Gamers who are fully invested in their hobby of choice are well aware that it is not the most cost efficient way to spend one’s free time, so it’s always welcome when publishers release the occasional so-called “budget title” to help out those who may be looking for something new, but can’t quite justify plunking down $60 whenever they want. One downside to these releases is that there is this misperception that, because budget games cost less than full retail games, they may be games that are offer limited content, or are just flat out bad games. Any self-respecting gamer knows this is not always the case, but there are some less enlightened out there that put 2 and 2 together and get 4, but in actuality they are only getting 3…or something like that, you get what I’m saying…right? Anyways, Sniper Elite 3 is the follow up to 2012’s highly underrated, but moderately received (combined Metacritic average of 65), Sniper Elite V2. It’s time to find out if Rebellion was able to build on a solid foundation.
Let’s get one thing straight right now, the Sniper Elite series is not known for its narrative prowess or deep, complex characters. That’s not saying that the game isn’t entertaining, but you’re not going to randomly think about an amazing plot twist that you encountered, nor will you be clamoring to your friends that series protagonist, OSS sniper Karl Fairburne, is one of most compelling characters you’ve ever played as in a video game. Fairburne, gravelly voiced by Thomas Clarke-Hill (Sgt. Rico Valasquez from the original Killzone), is your typical bad-ass military grunt, and there is very little to him as far as character depth goes, but like the story, he is not THE reason you will remember this game. Nope, the most memorable aspect of the game is the completely over-the-top, but ultimately satisfying, X-Ray Kill Cam that is activated once you pull the trigger on one of the hundreds of Nazi soldier that will meet their demise over the course of play. There are few games out there that glorify violence like Rebellion does here, and they do so in such an amazing amount of detail. When your bullet arrives at its destination, the game slows down and you are shown an x-ray view of your unsuspecting target’s final moments. Everything from muscles to bones, internal organs to circulatory systems, and yes, even testicles, are fair game here. Seeing the damage caused by your bullet unfolding in such a gory fashion will make sadists smile and squeamish folks cringe. Thankfully Rebellion — aware that not all gamers are created equal — added the option to reduce the frequency of the Kill-Cam, or turn it off completely.
The setting of Sniper Elite V2 was in war-torn Europe, featuring lots of urban combat among the ruined buildings. And while each mission map was large in size, the experience was still quite linear. The over-saturation of gray coloring in every area left each environment looking similar, save for missions that were played at night as opposed to during the day. In Sniper Elite 3, Rebellion has shifted over to the colorful, more vibrant setting of Africa; harnessing the power of next-gen consoles has allowed them to create a much more lush and visually impressive setting. The graphics look very crisp and detailed on both consoles. There is one noticeable difference between the two versions, and that’s the fair amount of screen-tearing that’s present in the Xbox One version. Both versions experience pop-in, especially when zooming in with your binoculars, but the aforementioned screen-tearing, present in the Xbox One version, is most obvious while looking around in your binoculars and object details are still trying to load. Despite this minor difference, both versions are equally as fun, and it shouldn’t be considered as a factor if you’re considering which system to buy it on.
Elsewhere, while the enemy AI has improved since Sniper Elite V2, there are still lapses in logic that keep it from being a selling point. As with all games that focus on stealth, if you fail to move a body out of plain sight, the enemy will go into lockdown mode and try to hunt you down. If you’re not using sabotaged generators, the drone of planes overhead, or AA guns to mask your sniper shots (no silencers here!), the enemy will grow increasingly aware of your location. Once an indicator shows they’ve gone from Alerted to Attack mode, you will be required to relocate to another area in order to convince them that the area is clear, subsequently causing them to lower their guard. However, I will never understand why there isn’t a penalty for not doing a better job at concealing the bodies of the dead. It gets rather silly — which, in turn, reduces the tension that make stealth games so great — that even after finding twenty or so of their fellow comrades with their brains laying all over the ground, that the enemy wouldn’t at least remain in an alerted state in the immediate area. Instead, you get the “luxury” of knowing that there are no true consequences for leaving bodies out in the open.
What Sniper Elite 3 does excel at, are the mission designs themselves, and the option to approach each objective from multiple angles. It's similar in this respect to Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, although not quite as open-world. You have the choice of which objectives you’d like to do first, whether it be an optional objective or a primary one. Now, I’m not a very big fan of marking targets with your binoculars; this allows you to view them through walls and other obstacles in order to keep dibs on their location as you move in for CQC. It’s 1942 after all, and being able to tag enemies (see: surveillance drone) is a bit out of place, but again, you’re not playing Sniper Elite for its historical accuracies. I would’ve preferred a silencer that wears out over time (a la MGS) rather than tagging, but that’s just me.
If you’re looking for a fast-paced, Call of Duty style shoot-em-up, you’re looking in the wrong place. You can approach Sniper Elite 3 this way if you choose, but the selection of an SMG as your secondary weapon isn’t very effective outside of close quarters; you may find yourself relocating more often than not, or getting gunned down by the multitude of soldiers littered throughout the maps should you go in guns blazing. When you approach this game stealthily like you would the latest iteration of Splinter Cell, there are few games that can leave you with the sense of accomplishment that Sniper Elite 3does. Making your way through these levels, using shade and foliage as cover, will allow you to remain unseen, while utilizing stealth takedowns, either via melee or your silent Welrod pistol (should you choose to equip it), keeps you off the enemy’s radar. When it’s all said and done, if I’m trying to complete all the objectives and remain off the radar, it typically has taken me anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours to complete each mission — and that’s without spending much time looking for the all the collectable diaries and playing cards hidden throughout. Overall, I had a blast playing through the entire campaign, which lasted me about 16 hours. That number is high simply because the maps are so big, and scouring for collectibles is time consuming. I beat the game on the Marksman (Normal) difficulty setting, but I look forward to bumping it up to the toughest one (Authentic). When you pull of a head shot after factoring in bullet drop and wind, it’s that much more satisfying.
