With a name like Sniper Elite III, you’d expect this World War II third-person shooter to have a lot of long distance gunplay. And it does. But thanks to the inclusion of a silenced pistol, stealth kills,and general sneakiness, Sniper Elite III — which was made by Rebellion for the Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PC — also lets you get up close and personal…and the game is all the better for it. It’s just too bad it isn’t better overall.
Like 2005’s Sniper Elite and 2012’s Sniper Elite V2, Sniper Elite III once again casts you as Karl Fairburne, an American sniper with the Office Of Strategic Services (which later evolved into the C.I.A.). Though while the earlier games were set in Germany during The Battle Of Berlin — which took place between April 16th and May 2nd of 1945 — Sniper Elite III is a prequel, and moves the action to Northern Africa.
This change of scenery doesn’t just mean that Sniper Elite III is swapping sidewalks for sand, though. In doing so, it also trades the narrow corridors of those previous games for more open battlefields. Which doesn’t, thankfully, turn this into Grand Theft Libya (though there are optional secondary objectives, including some you’ll stumble upon as you explore these large levels). Instead, it’s more like Wolfenstein: The New Order, where spacious levels gave you different ways to approach your objectives, while your enemies could come at you from all directions as well.
Which is where the sneaky bits in Sniper Elite III come in handy. When you approach an area, you can use your binoculars to plan your attack, and can even mark your targets so you can keep tabs on them. Though because your sniper rifle doesn’t have a silencer, when you finally start shooting people, everyone will know where you are, so you’ll have to move. But since you have some sneaking skills, as well as machine gun and a pistol (silenced, if you so chose), you can not only get to the next vantage point undetected (hopefully), but you take out anyone who gets in your way on the way there.
This isn’t to say you can’t go full sniper in Sniper Elite III. You can. You even get rewarded for particularly good shots with images of your bullet slowly flying across the battlefield and into your target, complete with an x-ray view of his bones and innards going splat. You can now even snipe vehicles, which doesn’t just come in handy when you’re trying to stop a convoy or a General in an armored transport, but also when, say, there’s a truck parked next to a bunch of other trucks, and there’s a bunch of bad guys standing nearby, and maybe an above ground fuel tank, and you’d like to take them out with one big “boom.”
You can also go full stealth, or full guns blazin’, though that’s a lot tougher. While Sniper Elite III lets you pick off guys all quiet-like, you never have a lot of ammo for your machine guns or pistols (though you can do stealth kills to your heart’s content). You also don’t regenerate health, and instead have to use bandages, of which you only ever have a handful. Though in playing the game, it’s fairly obvious that this worked best when you mix stealth and sniping, depending on the situation.
While this makes Sniper Elite III sound tough, and it can be, the campaign actually has multiple skill levels for those of us who’d prefer games that are more fun than frustrating. Besides the self-explanatory Authentic, Sniper Elite (hard), Marksman (normal), and Cadet (easy) — all which determine the alertness of your enemies and their reaction time — there’s also Custom, which allows you to adjust the enemy’s awareness and the realism (or lack thereof) of the sniping mechanics.
While the story-driven campaign is the best part of Sniper Elite III, the game does have a number of co-op and competitive multiplayer modes. In the former group, the most interesting is “Overwatch,” in which one player snipes from above, protecting a second player on the ground as they completes objectives.
Sadly, the others in Sniper Elite III aren’t as engaging. Along with a simple, “Horde”-like option called “Survival,” in which you have to, well, survive waves and waves of incoming enemies, you can also play the campaign with a friend, though this just ruins the whole lone wolf vibe.
Sniper Elite III does a much better job with the competitive multiplayer modes. While “Deathmatch” and “Team Deathmatch” play like they do in every other games, Sniper Elite III takes advantage of the game’s penchant for long distance weapons with “No Cross,” in which teams have to pick each other off from their own sides of a divided battlefield, as well as “Distance King” and “Team Distance King,” which are basically “Deathmatch” and “Team Deathmatch,” but with you getting more points when you’re further away from your kill.
Regardless of how you play it, though, Sniper Elite III is still rather fun. But it isn’t without its problems (which is why this isn’t really fun, or a lot of fun, or more fun than a barrel of Nazis …who are rolling off a cliff into an active volcano while Mötley Crüe perform “Home Sweet Home”). At times, though not all the time, the looking around movements seem a big stiff, while some of the buttons — especially the ones used to perform a stealth kill or go prone — only work when you’re in just the right spot.
Even worse, some of the enemies aren’t very attentive. While they’re usually easy to sneak up on, there were times when I stood right behind them, fiddling with my gun, and they never noticed. Well, until I carefully inserted a bullet in their brain.
The stealth mechanics in Sniper Elite III also aren’t as advanced as they are in such stealth action games as Splinter Cell: Blacklist or Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. While you can, and should, hide bodies after you dispatch them, and you can use such traps as landmines and tripwires, there are other mechanics that are de rigueur in these kinds of games that are missing in Sniper Elite III. You can’t, for instance, shoot out small lights to make an area dark (though you can destroy oil lamps). Or pull guys off ledges or over short walls.
Then there’s the technical issues, like how the physics would sometimes go so awry that the bad guys would flop around like rag dolls, or how both enemies and their vehicles will occasionally get stuck and won’t be able to move.
Sniper Elite III also has a problem so common these days that I now just cut and paste this paragraph into almost every game review I do (seriously, go check): some of the type is too small. Unless you sit really, really close to your TV — y’know, like your mama told you not to — you’ll have a hard time reading any of the notes you find or the subtitles.
In the end, Sniper Elite III is a solid step in the right direction for this series, as the addition of stealth mechanics and ability to target vehicles, paired with the open battlefields, makes this an engaging World War II shooter. It’s just too bad the technical issues, slightly dated stealth tricks, and some plain Jane co-op made some of it feel like a long distance runaround.