Sniper Elite 3 is a game unsure of its aims. On the one hand its sniping, as one might expect, is pretty great, especially for those gamers who like a little arcade-y violence in their WW2 fiction. But everything else packaged around the sniping is poorly executed — to the point some might call it off-putting. Watching Nazi skeletons explode from precise sniper shots can only get a game so far; it’s making the entire game, not just the sniping, enjoyable that seems to be the main struggle with Sniper Elite 3.
From the very beginning, Sniper Elite 3 had an uphill climb ahead of it. As both a sniper-focused and a stealth-focused experience, this game carves its niche with a hard-edged trowel, unconcerned for any adventurous gamers that might be in its path. And as a result, it becomes a difficult task recommending Sniper Elite 3, because it won’t fully satisfy either sniping or stealth fans.
That being said, the first few levels of Sniper Elite 3 make a wonderful first impression, setting up a partially non-linear experience where players become the ultimate killing machine in Africa circa WW2. They’ll make their way through a series of visually impressive (on current-gen or PC) military installations, camps, and outposts performing all manner of tasks, from assassinating targets to stealing secret plans. How they complete those objectives, however, is in large part up to the player; they’re given the tools and a somewhat blank canvas to work with.
Of course, the major selling point of Sniper Elite 3 is the sniping, which, depending on the difficulty, can be as realistic or simplistic as players like. Want to take into account bullet trajectory, distance, and wind speed? You can do that. Want to ignore any outside factors and hit exactly what’s in the center of the reticule? You can do that too. Sniper Elite 3‘s long range gunplay is as deep or as simple as players want it to be, but it’s (almost) always fun.
Most will recognize the Sniper Elite franchise for its slow-mo X-Ray kills, which track the bullet from gun to target and depict the horrific violence that follows. In Sniper Elite 3, developer Rebellion has upped the ante yet again, delivering contextual kills like lung shots, heart shots, intestinal shots, and even testicle shots as if they’re making the next Mortal Kombat. There’s something supremely satisfying about lining up a shot and watching it find its target, and Sniper Elite 3 makes sure each kill feels uniquely destructive. The violence is a little overindulgent, but it’s no less entertaining.
Packaged around Sniper Elite 3‘s sniping, however, are stealth sections where the player, as gun-for-hire Karl Fairburne, tries to make their way through a series of open landscapes or buildings. Affording players the freedom to choose their own path and loadout (rifle, machine gun, grenades, pistol, etc.) is a noble idea, but in most cases there are usually only two viable paths of approach. There are also some secondary objectives to each level — like destroying weapon caches or collecting documents — for those players who like a little more exploration.
The game starts to fall apart when it becomes unclear how best to tackle a given situation — a byproduct of that freedom. Since the game is called Sniper Elite the expectation is that singling out targets, waiting for opportune moments like a loud explosion, and taking them down one-by-one would be the best course of action, but that isn’t always true. Sometimes it’s better to whip out Karl’s silenced pistol and sneak past soldiers, which, thanks to some inconsistent enemy AI, isn’t terribly fun. The problem is that the game never makes it totally clear what strategies are viable, so players will end up spending a significant amount of time, in what is already a very methodically paced game, trying out one approach only to discover it’s completely useless.
The same is true of the sniping; players might start to pick off soldiers from a high vantage point only to realize that killing any of those enemies will set the entire group on high alert. And trust that high alert, as with most stealth games, is the worst possible scenario. Players can take cover and wait out the alert but for the most part it’s better simply to reload the last save. In fact, the game seems to recognize its trial and error nature by allowing players to save at any moment. There’s even a loading screen hint that says to save often because you never know if an unwanted gunfight is right around the corner.
Sniper Elite 3’s sniping is fine, its stealth mechanics are fine, but the game ties them together so poorly it’s hard to enjoy either. The game tries to set itself up as a stealth-focused, pick-off-each-enemy sniping experience, but it deviates from that so often it becomes unclear when sniping is even a viable option. As a result, players will spend more time sneaking through the game than anything else for fear of triggering an unwanted alert.
Then, for almost no reason at all, the game will throw in an extremely half-baked boss fight where the player is up against a patrolling tank. Ideally, the player is supposed to stalk the tank and chip away at its weak points, but that requires too much luck. And with a handful of rocket launchers lying around, it’s easier to throw tactics out the window and let the experience devolve into a mindless action-heavy shooter. These sequences not only clash with the rest of the gameplay, they are poorly designed and immensely frustrating.
On the multiplayer side, Sniper Elite 3 again struggles to find the right balance. Since the game doesn’t outright force the player to snipe, many gamers will end up approaching matches as they would any other third person shooter — i.e. running and gunning. Unfortunately for those who do want to treat the multiplayer like an extension of the campaign, this practically ruins the experience. It’s hard to stalk your prey when a dozen other players are running around firing machine guns and tossing grenades every which way. Co-op and the wave-based survival modes fare a little better, but their novelty wears off rather quickly. Again, taking the focus away from the sniping doesn’t serve the game well no matter how you shake it.
There’s no doubt that Rebellion is on to something with Sniper Elite 3, but their inability to make draw clear gameplay distinctions pulls the overall experience down dramatically. On the one hand, the game smartly incorporates realistic sniping concepts (using sound for cover, adrenaline impacting aim, etc.) into its gunplay, but it undermines those clever ideas with half-baked stealth mechanics. At the end of the day, it leans too far away from the full-blown sniper sim to strike a chord with fans of the genre and its stealth isn’t strong enough to hit those marks either. Instead, the game is left floating somewhere in the middle – where each element has its moments, but as a cohesive whole Sniper Elite 3 falls apart more often than it succeeds.
Sniper Elite 3 is available now for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.
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