Year of Release:2014
Many buzz words around current console games centre on freedom: huge open worlds in which you can get into and drive any car, scale any wall, pick up anything to use as a weapon, open every door and so on. The forthcoming No Man’s Sky offers an entire universe to sandbox around in. Metal Gear, Fallout, Grand Theft Auto and so on all pride themselves on offering this sense of the player as a free agent, able to negotiate their own way through the game. Well Sniper Elite is not like that, it’s a tightly focused and strictly linear experience.
The Sniper Elite series have so far been set in WW2 – 1 and 2 (essentially the same game confusingly) being set in Berlin at the end of the war, SE3 set in North Africa during the desert campaign. You play the titular sniper Karl, an American OSS operative. Each of the eight large levels in the SE3 campaign sees you infiltrate a base/airfield/factory/camp etc as you complete a series of objectives leading to the goal of stopping a Nazi super weapons programme.
So, let’s be clear the story is more Wolfenstein than Last of Us. Mercifully brief cut scenes offer bad German accents and little more.
What you can do is strictly limited. You can rove around the base as you wish but your means of advance is strictly through killing most of the soldiers that doze, patrol or stand guard. Kill them stealthily and their comrades will carry on – perhaps becoming more watchful after finding a dead body or two. Run and gun is a desperate strategy.You have a sub-machine gun but it’s surely a badge of shame to use it as it invariably ends in your death shortly afterwards. There’s no knife or melee battling. The only things you can pick up are ammo, alternate weapons such as grenades and mines, and the odd rock.
The grippiness (technical Moles tower term) of SE3 lies in its beautifully balanced mechanics around stealth killing. You have a silenced pistol with slow reload and strictly limited range – get this wrong and enemies are alerted, forcing you to sneak up behind enemies to ensure a headshot. Conversely, your sniper rifle – and these are the two weapons you will use for 99% of the time, is used at long range and from cover to pick off enemies who are sublimely ignorant of your presence.
SE3 is unforgiving of greedy or impatient players. Use the silenced pistol from too far away and your target will warn others; take down two or three enemies with the rifle from the same position and you will be spotted. A mini-map gives you the location of nearby enemies and their state of alert. Snipe, relocate, snipe again. Sneak in, headshot. Rinse and repeat. There are sections of the game where you have to provide cover, take on tanks, or plant charges, but for most of the game it’s you and your rifle and pistol, crouching or on your belly, waiting for the enemy patrols to give up searching for you. It’s appeal is in the details: masking the sound of your shot by timing it with a generator’s noise, or throwing a rock to distract your enemy as you sneak past. These elements it shares with the King of Sneak-Em-Ups, Metal Gear. There is none of the frantic carnage of a Call of Duty or Destiny. Success lies in isolating your enemies and picking them off one-by-one or sneaking past them. It’s a strangely calm experience – as your heart rate is displayed and slowing it down renders your shots more accurately. Emptying your lungs steadies you further, and on the easier settings brings up some guidance as to how to allow for wind, movement and distance. Daughter tells me the hardest settings are unforgiving and require you to calculate these for yourself.
No discussion of SE3 can escape the ‘X-Ray Kill Cam’. An accurate shot with the sniper rifle will trigger a very brief slo-mo cut scene in which your bullet speeds across the battlefield, before entering the victim via the head, chest etc. Anatomical cut-aways depict chests exploding, legs shattering and brains disintegrating in exquisite detail. The first time you see this it’s just extra-ordinary – as if the curtain of ultra-violence that lies behind any FPS has been pulled aside and the grisly reality unveiled. By your nth headshot however the sight of disintegrating mental matter has become routine. All I can do is offer a personal opinion, that any game which is about killing implies all this. Where does the bullet go after all? SE3 shows it more graphically than most. The only really surprising thing should be that it’s a 16.
In conclusion: if sneaking and sniping are in any way your thing then SE3 is a pretty essential experience. No tranquilizer gun or knock-outs to salve your conscience though. There is a multiplayer mode but this is a review limited to the main campaign.
Might suit people who like:
Sniper Elite 1 and 2 – 3 is an upgrade on the visuals and mechanics. Castle Wolfenstein, Medal of Honor and all the many, many games which let you fight the Nazis all over again.
Time Thief Rating:The lost weekend