Editor's Note: This review was written using a review copy of Sniper Elite 3 provided at no charge by Rebellion.
Sniper Elite III is a third-person shooter with stealth and sniping elements developed and published by Rebellion. It's the seventh entry to the series, with the City Interactive Ghost Warrior series and the Nazi Zombie Army game alongside the main series. While the Ghost Warrior series was developed by another studio, it met with almost universal panning by critics, and a bit of a quick-cash-in appearance to Nazi Zombie Army and its rushed out sequel, the question most gamers are undoubtably asking themselves looking at Sniper Elite III is: is it worth it? Is this a return to form, or just another cash in?
It certainly is a nice enough looking game, I'll say that much. The visuals are rather impressive, without the patchy textures that often signify console ports even with higher end engines. The only complaint I'd have in that category is the godrays, which like the bloom of old are entirely overdone and rather visually-distracting. Perhaps part of the point, but it's overdone and highly unrealistic to the point of actually looking rather silly.
Sniper Elite III features a full set of interesting and varied mechanics
As shiny as the game may be, the meat of the game is in the mechanics, and Sniper Elite III certainly doesn't disappoint in that category: its mechanics are diverse while still remaining relevant in the broader context and with each other, and the way that things all click together, so to speak, is logical and intuitive. Most importantly, things act in the game world how you expect and the game is consistent with its own system. To speak on the central sniping aspect: bullet drop is realistic, and spotting with binoculars offers the ability to stake out a position very easily and effectively in the same sort of vein of FarCry 3, and locational damage is highly accurate.
On top of the stealth system as it was, the actual run-and-gun gunplay works quite well. It has an appropriate feeling of recoil and accuracy depending on how much you're moving about, and both you and your enemies aren't going to be able to take many bullets, so both you and the AI will no doubt be trying to be more tactical about it. AI enemies at range will try to flush you out rather than come to you, and in general they seemed to fight fairly intelligently. I wasn't a fan of them in closer range though, because when they're close they have a much higher tendency to try to rush you, and I couldn't tell you how many firefights in close quarters I won by just camping around the corner and killing guy after guy that rushed by it. I never found myself without healing supplies even on the Sniper Elite difficulty either, so it's a viable way to get through the game, as long as you are smart about it.
The only thing I wasn't really fond of was the trap system. For example, you're encouraged to place mines to cover your six as you snipe, but most of the good sniping positions are elevated and away from easy access, and the ones that aren't are often places you'll want to just take a single potshot from and then relocate from. It feels like a system you'd only be leaning more on if you weren't playing properly and as such, I find it kind of superfluous to the game as a whole. Additionally, those mines' splash damage can kill you just as well as it can kill enemies, so they end up presenting a hazard to you as well. To be fair, they aren't set off by the player, but they can be set off by Nazis rushing into your position (as they often will try to if they know you are close and in cover), killing both of you. I got frustrated by that trying to use mines, myself, and as such, I just didn't use them.
The environments are large and expansive -
but perhaps we spend a little too much time in them
I actually rather liked the levels in general - they tend to be large, multi-level affairs with appropriate theming, multiple routes through them, and no particular order you have to do most of the objectives therein most of the time, which allows for a great deal of freedom as to how you approach the objectives and how you work your way across the location. But that initial impression started to wear down as I felt I was bogging around too much in the same area. Missions have a bit of a tendency of drawing you along in such a way that you will finally reach what you thought was the end, only to exasperatedly be given another objective to deal with. The missions were nice, but not so much so I wanted to sink hours into them.
That's actually the biggest problem I have with the game from a design stand-point - if you intelligently blast your way through with firefight after firefight, the levels are much shorter than if you try to stealth it up, and while that is expected to a certain degree, the disparity is quite noticeable, and makes it hard to recommend the stealth approach when either are viable and one is much shorter.
The objectives you're given tend to start repeating after a while too, alternating mostly between taking out people, gun emplacements, or vehicles, and while it was done with enough variety that I didn't have much of a problem with it, I can see that being an issue for some people.
A loadout system adds a good deal of variety to the game
The chief progression of actual mechanical value in the game is unlocking a variety of second weapons such as the MP40 or the Luger pistol, and upgrades to your main rifle that increase zoom distance, lessen recoil, and such, as well as additional gear such as dynamite and mines. For the most part, this system is pretty decent, offering new unlocks at a pretty decent clip and as a result, keeping the game varied and interesting, though as is usually the case you'll probably find your loadout that works for you and stick with it.
There's one element of the unlock system that's entirely preference however and I wasn't a big fan of, and that was the idea of unlocking different reticles for your sniper scope. Given that they give no mechanical benefit and are a matter of cosmetic preference, the idea of having to unlock those to use them doesn't sit all that well with me. It's hardly a game-breaker however, and the rest of the unlocks are mechanically different and varied.
The story is functional and well-written but pretty dry
This isn't something I'll touch on in too great a detail since this ventures very deeply into spoiler territory otherwise, but I found the story of Sniper Elite 3 to be pretty functional and decent - perhaps most importantly it seems pretty authentic - but it also suffers from being pretty bog-standard generic. I don't need the action hero fantasy of Call of Duty or Battlefield, whose stories can be quite frankly ridiculous, and actually appreciated Sniper Elite 3 being more realistic in feel, but it feels a bit generic to me. This is probably a feeling that's brought on by the length of the missions, since you can spend a long time in any given one if you're going the stealth route, as I mostly did. It would probably fare better if you were going the quicker run-and-gun play, which is another thing that seems curiously hampered by playing the game as it seems to be designed to be played.