Arriving as a prequel to Rebellion’s 2012 release – Sniper Elite V2, the latest addition to this series is a major improvement over its predecessors, fixing a lot of the problems and delivering on a stealth experience that the series has always tried to achieve. Though the game isn’t without its flaws, these don’t impede too much on the fun to be had here, leaving the player with a satisfying, yet short campaign with a healthy slice of replayability.
Reprising the role as grizzled war veteran and sniper extraordinaire Karl Fairburne, you are sent over to North Africa to cripple the Nazi forces located there. For what begins as a routine mission to sabotage Nazi forces and drive them out of the territory, Karl soon learns of plans to create a Nazi wonder weapon that will turn the conflict into the enemies favour. What follows is a series of lengthy missions set across a variety of different environments, all tied together by an unfortunately dull and disinteresting story. It’s a shame to see that Rebellion have not improved on their war-time storytelling ability, though it does little to damage the fun of the campaign. A large bulk of the story is presented through a series of monologues placed over hand-drawn images. For what could make for an interesting narrative medium, these cutscenes are very static, lacking in visual flair. The dry delivery of the dialogue doesn’t help either, neither does the lead characters lack of depth, leading to some almost awkward moments. It’s a simple way to present the narrative for a game about a single character, but it isn’t interesting in the slightest, and you will quickly lose interest in the plot as result, as well as develop the urge to skip straight ahead to shooting Nazi’s in the face.
Thankfully for Sniper Elite 3, shooting Nazi’s in the face is one of the things it does best, staying incredibly fun, and incredibly rewarding throughout, with the improved X-Ray vision making things that much sweeter. While V2 only showed off the area that you sniped at, this title goes all-out, displaying the whole body system in all its gory detail. You will watch as bones shatter, muscles tear, and organs collapse as a result of your well-placed shots. All of this plays in slo-mo and comes alongside some stylish visual aesthetics that top off an awesome display of brutality. It’s theatrical, it’s over-the-top, and I love it for both those reasons. For a game that encourages sniping, this is sure a fine way to encourage players to play as intended.
Don’t let all of this fool you though, it’s not easy to take down your prey and you have to work hard for these kills and take into account your distance, your breathing, and the wind direction. Yes, this game features realistic bullet ballistics that must be mastered before you go about clocking up your ‘360 no-scope’ kills. Don’t let this put you off though, it makes the sniping combat a lot more challenging and fun, with rarely any frustration. At the end of the day, you only have yourself to blame for a badly placed shot, so make every shot count and be patient. Of course the level of realism is attributed to the difficulty, so at a medium-level the sniping doesn’t take long to get used to, but at the higher difficulties you will fail countless times before you get the hang of it all. I wouldn’t advise starting on the higher difficulty unless you purposefully want to give yourself a hard time, though playing the campaign through a second time on such a difficulty creates the illusion of a fresh gameplay experience, due to the difficult sniping, and improved enemy AI.
Though the enemies do get smarter on higher difficulties, the AI never feels anything short of dumb, which is crippling for a stealth game. Enemies appear to be near-blind, with them clocking onto the sight of the player only when very close. This is somewhat believable in the night time missions, or when clocked in shadow, but during the daylight missions it’s silly. I know that stealth games like this have to make concessions so that the gameplay is not totally unforgiving, but it does feel ridiculous nevertheless. Enemies also fail to react in a believable manner when discovering dead bodies, moving into a cautious state, but then never following it up with anything. In no time at all these enemies will calm, and continue their guard patterns without batting an eyelid in response to the dead comrade bleeding out on the floor. It really breaks the immersion, and it does open up for opportunities of complete chaos that would have otherwise gotten you in a lot of trouble had the games AI been competent. There was even a time when I exploded several vehicles right near patrolling enemies, and they didn’t even break patrol to investigate despite the loud noises and flames engulfing the campsite. It might have made my next move much easier, but I should have been punished for my reckless play style. When enemies do detect your presence however, they suddenly turn from useless chumps to brutal killing machines, easily surrounding you and going for a flank. This is a game where all out action isn’t encouraged, and you certainly aren’t let off lightly for playing this way. If you are discovered, the easiest option is to relocate and get away from the enemy. Thankfully this isn’t too much of a headache thanks to the games HUD, which lets you know when you have made it into the clear. If that wasn’t helpful enough, the game tells you your last-known location, allowing you to get as far away from there as possible.
Though the shooting mechanics are solid, they wouldn’t mean a thing if the levels weren’t fun to spill blood within. Thankfully, this game has that aspect covered too, offering plenty of stunningly created environments, each offering plenty of variety and creative freedom. This game encourages you to plan and approach your objectives however you wish, and the expansive levels allow just that. There is never simply one way to do something, with the game throwing multiple paths at you for whatever you are doing, abolishing any sense of linearity. Obviously you have a set of objectives that you must complete in each level, but there is never a set way to approach the enemy, or reach and complete your goal. Variety is the spice of life, and Rebellion are clearly aware of this, designing open levels with plenty of depth, height, and interesting locales. Players are even invited to explore off the beaten track to collect playing cards and war journals, both awarding you XP, while the latter offers further context to the stories narrative.
