The release of Sniper Elite III has been timed well, to say the least. Despite the fact that many would suggest its going up against one of the biggest titles of the year – Ubisoft’s long awaited Watch_Dogs – it is in fact in a situation preferable to rolling out later in the year when the release schedule is considerably more crowded. Sniper Elite III undoubtedly had a fanbase keen to jump straight in after the strong outing on the previous console generation, but with raising development costs comes the need to ensure that consumers aren’t otherwise occupied. Thankfully, Rebellion has managed to do just that.
By no means a masterpiece, Sniper Elite II redefined the landscape for virtual sniper action and was followed by many lesser imitators. Sniper Elite III brings in a number of vital changes but also some less essential. In fact, there are some design decisions which seem downright odd given that the strength of the videogame lies in the sniping.
Sniper Elite III follows the traditional third-person action videogame formula. You are a lone wolf entering enemy territory. Hostiles are recognisable by the fact that they move, and you should execute every single one of them. You have cover, stealth approaches, enemy alert indicators and a variety of other gamified tools at your disposal, but most important is your sniper rifle. At least, at the start of the mission.
Most of Sniper Elite III‘s short selection of campaign missions see you begin at a distance from the enemy, able to scout around the area and find a good hiding spot before picking off your targets. Unlike Sniper Elite II, there aren’t many deep avenues to explore as you’re playing in much more open environments. This gives rise and fall to two very disparate mechanics. Firstly, the addition of a relocate meter demands that, once your position is known, you must move to a new location. It’s a welcome new mechanic on paper, but in practice it’s execution is paperthin: you are given an arbitrary distance to move and once having done so the enemy alert status drops automatically. As with much of the videogame, this is very abstract videogame logic representing real world tactical execution.
The second mechanic that changes in the new setting for Sniper Elite III is that of the sniper action itself. Sadly, it seems that this component has become secondary to the stealth gameplay, presenting Sniper Elite III as some sort of Sniper Elite II/Metal Gear Solid hybrid. Stealth was a big part of Sniper Elite II of course, but it was in the set up for a player planning their path to successful completion of a mission. Here in Sniper Elite III it’s the bulk of many of the missions, and the overall experience is weaker because of it.
Sniper Elite III offers a co-operative version of the campaign for two players as well as individual challenges; the latter of which once again place questions the sniper action to become a central focus once again. Further to this however, Sniper Elite III also includes five varieties of competitive multiplayer modes. Deathmatch and team deathmatch will of course be familiar. Distance King (and it’s team variant) is a case of obtaining the longest distance for all your kills, rather than just the single furthest finishing blow; an odd choice but one which gives beginners an opportunity to hit the ground running. This arguably should’ve been first on the menu. The final mode is purely for sniping, keeping each team in their own space and never allow them to cross paths.
A videogame founded on mechanics from previous generations can feel antiquated, but given enough polish to hide the strings you can still come away feeling like the developers have put thought into the use of the modern hardware at their disposal. Sniper Elite III, however, feels so binary that it’s decade-old mechanics are threadbare. There’s no disguising the AI routines, the success and failure dependant on appeasing a meter and the stark realisation that your skill is less important than knowing the triggers that activate/deactivate mechanics. There is fun to be had in Sniper Elite III, but it’s not the kind you’d expect from a leading videogames platform in 2014.