A WW II sniping game with a gimmick. That was basically the very essence of the first Sniper Elite game. The slow-motion camera which follows the bullet, blood splattering when it hits the target – you get the picture. And yet this gimmick was so successful that it was perfected even more in Sniper Elite V2, with the X-ray camera, which has dramatically shown the damage one bullet can do to the human body. Unsurprisingly the next-gen Sniper Elite III follows the same pattern with improved graphics, improved X-ray cam and the whole story set in WW II Africa. Does the game hit its target or is it rather a miss?
Snipers in history and popular movies were always revered killers, masters of their art. Perhaps the most well-known historical WW II war movie was Enemy at the Gates – about the life of Vassili Zaitsev, a Russian sniper – which ended with a great duel between Zaitsev and his German sniper nemesis, Major König. Both were great characters, and while the movie was throwing at you all the Hollywood clichés possible it still had a pretty good story. I always wondered if I can get into a WWII sniper game with such an interesting story and characters like Enemy at the Gates. Well, I can happily wander some more, since Sniper Elite III has the same level of the basic, boring story with your vanilla American G.I. Joe hero as its previous entries in the series.
Rommel has left the building
This time we are in Africa which would make an excellent setting to an exciting story. One of the greatest military geniuses, the German general Erwin Rommel fought here, so he would make an interesting enemy boss or at least some kind of important character in the game scenario. Well, we learn at the very beginning of the game, that Rommel isn’t here anymore. Oh, crap.
Moreover, while we have the usual stylish cut-scenes, they aren’t telling a really interesting story, nor we have any interesting supporting characters alongside our generic American sniper hero. There’s a “mystery” of what the Germans are developing in Africa but when we finally learn what this enigmatic thing is, it’s actually a big let-down.
Basically, the whole story is shallow, boring, the kind of which you would just skip ahead to play on. So let us skip to the gameplay part of our review as well.
Hold your breath
Fortunately the very essence of the game: the sniping is still excellent. If you play on higher difficulties you need to take extra care of such details as the angle, elevations, and if possible, you need also to find some noise source, which can muzzle the sound of your own shots.
When you take aim, you need to hold your breath so a red dot will appear showing the place where the actual hit will land. You need to act fast though since after a while the red dot will disappear.
Your cardio rating also affects aiming. If you just ran a great deal, your cardio will be high and you will be unable to hold back your breath which means that you won’t be able to even hold your rifle correctly and of course the red dot will be unavailable. It’s all logical, well-executed and adds a tactical side to the game, which the first two Sniper Elites were missing.
The “kill-cam” with the X-Ray effect showing the damage of the bullet on the German’s body is back again. It’s clearly – yet again – a gimmick, but yet again a funny one. Watching World War II Nazi German and to look stupid while their organs are exploding never gets old, even if it still feels cheap and over-dramatized. The developers made small upgrades to the X-Ray graphics with more detailed bodies showing their veins and other small details as well.
The only downside to sniping is that sometimes while you clearly get a good hit, the game still doesn’t take it as a “serious one” as our enemy target keeps running and fighting back as if nothing happened. It’s not only annoying but also takes away from the so-called “realistic” feel of the game.
Repeat after me: “I. Am. Not. Sam. Fisher!” Okay?!
While the sniper elements are the best in the game once again, problems arise, when Sniper Elite 3 tries to be anything else than a sniper game. After the excellent Splinter Cell: Blacklist every other sneaking game feels a bit mediocre and outdated and it’s especially true for Sniper Elite III. Sneaking here is clumsy at best, without the possibility to correctly use cover (making a decent cover system must be a mystery for Rebellion Software) with rigid sneaking movements, and only one kind of takedown form behind, which reminded me of the same kind of “one-button takedown” from Watch Dogs.