”What Sniper Elite 3 does excel at, are the mission designs themselves, and the option to approach each objective from multiple angles. It's similar in this respect to Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, although not quite as open-world. "
As if playing the game solo wasn’t fun enough for stealth purists, the ability to tackle the entire campaign cooperatively is an even more satisfying experience. Ben and I made our way through the first two missions of the campaign before we were disconnected thanks to network issues (note: patch 1.02 was released on Wednesday, which fixed a plethora of network issues, so we expect this has been addressed). Despite that abrupt end to our session, Ben and I both agreed that working as a team to take down each objective was far more entertaining than going about it solo. Lining up two targets in close proximity to one another, waiting for a nearby AA gun to fire to mask our shots, and then dropping them both with well placed headshots while remaining undetected, is about as “bromantic” as cooperative play can get. It may be 1942, but we were cutting through Nazi forces like a couple of 2014 Navy Seals!
”Lining up two targets in close proximity to one another, waiting for a nearby AA gun to fire to mask our shots, and then dropping them both with well placed headshots while remaining undetected, is about as “bromantic” as cooperative play can get. "
In addition to the campaign, there are also two other cooperative modes for you and another friend to complete. Those are the Survival and Challenge Modes; the former being your typical wave-based defense against increasingly deadly AI attackers, while the latter acts as a set of smaller scale missions, at least when compared to the ones found in the campaign. Even though it’s appreciated that Rebellion has made an effort to give gamers more modes with which to play in Sniper Elite 3, it’s a bit disappointing that there are only two maps for each co-op mode at this time. Whether or not these modes offer enough entertainment to keep gamers coming back remains to be seen. With a ton of game releases on the horizon, it would behoove Rebellion to push out DLC (which they seemingly are planning to do) in order to give the game some legs.
With Call of Duty and Battlefield dominating the online arena for the past decade, it’s hard for most other games to get a big piece of that pie anymore. While sniping has been reduced to a no-skill tactic in Call of Duty thanks to quick-scoping, there is still a degree of skill required when sniping in Battlefield, as prospective deadeyes have to take bullet drop into consideration over the long distances that Battlefield maps are known for. Sniper Elite 3 is more in line with Battlefield in terms of it’s sniping mechanics, but does away with vehicular warfare and massive player counts. The gameplay here is slow, tense, and methodical (which in this day and age of gaming is a bit “old school,” and that’s just the way I like it).
Rebellion has done right by gamers by adding run-of-the-mill online modes such as Deathmatch & Team Deathmatch. They’ve also included two modes aptly named Distance King and Team Distance King, which takes the cumulative total distances of each kill to determine the winner; the person or team that has the highest total distance wins the match. It’s a good way to deter those dumb enough to run around with the ineffective SMGs hoping to rank up quicker with more kills. If you prefer run and gun, that’s fine, but I can tell you right now that you’ve wasted $50.
”The (online) gameplay here is slow, tense, and methodical (which in this day and age of gaming is a bit “old school,” and that’s just the way I like it). "
The mode that stands out the most, and captures the true essence of sniping, is called No Cross. This mode pits two teams against one another on a sprawling map with a wall in the middle dividing both sides to prevent any sort of close encounter with the enemy. It’s the most intense mode as well, because with everyone sniping, it slows the game down to a crawl and bumps the tension up to a 10. Working in collaboration with your team, calling out enemy snipers and tagging them with your binoculars so your teammates can bring them down is incredibly fun. Once again, the score for each team is based on the total cumulative distance of each person’s kills, which puts the focus on teamwork. Very few games deliver an intense multiplayer experience like Sniper Elite 3.
There were some major matchmaking issues on both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One during the game’s first week of release, but most of those have been shored up in the latest patch. There were, however, a few instances I ran into where a lobby would crash after a few matches, so there are still some bugs in there, but I have yet to experience any crashes while in a match now. There also appears to be an issue with one of the character skins where, if you select that character, only your head will appear. This makes locating someone very difficult considering how big the maps are. It is an issue that Rebellion is aware of and have said will be addressed shortly.
The other big concern I have with Sniper Elite 3’s online component is the same one I have with the cooperative modes, and that is the lack of maps. Currently there are only 5 maps for the standard games modes, and 2 for the No Cross mode. There is a season pass available to PC gamers that promises more maps in the future, but the publisher (505 Games) has yet to announce any such pass for console owners. I think it would be a monumental mistake not to bring that pass and all of its content to consoles. It’s also important to release that DLC as soon as possible to avoid gamers losing interest due to repetition!
Rebellion has done a great job in terms of maturing the Sniper Elite franchise with their latest installment. Everything, from presentation and graphics to the gameplay, has been improved over Sniper Elite V2. I hope Rebellion is able to give the game some legs via DLC very soon, because the lack of maps is a cause for concern for those hoping to invest a lot of time into the title online. It may not match up well with some of the bigger games out on the market, but it does provide a great experience for a niche audience that loves the challenge of sniping.
- Challenging sniping mechanics lead to rewarding head shots
- Slow, but highly intense multiplayer highlighted by the No Cross mode
- Lengthy missions featuring optional objectives and plenty of hidden collectibles
- Co-op modes allow for more strategic gameplay with a friend
- Budget price FTW!
- Online still has some issues that need to be ironed out
- Lack of maps for both co-op and competitive MP is a cause for concern for those hoping to invest a lot of time into the multiplayer