Sniper Elite 3 – (PS3, PS4 (Review system), 360, Xbox One, PC; Rebellion; 505 Games)
For saying there are plenty of people into stealth games and stealth games sell alright, there really don’t ever tend to be many of them. Whether its because people can already get their fix on the creme de la creme of Hitman, Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid already, or some other reason, we don’t seem to see too many new or different stealth games come out. But here we are, with Sniper Elite 3 as the first big stealth game for the new consoles. And its actually a total delight to play, and I generally loved my time with the campaign, and I’m going to have a tough time not recommending the game through all of this.
While previous Sniper Elite games seemingly put far more of a focus on linear sniping sections within urban environments, Sniper Elite 3 is set in large open non-linear environments off into the North African desert. And I feel that change does the game a great service. I couldn’t hugely get into Sniper Elite V2 because it felt very controlled and linear, and that often had an impact on how much it felt like I could experiment with my tactics, which is, to me, a huge part of a stealth game. No such problems with Sniper Elite 3 though. The open spaces allow for a lot more gameplay experimentation, and make the stealth feel so much better as you have an ability to evade and navigate around your prey as a desert predator. It also means that spots like the sniper nests become more of an optional bonus than a set piece, and that you can find your own neat little spots for more organic and less rigid sniper nests. It just really fits for a sniper-focussed stealth game to let you have that space and mobility.
The stealth gameplay is also really good in the game for pacing and such. While games like Splinter Cell can feel quite quick because its not that hard to maintain a ghostly presence, Sniper Elite really makes you work for those brief moments of pay-off and forces you to be patient. There is only one gun you can use that doesn’t make a noise, and you only have two clips for it when you enter an area, and its not a particularly long range gun. That means you’re either going to have to get up close and personal, which is very risky, or you’re going to have to play the sound-masking game, which can be very hard. By that, I mean, you have to wait until the right few seconds where a noise is happening that can cover up your sniper shot, so you can pop off a shot and watch a slow mo bullet fly through a man’s skeleton. And those seconds don’t come around often, which makes the brief moments of POW BANG WHIZZ in all the ambience and quiet all the more piercing and satisfying. Basically, the pacing on the game just feels spot on for a stealth game about being a sniper in the war; plenty of waiting but plenty of satisfaction in the brief payoffs.
That’s not to say the pacing of the stealth gameplay and being a sniper is constantly well-handled; for some reason, I assume to try and have some set-pieces or to give you satisfying and difficult endings to the campaign levels, they bring out armoured cars and tanks regularly at the end of levels for you to fight off. And obviously, as any military strategist will tell you, snipers are not equipped or meant to take out tanks, and tanks are not all that equipped or designed to take out snipers. Sure it’s cool popping the grates off a tank once or twice and blowing up their engine, but its a bit excessive if I’m killing more tanks as a sniper than most anti-tank soldiers would have been doing. Especially the mission where my compatriots with guns and a truck leave a base as 2 tanks and 2 armoured cars arrived, leaving me to fight all 4 off casually with my sniper rifle and some rockets left around the environment (the rockets are about as effective as normal, non armour-piercing bullets, which is another odd level of rubbish).
The pacing also suffers when you go outside the campaign; while games like Splinter Cell: Blacklist and Hitman: Absolution managed to maintain a somewhat diluted version of what made the main levels so good in their challenges and/or multiplayer modes, Sniper Elite 3 doesn’t quite achieve the same. The survival mode on Sniper Elite 3 feels more akin to a horde mode, which feels totally out of place in a stealth-oriented game where you’re going to have a hard time fighting off a regiment of soldiers, and the multiplayer feels more unfair than well-paced as you are simply looking for other people and if they spot you first, you’re basically dead. It kind of doesn’t really work as a balanced multiplayer game, and it certainly isn’t satisfying. So basically, when buying Sniper Elite 3, you’re paying for a fantastic singleplayer campaign and maybe some co-op fun that could be good in a totally different way.
Something I totally have to give kudos to the developers for though is how good the presentation of the whole game is. The game itself looks gorgeous, and as I was saying, I’m so very glad the developers have chosen to place the game in the North African desert as opposed to the ruins of urban Germany; the environments look fantastic, with the vibrant colours and beautiful views of desert towns and huge canyons, and it makes a fantastic change from grey dilapidated buildings. The whole graphical package, both because the environment design is better and because of the hardware jump, is just so sharp now, and this is probably one of the best looking games I’ve played this year. Also, its cool to see soldiers in short sleeves and shorts and fun explorer hats for once.
The sound design also helps contribute to the package; for once, the sound design in a game has ended up really standing out to me as noteworthy just because of how well it tied to the pace and feel of the game. Generally, the ambient sound effects are quite disparate and soft, there’s no music throughout the environment, the soldiers speak German or Italian and you don’t understand it (which is good because the thing where all enemies speak English in games is silly) and when there are active sound effects from cars or guns or feet on the floor, it pierces the quiet in this way that sits so perfectly for a stealthy sniper game. The whole thing is just immersive and satisfying in such a fundamental way because the sound design is just so damn good.
The campaign isn’t totally flawless though. As much as I may give the game a free ride for this because World War 2 is kind of a major conflict and soldiers can just be soldiers without needing huge amounts of justification and exposition to go and do missions because its their job, the story is basically non-existent around some German project about a super tank, and a sub-plot with a guy you rescue and how he dies very quickly afterwards and you take a bullet off his person and kill the big bad guy with it. I considered not ‘spoiling’ that, but I doubt the storyline is the thing that would make you keep playing the game, and its so very much of a bare-bones plot that there was not all that much way for me to dance around spoiling for anyone that hasn’t played it yet.
All in all, Sniper Elite 3 is an odd package for what you get; you get this near-perfectly done third person stealth & sniping game for like 6-9 hours, and it feels generally amazing for that time, and then if you don’t want to go back and play that on a higher difficulty for more realistic gameplay, then there’s not much more worth doing. Co-op might be cool if you get people to play it with though I think it’d ruin some of the immersion and pacing, but survival and multiplayer just aren’t at that same standard as the campaign. But if you want a great stealth game outside the old tried-and-true series, I highly recommend Sniper Elite 3.
Joe Trail is the editor-in-chief of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he says he is, not because he has other writers to edit over. But such is the life of a busy editor-in-chief, obviously. He’s also an avid writer for the site. Of course.