Review: Sniper Elite III – Slightly Off the Mark

Have you ever wondered what a bullet hitting a Nazi’s testicle would look like? I never have but Sniper Elite 3 might be the only game willing to teach such an anatomy lesson.

The sniper rifle is something usually reserved for one brief sequence in most first-person shooters and then later abandoned for some crazy dual-wielding machine gun action (see Wolfenstien). Sniper Elite 3 tries to make you feel like an expert marksman through the entirely of a game where patience and good planning is rewarded and where blindly running in like a fool has no place.

Returning to the battlefield is Sniper Elite veteran Karl Fairburne. This gravelly voiced Nazi-killing machine is taking his eagle-eye to the West African front of World War II. The Nazis are coming up with prototype super tanks to turn the tide of the war and of course it’s up to you to single-handedly break all their stuff. Karl isn’t really all that compelling since he sounds like every gravelly voiced hero in every video game ever. He also doesn’t really say much outside of the handful of helpful gameplay hints. He doesn’t crack jokes or yell — there’s nothing there. He’s cold, calculated and boring.

Outside of some very interesting war diaries that you find sprinkled throughout each map, there’s really nothing to keep you emotionally invested in the story. The voice acting isn’t all that strong and the character animations in both cutscenes and gameplay seem unnaturally stiff. What really hurts are the lack of facial expressions from your Fairburne and the supporting cast. The weak character design takes away from the often impressive looking landscape you’ll do battle in.

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Much like a Monet, this title’s true beauty comes when dealing with problems from afar. When you’re perched up in a sniper’s nest using the roaring engines of bombers flying overhead to mask your shots, you really get a sense of causing chaos behind enemy lines. The lone wolf approach to combat has drastically improved over the last Sniper Elite games. Laying down traps for enemy or luring a tank onto a well placed stick of dynamite gives you a great guerrilla warfare as you play. It’s fun to see the action unfold from a sniper scope.

What makes sniping so fun is that it never feels too difficult to land the impossible shot. Of course you have to take into account things like the fact that bullets, over a long distance, drop prior to hitting its target because of gravity. By the end of the game you’ll know how high to aim your scope before firing. The best part is the focus mode; this allows you to slow down time and a red cursor will appear showing exactly where your bullet will hit. Focus mode does require you be in a relaxed state that is measured by BPM (breathes per minute) meter. Sprinting around or getting actively shot at will increase your BPM not allowing to use focus mode unless you get under 60 BPM.

It’s nice mechanic that can be turned off if you prefer the challenge and helps a great deal when trying to nail really tricky shots. The large open stages provide plenty of opportunity to cause havoc stealthily or throwing caution to the wind and wildly blowing raining death from a distance. The ability to tag units through your binoculars allows you to methodically eliminate the opposition while also revealing things that you could blow up with a well placed shot. This comes especially handy when facing off against tanks or armored transports since weak spots like fuels tanks or small openings exposing the the operator’s vulnerable noggin.

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The return of the crowd favorite kill-cam is the saving grace of the game. The kill-cam is basically a slow motion camera that follows your sniper around as it enters (and sometimes exits) various vital organs. The highlight of the kill-cam is the Mortal Kombat-style X-ray that shows the very graphic and quite painful looking damage your bullet causes. I’m serious — it’s so gruesome it borders on comical. It’s a great reward for lining up the perfect shot from a mile away. Watching a bullet pierce a lung as it tears through some poor sap’s spine will fill you with homicidal glee. The best part is you can adjust the frequency at the which the kill-cam can occur.

When the combat forces you indoors, where the range of your rifle becomes a non-factor, is really where Sniper Elite really falters. Switching over to close-quarters combat only highlights the lethargic aiming and substandard A.I. of the Nazi Afrika Korps. Trying to sneak around becomes a chore since the enemy A.I. is fairly easy to fool with a simple rope a dope, providing no real challenge when you’re equipped with a silenced pistol.

Engaging in non-sniper rifle related gunfights from up close doesn’t hold the same enjoyment as when your raising hell from a few hundred meters away. I do like the ability to customize load outs with various explosive tools like dynamite (which can be set with a fuse allowing for great distractions) land-mines and healing items.

Multiplayer missed a golden opportunity to provide something uniquely special. The deathmatch is most disappointing of all the modes. The concept of a bunch of snipers playing a game of cat and mouse would have been perfect but instead you get folks doing pretty well by running and gunning as opposed to hiding patiently in the bushes. It’s the opposite feeling of the single player mode, which is really a shame. The co-op wave based mode is truly where you want to play with friends. Holding a building as an overwhelming number of forces bear down on you is exhilarating and you could easily lose track of time.

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This title is also marred by a bunch of little graphical bugs that can really make you question the amount of polish put into the final product. Enemies clipping in the environment is the most common of these quirks. Others include weird and silly things like your rifle disappearing during a kill-cam shot yet still firing the shot or bodies rag dolling in ways that don’t make sense according the laws of gravity. Annoying as this is, I forgave a lot of this when I landed a double headshot that gave me one of the most impressive looking kills I’ve seen in a while. Then again, seeing a Nazi General’s face literally explode from the eye socket in gory HD would make any crazy person happy.

Sniper Elite 3 is a game that wants you to be patient. If you’re one of those folks who doesn’t have time to to plan and would rather jump in guns blazing, you will be frustrated with the result. The sniping is satisfying and every kill-cam instance is unique. Where it falls apart is when the game forces you away from what it does best. It’s tough to take a fully stealth approach when it seems like the enemy can always see you. It then becomes a matter of just creating distance and using the enemies’ stupidity against them.

Sniper Elite 3¬†does provide a unique experience and it really puts forth a lot of effort in making you feel like a expert marksman. Sadly the other aspects of the game doesn’t seem to have been given the same amount of care. Lone wolves and sniper rifle aficionados will get the most excitement¬†out of Sniper Elite 3. If you’re really keen on seeing what a bullet looks like entering a dude’s kidney, you may also find some brief enjoyment from West African chapter of WWII.

Below I put together a kill-cam montage for your viewing enjoyment along with me yelling something stupid not knowing the mic was on. You really shouldn’t play this around kids or at your place of employment. <3

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