Sniper Elite III PS4 Review
The North African Campaign of World War II doesn’t get much representation in video games compared to more historic struggles, such as the Invasion of Normandy or the Battle of the Bulge. It’s a shame, because the location makes for a great background in a video game. World War II as a setting has vanished from a lot of shooters in this current phase (I’d love to see a current gen take on that), and there is an even more limited selection of titles that focus on the skills and ballistics of using a sniper rifle. Looking back, the Sniper Elite series has shown us how brutal and damaging a sniper rifle can be, and now Rebellion, after having fun with letting us kill Nazi zombies, is back with their third entry in the Sniper Elite franchise. This time the setting has moved to the sunny and dusty location of North Africa to let us loose with our headshots and testicle bullseye skills.
With the word sniper in the title, it’s obviously that this weapon is the main source of building up a kill count. The series has been known for showcasing the damage a bullet can do on a human with its x-ray feature that shows the trajectory of your last shot in slow motion as it pierces into a poor enemy’s body, shattering his skull, revealing his mangled brain or popping one of his eyes in a gooey shower of blood. And of course, who can forget the squeamish effect of seeing one man’s balls eviscerated by a high speeding, penetrating bullet.
All this remains in Sniper Elite III, more graphic than ever, but also strangely satisfying and rewarding that you likely won’t want to use any of the other weapons in the game. The x-ray feature has had an upgrade, allowing the chance to shoot petrol tanks on vehicles, watching them explode in slow-motion, as flames and soldiers burst out of the carnage, or boss-esque tanks that require hits on multiple areas to destroy them. It’s incredibly satisfying when you manage to fit a bullet between a tank’s protective cover and hit a soldier square in the face and disable the vehicle’s movement. Of course, blowing up vehicles isn’t as glorious as popping body parts, but you’re still rewarded in bonus points towards levelling up your profile. If you don’t like the stop-start nature of the x-ray bullet cam, you can always turn it off, but I never felt the need to during the campaign’s playthrough. It’s obviously a preference though. Some people will have less patience if they want to get on with the game without the rewarding and painfully pleasing x-ray cam.
Players are once again in the army boots of Karl Fairburne, although, this time the year is 1942 – slotting in before the events of Snipe Elite V2, where Fairburne was the one to end the reign of Hitler – and the setting is North Africa. The story is lacking, there isn’t much to it and what is there doesn’t go any deeper than getting you to complete the objectives in each of the game’s eight campaign missions. There are no characters to attach to and Fairburne is just another shave-headed dude in a war against the Nazis, so really all you do is follow the plot on through the overall arc of tracking down this mysterious super tank developed by the German Afrika Korps. Of course, Fairburne must put a stop to it and prevent the creation of Metal Gear in the future. No, it’s nothing that crazy, but I had to do something to spice up the plot a little.
The openness of the African location is used to create a less linear game than the franchise has been known for previously. Rebellion has crafted a title that at times gets eerily similar in design to the recent Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. The maps allow the mission objectives to be tackled in a multitude of ways, but it doesn’t let you figure it out on your own – there is always a marker pinpointing the target, making it rather hard to lose your bearings and miss an objective. The openness allows for the player to sneak around using the knife to do instant-kills on some unexpected soldier from behind or use the silence pistol, which requires a reload after every shot (not exactly great for a bunch of enemies in close proximity) and silently shoot them in the head. There are plenty of times to do this, in fact, I do feel that this change comes at a cost – I wasn’t using the sniper rifle as much as I thought I would in a game called Sniper Elite, since it made more sense to kill those in front with a knife or silenced pistol.
I’m certainly not saying that the sniper rifle is useless or shouldn’t be used. It’s just when the game isn’t set up with a sniper shot in mind, you’ll need to work your brain and figure out opportunities to use the environment to mask the sound of the sniper rifle’s fire. Scenarios like waiting for the wind to blow or watching the enemy shoot an artillery cannon and using that to cover the shot are just some of the situations you will find yourself in. Longer shots are safer bets, and the more open level design and better draw distance means that you can be placing shots much further away this time around.
Long distance shots means that it’s harder for the AI to pinpoint your location, since the AI picks up sound, so firing will alert nearby patrols, leaving you to go into hiding until the AI decides that the issue is of no concern and they go back to their routine guarding.. The use of a silhouette is shown to let the player know where the enemy last saw you, similar to how it has been done in the last few Splinter Cell games. It helps with understanding how to get away from the danger. The mini-radar at the bottom of the screen also shows where they last detected you, giving you a small 360 degree view of possible escape routes.
