Despite being aware of the Sniper Elite series, I’d somehow never got round to playing one until I tried out the demo version of Sniper Elite III at Insomnia 51. Not quite knowing what to expect, I ran in guns blazing and got myself killed almost immediately. Not put off though, I’ve decided to revisit it with the release of the full game.
Sniper Elite III casts you as Karl Fairburne, an American super sniper and the lead of the previous two games which are set during World War 2. After seeing action in Europe, Fairburne is transferred to the African Front and tasked with tracking down a secret weapon that the Nazis are developing and stopping them.
The story isn’t really all that important however and, outside of the brief cutscenes at the beginning of each mission, is in a lot of cases not even all that relevant. The main draw of Sniper Elite is the freedom to choose how you tackle each mission. You can choose to be as stealthy as possible, only killing the targets required or you can try and take out as many enemies as possible.
Each of the game’s eight missions is a fairly large sandbox area with most of the mission objectives marked from the start. You can usually choose which order you’d like to tackle these in and how you’d like to do it. While it is technically possible to play it as a standard third person shooter, it really isn’t recommended. Karl’s health bar doesn’t last very long under sustained fire and death follows very quickly.
You’re given the option of changing your weapons loadout from the beginning of the game, though many of the options will only unlock as you complete missions. As standard you have a silenced pistol, machine gun, some grenades and med kits as well as your trusty sniper rifle.
Karl is also equipped with a pair of binoculars which allows you to survey an area before entering and tag up to 10 enemies, allowing you to easily see their locations even when they are behind cover. This is very helpful in planning a route of attack or even just sneaking through as it makes it easier to work out enemy patrol patterns.
Generally speaking, stealth is the name of the game. At the top of the screen is an indicator that will appear to show if you are hidden from sight or not, and the mini-map radar will also light up depending on the enemy’s alert status. I spent most of my time either sniping or using a combination of the silenced Welrod pistol and silent takedowns to get past most of the enemies. The machine gun should only really be used as a last resort, as it creates a lot of noise and alerts enemies very quickly.
Sniping also makes quite a lot of noise however, but there are a number of environmental noises as well as distractions that you can manufacture to cover the sound of your shots and remain hidden. You’ll often find a generator that can be sabotaged or anti air gun or something similar near key sniping spots to make it easier to not be discovered.
Enemies that are becoming suspicious will have an icon appear above them, first yellow and then becoming red as they begin to see your location, but you usually have enough time to move before being spotted.
If you make too much noise or fire from the same place too many times, the enemy will become aware of your location and begin searching for you. At first they’ll be in a cautious state but once you’re discovered they’ll go into alert and the mini-map will begin flashing red. It’s then time to move and get into cover somewhere else.
Karl controls well, with the third person controls being fine if fairly unremarkable, but it’s the sniping view where the game really shines. When looking down the sniper scope, you can hold your breath to steady your shot which slows the game down slightly and also, on the lower difficulty levels at least, gives an indicator of how you need to aim your shot as at greater distances the crosshairs aren’t to be relied on. As time slows down all the game audio also goes quiet giving this pretty intense feeling of concentration while you line up your shot.
You’ll instantly know if you’ve aimed well as a killing shot will switch to a cinematic camera that traces the bullet from being fired to hitting the enemy who, as the bullet hits, will display as an X-Ray showing the damage that the bullet causes – some of these are pretty gruesome so I’ve had to go for one a bit tamer here.
There are also a number of enemy vehicles in the game which can be targeted in the same manner, with vulnerable locations that can be pinpointed with the binoculars, such as gas tanks on trucks. Shooting these will usually result in a rather large explosion.
Each mission contains multiple optional extras, such as side objectives, hidden items to collect, long distance special kills from hidden sniping spots, so even after you’ve finished a first run through of the game you’ll likely still have a number of things to do.
Which is good, because it’s not the longest of games out there. With eight main missions the story mode can be completed in about 10 hours or so, but the variety of ways you can play means that it’s pretty replay friendly and you’ll not be too annoyed about going back through an area to pick up a collectable you missed because it gives an opportunity to try getting through a different way.
The whole main campaign can be played co-operatively, and there is also a challenge mode with specific goals for different maps such as survival, and these can mostly be played single player or co-op.
There’s also a multiplayer mode, which I was fairly terrible at. Patience and good hiding skills are the name of the game here, with new players running about being taken down quite quickly. A number of different modes here such as sniping only games and matches where the teams are competing for the longest distance shot give a nice amount of variety.
It’s also a surprisingly attractive game. Developer Rebellion, once best known for their Aliens vs. Predator games, have never been one who I’ve really thought make the most shiny of games – solid and not ugly, but I’ve not played one that looks as good as this.
Being set in the desert, the levels are basically either bright daylight or night time, and it’s fairly evenly split between them throughout the game. The day levels in particular are great, with bright vivid colours and some great lighting effects. The landscapes are fantastically detailed, which considering huge chunks of some of them are desert is quite the achievement.
The character models are generally decent too, though there are a few side characters who don’t appear for very long that look a bit ropey but Karl himself and the enemy soldiers are all well realised and animated.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I started Sniper Elite III, but what I found was a surprisingly deep game with tons of charm and enough replay value to keep me going for some time. While possibly not one for those who don’t like a slower pace and prefer to run and gun, fans of stealth and strategy should find plenty to like and enjoy.
Sniper Elite III is available now on PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and 4. It’s also currently available free with our range of Sniper Elite optimised PCs, courtesy of our friends at Cooler Master.