Sniper Elite III is all about shooting a distant man in the testes. There’s a story and such, and headshots are much easier, but it’s mostly about hitting a man at range in the plums.
Once again, you’re sent behind enemy lines to infiltrate a stronghold and make-away with the Nazi object of fascination. This time set in Northern Africa, Sniper Elite III continues its narrowed focus on stealth and range kills. You’ll be rewarded for completing hits without alerting other guards or being spotted, and it is much easier that way, but if all else fails you can run in machine guns blazing and revert to a generic first person shooter.
But it would be a great shame to go down that mindless path, because you would miss Sniper Elite III’s morbid fascination with decimating the body during kill cams. Yes, there are nut shots. As soon as the perfectly aligned bullet squeezes out the end of your riffle, the camera swings ahead of it to watch it whirl past, and slows down as it enters the skeletal body of the unsuspecting victim.
You’ll see skulls shatter, legs burst and, yes, testicles explode in vivid x-ray detail. It’s a satisfying reward for executing a precise headshot across the map, tainted by mild concern for why you’re enjoying such brutality. Best to brush over that.
It almost doesn’t matter that the AI are so terrible when the maps are spacious and the sniping mechanics are top of the line.
If it all becomes too much, the exaggerated kill cam can be disabled, which does save a lot of time, but surprisingly it only begins to venture into the darkened realm of bothersome repeatability towards the last of the eight missions. After initially aiming between the eyes, I started looking elsewhere in search of undiscovered animations of different body parts scattering the African landscape.
Exuberant kill cams aside, as a sniper game Sniper Elite III knows what it’s doing. It feels a little watered down for the mainstream crowd accustom to assuming the role of serial killing enthusiast – aside from your silenced pistol and melee takedowns, there are plenty of noisy options to run and gun weapons free. However, if you ignore all that and approach the often baron landscapes with a focused mind intent to fire from afar, it’s a lot of disciplined fun.
Targets can be marked using binoculars, before lining them up in your sights. While your heart rate is below 80 beats per minute, you can halt breathing to enter a flux of deep focus, honing in on your victim’s throat or temple. The same technique also doubles as instinctual vision to help you locate conveniently positioned items of assistance, like the gas tank on a truck that you might otherwise overlook.
The level design has undergone a serious reboot of the thought process. They’re now spacious open worlds, yet only as big as they need to be, with creatively placed man-made and natural obstacles to obscure your scope from view. They’re still fairly linear, in that the core objective will push you along the beaten path, but secondary tasks have you exploring nooks that didn’t exist in previous games. Like the best modern stealth games, there’s an obvious way to reach your objective, but also more inventive routes that could result in arriving unseen, or accidentally stumbling into the middle of an enemy congregation – it’s a risk worth taking for entertainment value, if nothing else.
For all that it does well, Sniper Elite III is what Sniper Elite v2 should have been. It’s a decent enough PS3 or Xbox 360 stealth-action game, but nothing about it says “developed for Xbox One and PS4”. This is as cross-gen as it gets.
For a game that’s all about sniping dudes across a map, the draw distance is serviceable, but I'm not convinced this is the best the PS4 and Xbox One can do. Combined with the 1080p resolution, you can hit faceless men from 150 meters away, but that’s were the technical barrier of the cross-generation refinements has been reached.
More problematic is the horrible AI and outdated physics. Generic enemies will be alerted to your presence, often incorrectly, but forget about it once you crouch behind a rock (phew! Crisis averted). Most will remain stationary; staring blankly forwards, while the larrikin of the pack might dive backwards through a wall.
Unfortunately, that’s Sniper Elite III’s AI at its best. On numerous occasions, I accidentally triggered the alarm, had enemies appear to be rushing at me, only to run right past and take cover in the area I had just left. Thanks for coming, I guess.
In good news, the stationary movement makes nut-shots even easier to execute, as only the most daring of enemies actually walk around. The majority just stand there, looking drearily off into the distance with an aptitude for life I’ve rarely seen since GoldenEye.
Multiplayer is a mandatory addition tacking on the standard Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes. While there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before, the sniping mechanics, far outweighing anything else in the game, make for a nice change of pace, slowing everything down and increasing the distance of conflict. The Distance King team mode stands tall, awarding points based on the distance of kills, while No Cross puts up a barrier and eliminates close combat entirely.
Once spotted, the AI will attack viciously, and they occasionally even flank rather intelligently, probably accidentally, but as soon as the predictable alert system reverts to zero, they’ll return to their heavily scripted routines of mostly standing still with a little bit of slow walking thrown in for good measure.
If you can remain out of sight, and don’t draw attention to dead bodies, Sniper Elite III can be completed without a direct confrontation with the dull-witted AI. While that rightly sounds terrible, it’s an intriguing game in itself. Ensuring you’re always out of sight and only take kills that won’t give away your position generates challenge from your own willingness to succeed, and succeed well. It almost doesn’t matter that the AI are so terrible when the maps are spacious and the sniping mechanics are top of the line.
As a sniping game, Sniper Elite III is pretty fun. The kill cams are brutal, but you won’t be able to look away, and it’s hard to fault hitting a man between the eyes from across the map. Unfortunately the AI is horrible, and I would even go as far as to say unacceptable on the new generation of consoles. It seriously diminishes the experience, but there’s still plenty of scope to make your own fun.