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Wot I Think: Sniper Elite 3

Trigger Words

If you're looking for a Wot I Think on the recently released Snipe Elite 3 - a game in which you spend most of your time wading around wet meadows, using a long bill to probe mud for worms and larvae, you are in the wrong place. This is a Wot I Think on the recently released Sniper Elite 3 - a game in which you spend most of your time waddling around dry wadis, using a long arm to probe flesh for bones and organs. The only feathers you'll find here are feather palms, the only helpless invertebrates Axis soldiers crudely de-spined by Lee-Enfields and M1 Garands.

Apologies for starting with an overwrought avian pun and a predictable kill cam screenshot. A stealth-heavy third-person shooter of this calibre (7.92 out of 10?) deserves better. I contemplated commencing with a bit of North African Campaign history, but to be honest, Sniper Elite 3's interest in WW2 North Africa doesn't go much beyond uniforms and weaponry.

What comes to mind when you think of Rommel and Monty's monumental tussle for the Maghreb? Possibly not narrow canyons strewn with tank wrecks, Petra-like cliff temples, medieval castles swarming with Axis soldiers, and secret weapons factories carved into mountains. Rebellion's level architects and texture artists know a thing or two about creating atmosphere and encouraging tactical experimentation, but chop down the date palms, chip off the pretty zellige tiles, and still the gust-driven dust flurries and the levels could be set just about anywhere. For most of the 11 or so hours it took me to sneak, stab, snipe and Welrod my way through the eight mission single-player campaign, I was waiting for The Desert Mission, the op that would send me out onto the dunes and the rocky plains... abandon me in the Qattara Depression to brave sandstorms and shoot at mirages. I still can't quite believe that mission never materialised.

Objectives tend to be as genre-endebted as the environments. When the Top Brass want an enemy sharpshooter eliminated, mine-laying party discouraged, or convoy observed, they call on one of your off-screen understudies. You're the square-jawed, stubble-scalped Afrika Korps bogeyman summoned when they need a heaving hornets' nest infiltrated, some blueprints stolen, prisoners freed, bigwigs assassinated, or thermite placed.

Hornet handling methods are generally a matter of personal preference. Want to stand-off, potshotting sentries during periodic bursts of bombardment or machinery noise? Excellent choice! With Sniper Elite 3's bloodthirsty ballistics, every trigger pull is an event. Prefer to ghost in, relying on tossed stones, suppressed pistols, and sharp Sheffield steel? Excellent choice! Though you'll miss out on the grisly x-ray kill cam sequences, the neck snaps and base-of-the-skull stabbing of the close-quarter take-down animations ensure you end-up feeling tougher than Paddy Mayne.

Map design and miscalculations mean outings almost always involve a combination of long and short range slaughter, a mix of covert and overt methods. However clinical or lucky you are, there will be times when a dumped corpse is discovered, or a ladder climb or alley dash is mistimed... times when you end your days panic-wracked and breathless, cowering in the shadows cradling a hot, empty and desperately inaccurate submachine gun.

Bubble AI and a new, somewhat mechanical relocation dynamic ensures unexpected confrontations are temporary setbacks rather than level-alerting catastrophes. Put sufficient distance between yourself and a suspicious foe and pretty quickly that foe will stop searching and return to his patrol tramlines. Given the ambitious mission objectives, the number of enemies wandering some of the maps, and the 'no saves or aiming aids' rigour of the highest difficulty level, only masochists are likely to find this small compromise insulting.

Predictably, Sniper Elite 3 is at its best when the levels are airy and there's a rifle optic between you and the big bad world. As bullet drop, wind effects, breathing control and pulse rate-related weapon bobbing are all modelled, sharpshooting without the help of the optional hit predictor cross can be bally challenging. To qualify as a high-fidelity WW2 sniping sim all the series really needs is proper penetration physics (at present feeble fretwork shutters seem to afford as much protection as stout sandbags and concrete dragons' teeth) and a few larger maps (targets are rarely more than two or three hundred metres away).

What does the National Union of Games Journalists handbook have to say about coverage of SE3's up-gibbed kill cam? “Qualify enthusiasm with a few sentences of high-minded hand-wringing”. Sounds about right to me. While the slow-motion bullet demolitions of bones, organs and - new in this instalment - muscles, veins and arteries, undeniably inject variety, physicality, and spectacle into what could have been a pretty cold, repetitive activity, I do find myself skipping them after an hour or two of play.

Mainly I hurry past because I want to get on with the lead slinging, but there's probably a smidgeon of disgust in there too. I'm not sure I want to spend significant portions of my leisure time watching skulls shatter, and liver, lung and testicle mince mingle. The “but that's what bullets do!” realism argument would butter more parsnips with me if SE seemed as interested in representing visible and audible battlefield realities like traumatic amputations and casualty cries, as invisible ones such as internal injuries.

Of the 18 or so hours I've spent with Sniper Elite 3 thus far, roughly a third has been spent in the company of sentient snipers. In addition to the solo attractions - the campaign and wave-survival challenge modes - there's a pair of co-op missions and a slim yet effective selection of adversarial multiplayer game types. In 'No Crossing' the purest and most static of the MP styles, two teams trade cagey killshots across impassible gullies. With no danger of getting flanked or shot in the back of the head by infuriating insurgents, play basically boils to choosing a promising spot, then watching and waiting...

                                                 watching and waiting...

                                            waiting and waiting...

waiting and watching...

watching and WTF! That bastard, BambooHarvester79, has got me AGAIN!!

If you're feeling charitable and don't mind finishing near the bottom of the score table than you're always free to whip out your powerful fieldglasses and start tagging targets for comrades. A team with a diligent spotter usually seems to do better than a team without one.

In team deathmatch the barricades that keep teams apart in 'No Crossing' are dismantled and pistols, submachine guns, and land mines come into their own. Fail to stick close to pals, pay attention to kill reports, or protect your roost with cunningly placed S-mines and you can all too easily fall victim to infiltrators. In standard every-man-for-himself deathmatch, potentially the cruellest and most frustrating of the three modes, the lone target-scanning sniper is even more vulnerable to roaming opportunists.

Even with customisable loadouts, 'distance king' (a play variant where scoring is based on total killshot range) and a mass of selectable server options influencing everything from sniping difficulty to sprint speed, it probably won't be long before you start wondering why Rebellion didn't include a Capture The Flag or territory-based mode. Currently MP can feel a little formless. There are wonderful sessions when impromptu Enemy At The Gates grudge matches develop or dazzlingly successful spotter-sniper relationships emerge, but all too often the skirmishes lack shape and a sense of purpose. The maps don't help. Most of the five provided are confusing collections of similar buildings where the play and the players tend to swirl around aimless as dust devils. Where's the minefield-dotted, wreck-strewn Cauldron map ? Where's the Great Sand Sea map with the vast carcass of a crashed Gigant transport at its centre? At present there's too much cover and not enough imagination on display in SE3's multiplayer venues.

I'd love to have seen Rebellion weave more WW2 history into their solo campaign, and put a bit more love and novelty into their online play modes. Other than that, mark me down as a satisfied customer. The prospect of a second campaign playthrough - this time in Authentic mode (no threat radar, aiming aids, or saves!) - is genuinely enticing as is the thought of spending further evenings online, crouched in shadows, waiting and watching...

watching and waiting …

                                                  waiting and waiting...

                                                                                                                                            waiting and watching...

watching and watching...

                 watching and watching...

watching and waiting...

                                                                                                           waiting and waiting...


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Sniper Elite 3

PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PC

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About the Author

Tim Stone