Not too long ago, about 2004 in fact, it was humourously common for games to use the Second World War as a setting. In fact, it was almost universal, and with good reason. The villains were clear, the cause just and the battles sufficiently large and exciting to make for spectacular presentation without having to actually write a proper story.
All that changed around 2006 with the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and since then the World War 2 game has become somewhat of a rarity. However, the Sniper Elite series avoided the draw of a more contemporary setting and has remained rooted there in rather interesting ways.
Sniper Elite 3 focuses on the war in North Africa, probably the theatre of war most over represented in terms of how much impact it made to the war overall. Over the course of several levels, you’ll be given a whistle-stop tour of several locations full of dudes who need to be shot because they’re German soldiers. See what was meant by clear villains?
The core gameplay is obviously sniping, which regularly makes use of the Fallout-style slow-mo camera employed by the previous game in the series. This gives a graphic, anatomically correct internal view of what happens when your bullets strike home and it’s absurdly gory, with splintering bones and torn-up organs on full display. This along with the casual chatter audible as you sneak by soldiers brings some moral complexity into proceedings.
For example, you come to realise fairly quickly that the soldiers whose brains you are obliterating are humans, who may well be conscripts and not at all in favour of the government whose army they serve. Most of them are not SS troops or scheming officers, they’re 19-year-olds who are scared of being killed from half a mile away by an enemy they never saw. Of course beating the Nazis is right, but the sight of the cold-blooded efficiency with which the main character operates is rather unpleasant.
Still, what a sight it is. Despite being set in the desert, there’s a huge amount of colour, particularly evident in missions with large amounts of water, fire or grass. The best word for it is vibrant, and it makes a significant change from the grey-brown consensus of other contemporary shooters.
Sniping mechanics can range from non-existent on the easiest difficulty through to absurdly complex in harder stages. Bullet drop is easy enough to adapt to but compensating for factors such as wind and whether or not your shot will be audible require more planning and give a certain satisfaction to completing a stage surgically and efficiently, with hardly any enemies alerted but plenty taken down.
The gameplay outside sniping is somewhat more limited. There’s rarely any purpose for most of the support weapons like mines or rocks, except for a few set piece vehicle destruction sections. Even the pistols and sub machine guns provided for close-quarters combat are weak and hard to control, although it’s frustratingly common to have to resort to using them.
Particularly stupid are the “boss fights” against tanks, all of which involve shooting at vents on the rear of the vehicle to try to blow up its fuel tanks. It seems unlikely that the real designers would have left such an obvious weak point and moreover it comes across as a rather unoriginal way to raise the stakes without having to come up with really interesting fights or new gameplay styles.
Still, despite the somewhat generic range of enemies it does offer a fairly unique shooter experience – one which requires patience and planning, rather than bravado and a big gun. It’s genuinely uncomfortable to play at times, and the level design, while often a little unintuitive, is quite open and gives lots of angles of approach for each problem.
Finally, the bonus modes – survival and various challenges – are a good few hours of extension to the game once the main campaign has been completed. We can only assume that this game like its predecessor will have DLC and possibly a zombie mode added in future instalments, which should be a good bit of fun.
It’s sometimes crass and uncomfortable (testicle shot is worth 20 points? Really?) but Sniper Elite 3 is a very clever game indeed. Those who lament the open-level, exploration aspect of shooters but who have the sort of megalomaniacal streak which sees them love to rain death down on their enemies from above like Thor wielding a sniper rifle will really enjoy it. Even if you’re liable to die fifty times in a row on the second mission. Not speaking from experience or anything.