The third Sniper Elite game is upon us, bringing with it a new warzone, bigger levels, brighter explosions and of course improved X-ray kill-cams. It’s essentially the game equivalent of a popcorn movie, delivering little in the way of substance but making up for it with pure unadulterated fun, and while some might lament the absence of a good plot or memorable characters it’s still good in its own right.
That’s because SE3 is better than its predecessors in every way. It has moved out of dreary Europe and into North Africa for a change of scenery, it has better graphics, a more detailed kill-cam that extends to vehicles as well as human enemies, huge levels that take hours to complete and a touch of open-world design that lets you tackle objectives in whatever order you like.
Best of all it has co-op multiplayer that lets you play through the entire single-player campaign with a friend, and competitive multiplayer that’s very different to Call of Duty and Battlefield, requiring less running and gunning and far more patience as you hunt down fellow players while trying to remain undetected yourself.
So if you enjoyed Sniper Elite V2, even just a little bit, you’re going to love number three.
That being said, if you’re already a veteran of the series you won’t be surprised to hear that as much as it has to offer, the game is also not very polished. Its artificial intelligence isn’t very clever and some could argue that its levels aren’t very inspired; textures occasionally pop in and the action tends to be less punishing of a gung-ho approach than you’d expect of a game with the word “sniper” in its title. There are also occasional visual glitches and bugs like vehicles you killed ages ago exploding again as you load a saved game; the worst of these saw me being insta-killed on loading a save game that I swear did NOT have soldier almost on top of me when I saved. Very annoying.
You also get aiming assistance that shows you where your bullet will land with a little red mark on all but the most difficult setting, which removes the satisfaction to be had from figuring out how the wind direction and the distance to your target will affect your bullet’s trajectory. You can also save anywhere right up to Sniper Elite difficulty, which is very useful for save-spamming the difficult bits but which may undermine the spirit of the game.
But you know what? I don’t care. I couldn’t give two hoots about any of that, because I loved playing. I loved the sneaking around and annihilating entire encampments of enemies on my own, I loved finding a nice spot to hunker down in and I especially loved shooting idiotic enemies from miles away and seeing their stupid skulls shatter as my bullet smashed their faces in, over and over and over again. I felt like I did playing Fallout 3 for the first time and seeing my carefully-considered shots wreaking havoc on my enemies’ bodies in slow motion, and it was glorious.
Not only that, but if you don’t like the shot assistance, Authentic is the mode for you; if you’re not a fan of the graphics well, at least it’s not boring old blown-apart Europe again. If you hate that you can save anywhere, don’t do it, or that playing aggressively isn’t immediately punished by insta-death, play on Authentic. And those annoyed by the stupid AI and glitches, well, they’ve got a point and Rebellion needs to patch those.
The challenge of Sniper Elite 3 is to get into the enemy location, take out enemies one by one so that they don’t all come rushing at you at once. You do that by sneaking around and sniping them from a distance, if possible, or taking them down with your silenced pistol if they get too close. The noise of your rifle shot can be, as it was in both previous Sniper games, masked by battlefield noise, and you have to time your shot to coincide with something loud happening nearby, whether that’s a thunderclap, the boom of artillery fire or a backfiring truck. Getting the timing right means enemies aren’t alerted to your presence and you can set about picking off your next target without worrying that a batallion of Germans is enroute to plant the Nazi flag up your behind and use your body as fertiliser.
And pulling off the perfect shot is just so satisfying. I played on Sniper Elite difficulty, which meant I used aiming assistance, but even so getting my shots right felt amazing. Not only was it cool to pick off enemies from hundreds of metres away, but the kill-cam that activated nearly every time I shot someone was hilariously grisly, showing me in slow motion which organs I specifically obliterated, or which bones my bullet smashed through. While this level of detail probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – it definitely counts as gratuitous violence – for me as a gamer it adds some of the special sauce I look for when I game. And I just couldn’t get enough of it. Observe:
Each level took me anywhere from two to three hours to complete, and there are eight of them featuring pretty standard military-shooter objectives like taking out enemy officers and blowing up gun emplacements. You will probably be faster, but I took my time and went after the secondary objectives I was given as well, as that added to my XP bonus at the end of every level. The setting and objectives aren’t particularly inspired, but I didn’t mind as it proved to be mere backdrop to the head-smashing sniping action that kept me going throughout. And yes, some gamers will find the kill-cam mechanic less and less satisfying after a while, but I’m not one of them.
Online play was hit and miss for me, in ways more annoying than a simple lack of aiming skill. I played on PS4, and every now and then the game crash on me in the middle of a match, or I’d glitch out and get caught in doorways or on walls after the occasional death. These and other problems have been reported to the developer according to an update that appears on the game’s Overview page on the PS4 dashboard, so Rebellion is working on it, but it did get quite grating. At the time of writing no patch has been issued.
While it worked, though, SE3’s multiplayer is gloriously fun. Since everyone is a sniper, play is much more about patience and spotting enemy players than it is blindly running into battle, resulting in more tension than I’m used to when playing online, which I quite enjoyed. The game modes on offer range from team deathmatch to a free for all to a competition to see who can get the longest kill-shot, and there were a lot of people playing every time I joined a game. Connectivity was smooth, too. There aren’t a lot of maps, though, but that’s probably something that will be rectified in future DLCs of which there will be plenty if the $30 Season Pass on offer is anything to go on.
So should you buy Sniper Elite 3? Yes. Yes you should. It’s not perfect, but when it works it’s oh-so-satisfying to play.
It’s out now on PlayStation 3/4, Xbox 360/One and PC starting at R499.