I’ve always admired the Sniper Elite series. Its emphasis on slower-paced, more realistic warfare just shy of a military sim has always been a welcome change from the frantic and nonstop insanity offered by most other military games. The franchise has always favored planning your attack over simply running in with guns blazing and this has typically been the draw for those looking for a more thoughtful shooter. Sniper Elite 3 follows its predecessors in most of the areas that fans would want, but unfortunately also brings with it the same problems the others had, as well as coming up with new ones.
First of all, let’s get to the question most will have: yes, the slow-mo x-ray bullet cam’s back and as visceral as ever. Developers Rebellion Oxford have even added more detail to the skeletal structure with a full muscle and nervous system, giving the damage caused by your bullet extra impact. Sniping enemies from afar is still extremely satisfying and there are unlimited opportunities to do so in Sniper Elite 3. You have the option of turning the bullet cam off, or to adjust it to your liking, but doing so ends up stripping this title of the one big draw that it has over other games.
The setting’s also a welcome change from so many other WWII titles. Where most take place in Europe, Sniper Elite 3 brings us to hot, dry Africa, or Afrika as Sniper Elite 3 refers to it. The scenery offers the player a different ambiance to enjoy, but unfortunately the downside is that there obviously isn’t a lot of landscape diversity in this part of Africa and by the eighth and final mission, everything starts to run together. It’s cool to belly crawl through the white-hot sands and rocky terrain, but after crawling through what is seemingly the same basic backdrop for nine hours, it starts to become bland and ineffective.
The gameplay’s pretty solid from top to bottom. Naturally, the star of the show’s the sniping, to the more urgent up close combat, which consists of both close range firearms and knife-based melee attacks. Sneaking up on enemy soldiers and taking them out before they know you’re there, or popping them with a silenced pistol is fun and satisfying and a nice change for when you’re tired of taking the enemy out from hundreds of yards away. The more typical missions, like assassinating an enemy leader, are kept feeling fresh by the inclusion of several side missions which are completely optional and also interesting diversions that come as a welcome addition to the gameplay.
The overall main mission structure, however, is a bit of a disappointment. While it’s always fun to snipe unsuspecting enemy soldiers, most other missions involve collecting Intel, but no matter what you’re collecting or where, it all boils down to going up to something and pressing “X”. The balance between thrilling sniping missions and long, drawn out fetch quests are uneven at best and boring at worst.
The game also doesn’t wear out its welcome. I was able to play through the entirety of the game, as well as complete several side missions, in a matter of around nine hours. If this seems a little short, rest assured that there’s also a fairly entertaining online multiplayer component that gives you the ability to snipe against other, real players instead of the mentally-challenged enemy AI that you deal with throughout the campaign. There’s also the requisite challenge mode, which is yet another clone of the horde mode made popular by Gears of War 2 all the way back in 2008. Here we are six years later and games still keep aping that mode. It’s getting silly, especially with a game like Sniper Elite 3, which makes absolutely NO attempt to make this mode fresh or add anything new whatsoever.
As with most games that rely on stealth (which I admittedly don’t care a ton for) there’s an awful lot of trial and error. While there are only eight missions to play through, the missions themselves seem to drag on forever sometimes. It also doesn’t help that the check point system is wildly erratic. There were some moments in which I died and started just a few minutes back, while other times I found myself losing an hour or more of progress. These moments left me a feeling little angrier than I am comfortable being. The stealth style gameplay also forces you to do everything a little slower, and when you have to go back and do it all over again, well, sometimes sniping enemies just isn’t worth the headache.
There’s also an absurd amount of glitches in this game – I was regularly falling through the environment or getting stuck on invisible objects. There are also a surprising amount of magical floating objects in Afrika. Things like rocks and ammo can be found floating about, along with the twitching body of your slain enemies, which have a habit of flying into the air after being shot, and then inexplicably hanging there. The glitches were rarely game breaking and never caused me to have to restart a mission, except for when falling through the world, and in fact most of them were humorous. On the downside however, it shows an unfortunate lack of polish and makes the title seem like more of a rush job than it needed to be.
Aside from the flaws, of which there are many, Sniper Elite 3 offers fans of the series more of what they want as well as some new wrinkles to the formula. It feels like a game that was made specifically for its audience and will probably please them thoroughly. If, however, you’ve never been a fan of the slower paced, visceral experience that the Sniper series offers, then this title won’t do much in the way of bringing you into the fold. With a little more time for polish and a little more variety in the gameplay, the next Sniper Elite title could be the one that brings the series into the conversation where games like Call of Duty and Battlefield tend to dominate.