We can also use a silenced gun strangely named “wellrod”. This “rod” only works “well” at very short distances and aimed at the head. If you are spotted, you have to make like 4-5 shots before your enemy is finally collapsing, and you also take several hits and the alarm is most certainly raised by then. Similarly, the wellrod is the only silenced gun in the game, so making it so clumsy was a major mistake.
Our hero is pretty crap at close combat as well after being discovered, so if you don’t have your machine gun at hand at those instances, prepare to be mowed down quickly. It’s just plain stupid.
The machine gun is also loose and clumsy to use and killing enemies with it really feels like you are back in 2008.
There’s one part of the game which is, however, really overhauled: it’s the graphical department. The African setting in Sniper Elite III simply looks gorgeous on the PS4 with lots of lighting and smoke effects, ambient occlusion, len’s flare, big, nice looking explosions and other effects added to the show. After Killzone: Shadow Fall and infamous: Second Son, it’s one of the nicest looking games on the PS4. Likewise, there’s a great deal of care to such details as leaves or dust in crumbling mines floating in the air.
WWII uniforms and vehicles look also authentic – well, maybe the Tiger tank was a bit too small on the level when we were fighting against it, but that’s only nitpicking.
The maps are massive, with different, well-constructed areas. There are huge cliffs, authentic-looking fortresses serving as a military base for the Germans, fields, and forests which are all looking very nice.
The animation, however, varies from nice to rather crap. The ragdoll system is definitely bugged, it felt like Rebellion used a beta version of Havoc’s system back from 2005 when their first Sniper Elite was out. There were some instances when the collusion system couldn’t quite work alongside the ragdoll one, which caused both funny and disturbing effects with dead German soldiers break-dancing in the air. (No, it’s not yet the zombie add-on). In another instance, after getting killed, one German soldier was just left standing motionless. If it was a David Lynch movie (like Blue Velvet with a similar scene) I would call this art, but let’s be honest: it’s just some stupid bug here.
The developers of Sniper Elite III Ultimate Edition did an amazing job with the Switch port and it runs without any issues in handheld mode, turning the game into a worthy portable experience. The best new additions to Sniper Elite III Ultimate Edition are the ones provided by the Pro Controller and Joy-Cons, as the game uses HD rumble to great effect. The player can feel Fairburne’s heartbeat whenever staring down the scope of a rifle, while the impact of the bullet reverberates through the controller as it rams through the body of the enemy. The HD rumble feature is often an afterthought to third-party developers (and sometimes to Nintendo), but Sniper Elite III Ultimate Edition uses it in a way that enhances the best moments of the game. The Nintendo Switch has had a few rough ports during its lifespan (such as Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and its fake screenshots), but Sniper Elite III Ultimate Edition is not one of them.
The other addition that the Pro Controller and Joy-Cons bring is optional support for motion controls. The player can use this whenever they are staring down the scope of their sniper rifle and its effect is subtle, so it can be used to help aim the shot against the target. The motion controls in Sniper Elite III Ultimate Edition add an extra layer of immersion and it makes the experience of lining up a perfect headshot all the more satisfying. It should be noted that the Nintendo Switch Lite lacks some features, such as the HD rumble and gyro controls, so these new additions to Sniper Elite III Ultimate Edition would be absent on that system.
It’s still fun to be a wicked sniper
Those issues aside Sniper Elite 3 is still a fun sniping experience with great graphics and nicely done sniper mechanics. It makes us generally forget the mediocre sneaking elements, the bugged ragdoll system, or the sorry excuse for a story with a boring G.I. Joe main character. Yes, we all know that X-Ray kill-cam is just a gimmick. Yes, we are all graphics whores. But who cares, if Sniper Elite 3 succeeds to get us fixed on our seats until we finish the game?
+ The X-Ray killcam never gets old
+ The sniper element is still professional
+ Great graphics
– Sneaking element is clumsy
– Buggy ragdoll effect
– Boring story with a generic hero
Publisher 505 Games
Genre: 3D, Action, Third-Person, Shooter, Tactical, Shooter
Published: 2014 May 20