Sniper Elite 3 sets the scene immediately as we delve right in the heat of battle during the World War 2 campaign in North Africa featuring dry, arid landscapes and a generic white male interchangeable grunt named Karl Fairburne as the utterly bland gun-ho protagonist. As you can guess already the game is a little light on decent storytelling and plot, however, it’s pretty much what you would expect from a game with the title ‘Sniper Elite’ where your objectives are realistically less important than how many different and gratuitous ways can you assassinate someone.
When you manage to line up your shot with the enemy you enter a slow motion kill cam where you follow the bullet from the point of origin all the way to (and through) your desired target. Not only this but you can now do so in glorious X-Ray vision akin to the mechanics featured in the latest Mortal Kombat outing, which means that wherever you aim at your prey the bullet will pierce that position and penetrate any organs that lay inside, and yes this does include a very uncomfortable and squirmy testicle annihilation in all it’s slow motion horror!
For what it’s worth, the actual sniping is very well executed (no pun intended!) considering that on the higher difficulties you will have to take a lot of variables into account when lining up that shot including your own stamina for stability, bullet drop at distance and wind interference. On the lower levels these do not come into much effect which means that if you challenge yourself then there is nothing more satisfying than lining up and executing the perfect shot from several hundred metres away.
Sniper Elite 3 has seen a significant upgrade in mechanics and scale in comparison to it’s predecessor Sniper Elite V2, with level design now feeling more open to allow you the freedom to choose how and where you approach your targets. You can even plant traps using pressure or trip mines to cover your position whilst you take aim, and use the scenery events to mask the sound of your gunfire generally with backfiring engines, explosions and overhead aircraft. However, despite the more accessible map it still feels like you’re been funneled to certain vantage points with these interactive items and it’s not truly as open and infinitely approachable as you would desire in a sniping game.
The stealth aspect to the game soon becomes obligatory and mundane, and the enemy intelligence leaves much to be desired. Though I say that, I actually mean that the AI is very poor, terribly routine and by the numbers, while utilizing a radar system to display their caution/alert level it was far too easy to slip away undetected despite the volume and placement of the shots. It seems there are two different approaches to the AI depending on the difficulty. On the one hand you have the easier difficulties where the enemy will soon forget they’re buddy has just had their skull fragmented, on the other you have the harder difficulties where the AI is much the same, not smarter but considerably more aggressive. There is even an option to use the binoculars to tag enemy soldiers whereas you can see their outlines through walls in a similar fashion to the last Hitman game.
The sniping mechanic in Sniper Elite 3 is very enjoyable and insanely gratifying (if not slightly morbid!) where you really feel that you’ve earned that sense of satisfaction from performing a precision vasectomy several hundred metres away. The graphics are well polished, especially during the daytime as the sun beams leak through foliage and natural cliff structures, the collision on the X-Ray kills is also produced extremely well, however, the story and characters are bland and ultimately forgettable.
Unfortunately Sniper Elite 3 could have been a great game, but it soon becomes repetitive and mundane and offers very little challenge as you progress – anything below ‘Sniper Elite’ difficulty is damn near insulting. The AI is utterly dumb allowing you to escape as if you were ethereal, and the level design despite being larger in scale than it’s predecessors does not offer the openness desired to make a truly personal and exhilarating sniping experience.