Though the player is able to take enemies down in close-quarters takedowns, and use secondary weapons to kill enemies, sniping is promoted and catered for in every level. Various snipers nests are located on each map, and these offer fantastic vantage points to take your enemies down from as well as awarding you additional XP. Though some nests can only be used a few times before the enemy figures out where you’re firing from, most are placed in areas that are occasionally masked by environmental sounds. When sound in an area is being drowned out by something, a symbol appears on-screen letting you know that you’re shots will be masked. Learning to time your shots with these events is key to progressing stealthily. These sounds can be caused by the player too, with the ability to sabotage machines throughout the levels so that they splutter and drown out your shots perfectly. Making use of what is around you is key to efficiently performing in each level, and to make things less of a pain, these important ‘landmarks’ are featured on the games map.
None of the missions feel dragged on, and they contain enough interesting ideas to accommodate for multiple objectives, and even side-objectives. Completing these extra goals not only makes levels more fun and encourages you to explore, but they also award you with healthy sums of XP, a factor that unlocks new weapons, gear, and attachments for your rifle as you rise through the ranks. It’s a nice system to include in here as it resolves the biggest issue that I had with Sniper Elite V2, in that there was no real incentive to go out of your way and do anything extra, or even be stealthy for that matter. This was because all you earned from kills and your level performance was a score that would be uploaded to social leaderboards. Your actions had no in-game repercussions, and because there was no real reward for performing well in each mission, you had no real reason to be sensible and silent in your approach. By including this XP system, it gives you an incentive to play cautiously and execute stealth tactics.
Each weapon or piece of gear that you unlock along the way has its fair share of advantages and disadvantages, and it’s important to create multiple loadouts that cater for different situations or game types. For those that want to play stealthily, you won’t be finding as much variation in your loadouts, though you will want to experiment when it comes to playing the multiplayer and challenge mode components, of which encourage a more ruthless approach. Offering a survival game mode that pits you and a friend against waves of enemies, and a mode called ‘Overwatch’ that involves you and a partner working together to spot and snipe enemies, the challenge modes are only very limited, but they are a fun diversion regardless. With all your experience and loadouts being universal, you can make good use of whatever you have unlocked here and co-ordinate effective attacks and plan tactics. If you enjoy the co-operative gameplay on offer here, you can also play through the whole campaign with a partner too, which works nicely bearing in mind that you communicate well with each other.
The competitive multiplayer found in this title has nice ideas buried in its core, but the fact that everyone is playing cat-and-mouse at the same time and spending most of their time camping, the gameplay becomes tediously slow paced, almost grinding to a halt a lot of the time. While a stealthy and sniper focussed multiplayer game may sound like a fun and incredibly tense experience on paper, ultimately it fails here, and it is unlikely to keep your attention for that long. None of the game modes on offer are that interesting too, and all boil down to killing your enemies to win. There are no defensive modes thrown in there, so really there is little that separates them. You’ll also be incredibly lucky to get into multiplayer games, as I had nothing but trouble with trying to connect to a server with it telling me I had either been kicked from the game despite never loading into it in the first place, or being told that the connection timed out. It was a very frustrating affair, and totally put me off attempting to play this mode any further. Hopefully this will be fixed over the coming weeks because it was completely broken for me. It’s a shame that this aspect should feel so weak because the maps are interesting and cater for lots of different approaches, not to mention that they continue the trend of the main game and look great.
The visuals found in this game are nothing short of fantastic, with the levels brimming with colour and atmosphere, with plenty of well modelled and well textured assets sensibly populating each level. It’s very refreshing to see a war game filled with such great artwork and warm colours, and the bright, shining sun and over the top god rays act as the icing on top. It’s also great to see that the game performs pretty well too, running at an unlocked frame rate that varies from a silky-smooth 60+fps, down to about 30fps. Though the performance is utterly dependant on how busy the scene is, you tend to get a pretty smooth experience for the most part. Unfortunately it can be rather noticeable when the frames drop, but I’m thankful that a next gen game is actually running at 60fps (albeit rather infrequently).
Sniper Elite 3 Ultimate Edition is a great follow-up from its flawed predecessor, fixing most of the glaring problems with the last title, with all the mechanics now feeling like they gel and complement each other nicely. The shooting in particular is solid, the level design is brilliant and opens enough for lots of different paths, and there is finally an incentive to work with stealth tactics. Though it is far from perfect, and problems do exist, most notably with the crappy AI and flawed multiplayer, the campaign is a solid experience that despite a short length has plenty of replayability. This is the kind of game you will want to play a couple of times over, and with expansive maps to approach differently, and higher difficulties that ramp up the realism, you are sure to get your monies worth and have a lot of fun in the process.
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