Learn more about the human anatomy with your gun!
The Sniper Elite series has somehow eluded my attention all these years. Full confession: I love playing slow-paced stealth games and conquering fields full of enemies one at a time. I also love wielding a sniper rifle, given the chance—I was a Hunter and Assassin in the Borderlands series, and I lived for sniper-slowdown in the Mass Effect series.
Now, Rebellion is preparing Sniper Elite III in the hopes of pleasing old fans of the series while attracting newcomers by addressing concerns brought up in reviews of previous entries. Thankfully, I got to play a bit at PAX East and I walked away rather excited for what’s to come.
Among the criticisms levied at past Sniper Elite games were linear gameplay and poorly handled combat scenarios. After all, a sniper is supposed to spend most of his time doing anything but engaging the enemy directly. Robbie Cooke, who does PR and Marketing for Rebellion, said that they’ve created this entry by incorporating all the feedback they’ve received from fans and critics alike.
As far as linearity goes, levels are now sprawling and feature multiple paths and goals. I played through a level in the mountains of North Africa, where OSS agent Karl Fairburne is tasked with taking out giant Nazi anti-aircraft guns. The mountains provide a lot of rocky cover but the map itself featured a number of ways to move around, on the cliffs or along the ground around enemy vehicles.
One thing that was painfully obvious was that playing requires very thorough examination of the battlefield. You can’t just waltz into the Nazi camps and start picking off every skull. By pushing down on the right stick, Karl will lift his binoculars and track enemies with a pull of the right trigger.
Obviously, stealth games require time and patience, which is something I was sorely lacking on the show floor of PAX. I found myself spotted by enemies casually exiting buildings while I was sneaking by, which left me wishing I could cover myself in branches and pretend I was a bush. When I was discovered, I was happy to see that checkpoints were fair and didn’t set me back too far.
The AI was rather impressive. Even when I messed up in the exact same way as a previous attempt, soldiers didn’t react predictably. Even when you’ve been spotted and everyone’s on alert, enemies don’t all rush in to kill you like other games. Many take cover, while a select few actually try to flank you.
On one rooftop, I decided to use my stealth kill button to take down a pursuing soldier and was surprised to see Karl perform a takedown move. Cooke informed me that on harder difficulties alerted enemies will just push Karl away, rendering this last act of desperation futile.
Sniper Elite features a kill-cam when an enemy is unaware and properly sniped. Imagine the x-ray abilities from Mortal Kombat, only bullets going through skulls instead of bone-crushing super moves. In III, Rebellion has studied their biology books a little harder to present even more realistic death porn. Each successful shot sends bone fragments and viscera explosively out the back of an enemy’s head in ultra-satisfying slow-motion. If that wasn’t enough, there are now vehicle kill-cams, portraying disabled engines as your bullets tear through them.
This entry features on-the-fly side objectives that you can stumble upon or read about in scattered letters and directives. In one section, there were tanks waiting to be taken down and I decided to use one of the new sniper nests to make my attempt. I didn’t fare so well, but in the heat of the firefight I managed to pull off an awesome kill, ending a tank driver’s life with a well-timed and angled bullet through the tiny window slit right before his cannon was ready. Meanwhile, the game let me know that a soldier in a previous area found one of my wire traps the hard way, netting me bonus experience points.
It remains to be seen if all the new features Rebellion has shoved into Sniper Elite III will give it a warmer reception than entries past, but from my experience I think it's shaping up to be a solid title. For those who want to take a break from running and gunning for something more strategic and slow-paced, keep an eye on out. This shot is ringing out on July 1st in the US or June 27th in the EU.