The AI is an issue for the game, it’s not all that great, with their states feeling like they are commanded by on/off switches. Enemies return to normal once the timer has expired and the player is back to safe status. It’s something that affects a lot of stealth games, and it’s a shame that the AI couldn’t have been given an upgrade to be smarter and offer more of a challenge. The only real difficulty comes from being swarmed by the enemy when spotted by a large group, since you die quite easy from a few shots, or being spotted from long distances, because the sneaky guy was in cover and I never saw him. You can “break” the AI by getting yourself in a good cover spot and letting them come running at you, as I did in the third level, hiding down a pit and mowing down the Nazis with my machine gun as they didn’t think of any other way to attack me. What happened to their use of grenades?
Emphasis on moving slowly to keep your heart rate down for more stable shots is important. So is scouting and planning your attack. Enemies can be tagged by looking through the binoculars and using a button prompt to outline them. Tagging is also handy to highlight the weak points on tanks and vehicles, making it much clearer where you need to hit. All this adds to keeping you away from the action and doing your job as a sniper. There is no doubt that the setup of finding the best position, holding your breath and releasing that perfect sniper shot is the best and most fulfilling part of the game, and often holds the most experience points, which are used to unlock more weapons and items to improve Fairburne’s customizable arsenal and survival chances.
The use of traps is a good way to keep your sniping dugout safe from any wondering soldier, and mines do wonders to take down tanks that are patrolling the vicinity. The problem with the weaponry in Sniper Elite III is that every other weapon doesn’t feel as satisfying as the sniper rifle – they feel dull and lack a sense of kickback. Taking part in optional objectives offers a good boost in XP, making it worthwhile to scout out these additional challenges to reap the rewards and extend the life of the game’s short campaign and try out the new gear on the same missions.
A second player can be brought into the campaign for some double teaming sniper fun, and since levels are more open than before, the cooperative mode works great for the campaign. Getting on the microphone and pinpointing enemy positions and coming up with ways to get pass them is simply fun. The added second player means you can be more laid back about making noise, as the enemies now have to worry about snooping out two highly trained snipers who probably have nothing but the enemy’s testicles in sight.
An additional cooperative mode, called Overwatch, returns from Sniper Elite V2 and puts one player as the sniper and another as the watcher. The watcher must help spot enemies for the sniper, since that player no longer has the use of binoculars. It’s an interesting take on the standard campaign formula, but with only two maps available at the time of this review, it’s a mode that sadly isn’t fully fleshed out. Lastly is survival, which is a wave-based mode, similar to horde, where you and your partner must fend off waves of enemies while trying to stay alive, gaining bonus points if you manage to kill enemies in zones that the game designates. These cooperative modes have a different tone than the single player campaign, coming across less sneaky and more in the line of kill anything that the computer throws at you, however possible.
On the competitive multiplayer front, Sniper Elite III is somewhat annoying to play, due to the very nature of the game. You’ll be playing team deathmatch (or deathmatch) and more often than not you’ll be dead by a shot without ever knowing it was coming. Sure, that’s how a sniper should play, but for a multiplayer experience, well, it’s not exactly idea. Rebellion have tried to compensate for the sniper strength by creating a game mode called Distance King, which awards more points based on how far your kill shot was. This promotes everyone to play sniper and find good vantage points to take people out. The other unique mode for multiplayer is No Cross, where players aren’t allowed to step into enemy zones, meaning both teams have to stay away and pick off each other from their side. Multiplayer can be fun, but I found it growing stale after a while. It just doesn’t have the staying power for me that more multiplayer focused titles do.
While Sniper Elite III on PlayStation 4 isn’t exactly the game to showcase the potential of what these new systems can do, it is a title that has some remarkable image quality on Sony’s new box. The game is pushing out 1080p and has an unlocked 60fps that often stays close to that for the majority. If you want a complete stable frame rate, the game allows the option to turn on v-sync and lock the game to 30fps. To give credit where due, the game is close to the best setting on the PC. Of course, the PC can go higher in resolution, but if both ran at 1080p then you’ll find that the PS4 version stands up well.
Sniper Elite III is the best entry in the series to date. It still has some issues that stop it from being a truly great stealth shooter, but what’s here is a great extension to the franchise that pushes it in the right direction to unlock some of the potential this series can evolve into. It’s a shame that some pieces aren’t as well designed or constructed, but with a limited market aimed for sniper players, there’s really no way of putting it other than Sniper Elite III is the smartest and best sniper game money can buy. Now it just needs to step up to the plate and become more.