Given the slew of WWII shooters that plagued the Xbox 360 and PS3, it's interesting that in this new generation most publishers seem reluctant to release one.
Maybe it's a fear of being deemed unoriginal, maybe a switch to more modern warfare has inspired a change of focus. Whatever the reason, Sniper Elite III finds itself in the unique position of being the only WWII shooter on the new-gen consoles - and no, we're not counting Wolfenstein: The New Order any more than we'd count Inglourious Basterds.
Players once again find themselves in the military fatigues of OSS sniper Karl Fairburne as he takes on numerous missions in an attempt to ward off enemy forces.
This time, rather than the more typical environments you'd expect from a WWII game - beaches, fields, conveniently evacuated war-torn towns - these missions are located in a North African setting, with jungles and deserts forming your surroundings.
This change of scenery is more than merely cosmetic. It also allows for far more open maps than the more corridor-like stages of previous Sniper Elite games. Thanks to the large jungle areas and numerous routes available in each stage, there are now multiple ways to approach your enemy.
Before all this you have to locate your targets first. Your binoculars allow you to 'tag' your enemies so you don't lose track of them, but rather than simply placing a small marker on your screen or map, you're instead shown their full silhouette at all times, even as they then move away and obscure themselves behind layers of walls, foliage and other scenery.
It goes without saying that a little artistic licence is being used here for the sake of fun - not even the greatest snipers in the world have Superman's x-ray vision - so it's best just to roll with it.
After all, it may not be authentic, but it does make for more entertaining gameplay. Take your time to spot as many upcoming enemies as you can and your reward is a number of silhouettes wandering around on your screen, blissfully unaware you're now planning a course of attack.
It's here where the game throws up the first of its decision-making processes as you figure out how you want to approach the enemy. Do you crawl through the long grass and make your way along the rocky hills, taking the long way round and approaching them from the side or behind?
Or will you take your chances and enter their camp, sneaking around unseen until you methodically pick your foes off one by one? Then there's the inevitable lookout tower: shouldn't you concentrate on taking out the guy up there first? Will you do it from a distance or try to get up there unseen and take over his vantage point?
The method of execution is also up for consideration. Do you live up to the game's name and snipe your victim from a distance? Do you try to catch their attention and draw them to a spot where their death will be less conspicuous? Or do you try to approach them, getting as close as possible so you can deliver a stealth kill or headshot with your silenced pistol?
It's to Sniper Elite III's credit that each of these options are viable possibilities that can be pulled off, rather than in some games where "numerous playing styles" means "try stealth until compromised then blast away".
However, that's not to say they're without fault. Sniping is about as satisfying as it gets, and the slow-motion bulletcam (complete with disturbingly detailed x-rays of the enemy's insides bursting, breaking and shattering) is gruesome but gratifying in a B-movie kind of way, as you can see by this montage video of some of my first kills (put together in Xbox One's Upload Studio):
But sometimes you can be certain you've got a direct hit (playing on the standard Marksman difficulty brings up a red dot showing where your bullet will hit) and you'll miss, causing the enemy to react to your gunshot and your hiding position to be compromised.
This can also occasionally happen in close quarters with your handgun - understandable given that nobody's a perfect shot, but frustrating when the bewildering lack of a melee attacks means your best course of action is to run off and hide, hoping you don't get shot in the back in the process.
Sadly, the AI - something Rebellion pinpointed as a major area it wanted to improve - still leaves a lot to be desired at times. It can be remarkable how close you can get to an enemy without him spotting you, and when he does it takes a while for him to engage.
When looking back at predecessor Sniper Elite V2 in a recent article, we said: "Enemy intelligence was widely panned for being dumber than a spoon until you got caught, at which point every foe in the entire map suddenly became omnipotent and knew exactly where you were." Things have improved, but not enough.
In Sniper Elite 3, when firing at opponents from a long distance your whereabouts are still almost guaranteed to be discovered if you don't disguise your shot (usually with one of the conveniently plentiful generators lying around which can be sabotaged to make loud clanging noises every now and then).
However, now you can escape detection after firing your shot by simply ducking down and hiding. More often than not, in the standard Marksman difficulty level, your enemies won't bother coming to look for you and will give the 'all clear' after a minute or two. By swapping out omnipotence for forgetfulness, it's simply replacing one problem with another.
And then there's this sort of thing:
Check in your expectations of realism at the door, however, and Sniper Elite III can be enormous fun. Its bumbling AI makes it less an authentic representation of life as a WWII sniper and more a Rambo sim, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
There's a great feeling of accomplishment every time you start one of its enormous stages and methodically clear it of enemies. (Expect to take up to an hour and a half to finish some missions, though thankfully checkpoints are liberally placed).
Take your time, adjust to the game's naturally slower pace and pick those Germans off one by one at the right moment and you'll genuinely feel like a ghostly badass. When you're spotted, simply run off to a different area, keep your head down until the coast is clear again and you'll be convinced you're the Predator.
Sniper Elite III is not without its flaws, but these are outnumbered by the sheer satisfaction it provides when everything works as it should. The sniping feels right, the slow-mo kills are disgustingly moreish and each combat area is large and diverse enough to encourage multiple playthroughs with different methods of approach.
The Sniper Elite series has never threatened to topple the Battlefields or Call Of Duties of this world, and this third entry never really comes close to changing that. But for those looking for a less gung-ho, more methodical approach to a war game, then ropey AI aside you could do a lot worse than this.
Its AI is still the village idiot but there's still plenty of fun to be had here regardless. Put up with its niggles and you'll get your money's worth.
- Sniping enemies is immensely satisfying
- Huge, sprawling stages with multiple paths
- Delightfully grotesque slow-mo X-ray killcams
- AI can be a bit "see no evil, hear no evil"
- Detection is too harsh, evasion too forgiving
- Lack of melee attack makes for sloppy close-up combat