allows you to set to as low or as high a presence as you like). There is something strangely addictive – and a little bit worrying, for that matter – that seeing an enemy’s head be crushed by your bullet. It pushes you more and more into finding the right spots to mask your shots and take your time.
Find a place to "camp out", if you will
AA emplacements, for instance, are usually an excellent thing to take advantage of. Their fire is incredibly loud, making it crucial for you to time your shots with their gunfire in order to clear out certain areas. Destroying these emplacements is usually an objective in the map, but it’s usually best to leave them for last as they are incredibly useful for your sniping purposes.
This brings up something that’s also quite important to Sniper Elite 3’s gameplay. You have one main objective and several side objectives, all of which you can do at your own pace. You can explore the map at your own pace to discover the best ways to accomplish these and you are even given the freedom of ignoring some objectives entirely. Not only does the game give you plenty of side objectives, but also a ridiculous amount of collectibles in the maps.
Simply completing the game alone will give you around 40% of the games total content, the rest of which is divided into side objectives, collectible pin up cards and posters, and letters from the Axis soldiers that actually give you hints about important areas to hit around the mission and several other details. The sheer amount of collectibles is insane compared to other games of this type; usually you would have four to five collectibles in a mission at most, but in this game you will have to scourge around to find between 10 to 15 collectibles, and sometimes this doesn’t even count the separate side objectives.
The Completitionist would probably LOVE this
All of this is helped by the fact the maps themselves are huge, but not big enough to the point where you feel like it’s a drag to go through them. The objectives are spread around nicely and the size is handled in such a way that new, interesting routes are always viable for players.
This is one of the best points of the game. The amount of possible ways you can tackle situations is enormous. Paths don’t just branch: they’re downright unmapped, meaning that you can take on a situation with almost complete liberty. There are only so many ways that you can do this, of course, but you are still spoiled with choices.
Stealth is also not a requirement on these missions, meaning that if you play your cards right, you could easily run a mission without worrying too much about concealing your shots or setting up traps. That said, there are some areas where one strategy is easier, but never is one entire map easily tackled by just one play style.
The difficulty levels are a bit… strange. They’re divided in Cadet, Marksman, Sniper Elite, Authentic and Custom, which are equal to Easy, Medium, Hard and Very Hard respectively. What’s strange is that on the first three you will always have the dreaded “Red Diamond” aiming aid that Sniper Elite V2 would not allow in Hard difficulty, while on Authentic you will be rid of it, but you will also be rid of almost every other element of your HUD, leaving you with a barebones version of it (which for some is the way this game should be played).
These difficulty levels have huge spikes on the ability of the AI as well. Between Easy and Medium there isn’t much change, but on Hard you will have to try and be the predator to not raise any alarms. Authentic is incredibly difficult as well, and the elimination of the HUD is one of the hardest things to get used to while playing in this mode.
Many people will try to play the game and only worry about taking out the “Red Diamond” aid, but sadly it’s impossible to eliminate it without also eliminating the HUD. While it’s not necessarily a game breaking thing, it’s still something that many people would want to keep while playing the game. Overall, however, it’s a minor gripe to think about.
Unfortunately, all of this slowly crumbles apart when you start noticing some of the peculiar issues the game has, particularly with the AI and some gunplay related nonsense.
A beautiful car that breaks down every couple minutes
So you’re aiming down the sights from a tower in the enemy fortress; you’ve got your target scoped out and a plane passes right over you, giving you the perfect chance to take the shot and eliminate your objective quickly. You take the shot!... but nothing happens.
You take another shot. And another. And another. The Axis forces under the tower are already well aware of you thanks to you emptying your mag, but god damn it you’re determined to kill that one officer who’s trying to scurry into cover already. Just what dark magic is keeping him alive?!
It is, in fact, one of the nastier problems of Sniper Elite: you may have someone lined up on your scope, but the barrel of your weapon may not actually be in the correct position. This means that you can take that shot as many times as you like from that position, because all you’re hitting is the wall you’re pressed against.
Flying, teleporting soldiers of DOOM are a big thing, too
Sometimes this will also happen with your normal crosshairs, and this can become quite an issue when you’re using the Welrod, which is going to be one of your main allies throughout the majority of the game.
Enemies that notice you can also sometimes glitch out; shooting through walls, suddenly having your exact position and even ignoring officer orders can break the entire flow of gameplay. These can happen at any moment, and while they are not common, they are by no means uncommon either.
Glitched spawns are also a problem. These problems still persist.
There is also a huge issue with the Multiplayer game-modes of Sniper Elite. While Co-op works just fine, Multiplayer Deathmatch shows some issues, mainly in the way that the multiplayer modes are constructed and handled. Lag, sadly, still applies to it like the plague, and while several free maps have been released, it's hard to claim that anyone will play this game for this mode
I took this picture while the game was at it's peak player base
Sniper Elite is not exactly a series that is known for stellar competitive multiplayer modes – just look back at their previous attempts – and sadly you can tell that the competitive mode was an afterthought as it feels very haphazardly put together.
To be fair, the game manages to handle the ballistics that Sniper Elite is known for just fine in the Multiplayer mode with relative ease; however, there is a noticeable amount of lag when firing a weapon which can cause competitive modes to feel tacky, even unfair at times.
Co-op, however, feels just fine and in many cases it’s as close to the single-player experience as possible. It’s safe to say then that this is not a bad game to play with a friend, but not if you want to challenge them.
On that note, players who are looking for a rich story to accompany their sniping experience are going to be left hanging, and this is also one of the pieces that makes the game less than perfect. The story barely exists, and most of the cutscenes are… well, cringe-worthy, to say the least. Most games of this kind often fall into exposition dumps in between cutscenes, but Sniper Elite 3 has the opposite curse of not explaining anything at all.
Is this one worth a try?
It’s hard to say, frankly. This is the kind of game that can be made or broken entirely by the little details. People who like sniping and stealth are probably thinking this is a heaven-sent title, yet a lot of these people may also be heavily disappointed by the fact that the game is, in all honesty, riddled with small mistakes and hitches that make the entire experience feel rough around the edges.
People who may be looking for a realistic take on sniping will be very disappointed in the liberties that Rebellion has taken on ballistics, while those who prefer a more arcade style shooting experience will absolutely love these details.
Those who are also heavily interested in the World War 2 setting will love the small touches here and there, but they will also find it hard to relax when the small liberties in historical accuracy start popping up (such as the construction of gigantic tanks and other such things)
I would recommend this game if you’re a die-hard fan of the series and you can look over the issues that are caused by the gameplay and programming liberties that Rebellion took, though I’d also warn anyone who is looking for any semblance of realism or for that matter a full-fledged storyline.
I would NOT recommend paying full price for this game. If you are honestly considering it, wait for the sales to hit. Full price for this game is... debatable.
This is a great game if you’re looking to just chill out and shoot some bad guys with a fancy X-Ray camera that pops up from time to time, but if you’re looking for a more substantial experience, you best wait for other games that are around the corner.