Settling down to work on developing Sniper Elite 3 can't have been easy. Not only were the two previous titles much more acclaimed than many expected, resulting in heightened expectations for subsequent entries, but it also had to be developed for a whole new generation of consoles. Add the need for a new setting for the warfare and the task of keeping the series relevant after the first two games had expended the leeway granted by the series' originality and novelty, and you can see how Sniper Elite 3 had a lot to live up to. Whilst Sniper Elite 3 admirably manages to pull through most of these challenges, it certainly isn’t left unscathed, and some essentials such as an interesting story and variety of content unfortunately remain absent for the entirety of the game.
You start out in an allied-controlled town that is being bombarded by Nazis, which is the perfect set-up for running through the game's core mechanics. You're first tasked with taking out the spotters that are ordering the artillery attacks, and it’s here you’ll learn one of the core tenants of the game: keep your distance and spot everyone with binoculars before going anywhere. Tagging enemies with your binoculars enables you to see them at any distance, and also puts them on your mini-map, ensuring that you’re never caught by surprise and know where enemies are at all times.
This first mission also introduces you to the mechanic that Sniper Elite has become renowned for: the graphic detail of a bullet travelling through the air and into the soldier it's meant for. This is one of the draws of Sniper Elite; one of those features you can stick in an advert and gain instant recognition or intrigue from consumers. It's also one that soon becomes tiresome. I found that, for the first hour or so, the intrinsic detail put into each bullet travelling the entirety of the map and finding itself lodged into a Nazi’s skull was simultaneously awesome and disgusting. It's a fantastic hook, but spend a few hours watching the same animation played out slightly differently throughout the course of the game and you’ll find yourself numbed by it. It’s a great feature, but a game needs more than a single trope like this to stand tall.
Eventually you go on the offensive and stealth becomes paramount. You’ll sneak around most of the map, killing enemies in silence through fear of alerting the others. When I say fear, I mean genuine terror, as Sniper Elite 3 does not work well when it comes to close range combat. Even from across the length of the map, enemies with simple machine guns will be able to cause massive damage if you’re spotted as a result of making too much noise, so stealth and vigilance is paramount to survival. The environment is built to compliment this stealthy gameplay, with engines malfunctioning or storms bellowing, providing plenty of noise to cover your sniper shots, ensuring you don’t get caught in most instances.
Finding the right path to get into an enemy base or happening across a sniper nest is possibly one of the best parts of Sniper Elite 3. These features encourage you to find multiple ways through a level. With most games I play quite passively, observing the world from a distance, but the constant worry that I was going to be found or that my position would be revealed kept me on high alert whilst playing Sniper Elite 3. The world is completely built around your ability to stay hidden whilst taking enemies down, and the second you mess this up is the second Sniper Elite 3 becomes messy and annoying to play.
Enemies walk set paths around levels, meaning you can set up shots with relative ease whilst no one's alert, but the second you mess up all hell breaks loose. Enemies seemingly know where you are for miles around, throwing explosives in your direction even when you’re sure you’re out of site. After a while of going undetected, enemies go about their business as if nothing untoward has happened. This is jarring and lets down an environment that, for the most part, is incredibly well thought-out. It's at this point that you’ll also start to notice glaring bugs, with AI soldiers getting stuck on multiple objects around the environment, or outright falling off the edge of the world, which is a shame considering how well the rest of the game holds up to scrutiny.
It could be said that Sniper Elite 3 has a story, and you’d be semi-correct in thinking this, but don’t mistake this hollow shell of a narrative for the real deal. Each mission is arbitrarily assigned without context, and the story is then slotted in-between to ensure a fundamentally linear and basic story-telling experience. In the context of the narrative, each level is entirely interchangeable; the story is simply a half-hearted attempt to sell the game as a complete package rather than a collection of separate missions.
These gripes aside, the level design of Sniper Elite 3 is top notch, with each level offering up multiple ways to traverse the environment. It’s not grounded in any way to the reality of African warfare, but that’s not too necessary when the developers were clearly aiming for entertainment rather than historical accuracy. The graphics are detailed and polished, with landscapes looking lovely enough for last gen and current gen consoles. There’s not much of a soundtrack, which is fine, as it works to the game's advantage when you’re sneaking around in silence and need to hear how close enemies are to you. What isn’t great, though, is the voice acting, with Nazi and Italian troops repeating the same lines of dialogue over and over again, and even when they do speak English it's with stereotypical accents.
Sniper Elite 3 manages to answer critics of the first two Sniper games with relative success. It's fun to play, and will keep you coming back time and time again to make sure you successfully find the best way through each level. Where it falls apart is where the developers hope players will spend less time: in direct confrontation with enemies. This is no doubt in part a deliberate choice, but when you are caught out the immersive nature of the experience is completely broken. It’s a great accomplishment for Rebellion to have made another successful Sniper Elite game, but the occasional jarring bug and a weak story hold Sniper Elite 3 back from being a truly great sniping experience.
This review is based on a digital copy of Sniper Elite 3 for the PC, provided by the publisher.