Over the past ten years or so of video games, we have seen a profound evolution in the stealth genre. Games such as Batman: Arkham Asylum and Splinter Cell: Conviction redefined design philosophy to put stealthy gamers into a position of strength rather than weakness. A lesser-known series to emerge from this genre is Sniper Elite. This World War II/Third Person/Stealth/Sniper Simulator franchise has fittingly sneaked on by as a moderate critical success while being very regionally popular. The most recent entry, Sniper Elite III, is now available, so let’s take a look and see how well it all works.
Sniper Elite III continues the story of series protagonist Karl Fairburne, an American OSS operative in World War II who has taken his Nazi killing skills to North Africa. The game consists of eight main missions which are staged in large open areas, where the game provides you some freedom by providing you with a series of objectives and leaving it up to you to sort out the ‘how’. It is somewhat robust in that it holds up to different playstyles; whether you are a stealthy, guns blazing, or picking baddies off from afar kinda player. On lower difficulties, you can get by being a bit of a cowboy, but as the difficulty gets ramped up you really do need to stick to the shadows much more.
Much of the game is consequently spent sneaking around, and two features are used to assist you. First is an eye icon which shows you how visible you are to enemies. Second is a circle meter which becomes yellow (suspicious) to red (alert) to solid red (THERE HE IS! GET HIM!). It works relatively well, although its usefulness is rendered moot when you get discovered and spend much of your time in open combat.
As a standard third person shooter, Sniper Elite III is solid but unexceptional. However, the sniping portions of this game are its bread and butter. To their credit, Rebellion nails the mechanics on two levels. First, they account for how real bullets drop and adjust depending on external factors like weather, which will satisfy hardcore fans. Second, the relative difficulty of sniping is tied in with difficulty level, which makes this game very accessible to newcomers. Now let’s be honest about what Sniper Elite III (and the rest of this series) is really all about; the kill cam. In this mode, when you fire on an enemy the camera follows your sniper bullet towards its target and shows in extreme X-Ray detail the damage it does.
Essentially, it’s the same kind of thing as the VATS system in Fallout 3. Much like that system, watching a bullet tear through specific body parts is something that by all rights should get old a few hours into the game. After a number of hours lining up targets, I can say with 100% certainty that it’s every bit as sadistically enjoyable as the first time. If this were the whole game with a deeper focus 0n sniper mechanics, I would have been satisfied. However, the sniping sections are only part of what Sniper Elite III offers.
The story, characterization, and voice acting is serviceable, although it is nowhere near the best that this format has to offer. Even by the standards of a straightforward action title, Sniper Elite III is incredibly light on detail. Not that they are trying to accomplish similar things, but having played Wolfenstein: The New Order already this year, the sheer lack of ambition in telling a war-themed story that’s even a little bit compelling is disappointing. This is however a personal gripe, and it honestly doesn’t detract from what fans of this game assuredly want: gory kill shots and exciting action sequences, which it admittedly delivers on.
In addition to the campaign (that is long enough to feel like an accomplishment but short enough to not get too boring and repetitive) , you also get co-op, multiplayer, and even a horde mode in which you must beat back endless waves of Nazis; a pretty decent package all things considered.
At the end of the day, is Sniper Elite III going to end up on my Top 5 list for the best games of 2014? Not likely. What I will say however is that in spite of its lack of ambition on the narrative side of things, it serves as a pretty meat-and-potatoes action game that does one thing really well…and sometimes that’s enough.
Sniper Elite III is available for $49.99 on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC.
[+Capable 3rd person shooter] [+Kill cam never gets old] [+Lots of customization options] [+Different play modes available] [-Mediocre story] [-Bare-bones presentation]