You’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now. Back in 2012, I started my review of Sniper Elite V2 by asking what could possibly go wrong. The answer was “a good bit” back then. I enjoyed the game, sure, but it was impossible to ignore all the issues at the time. I had hoped that Sniper Elite 3 would redeem the franchise. That it would have built upon the fantastic gunplay and just fix the problems. Not only was this not the case with the franchise’s latest outing, but there seems to be more issues than before.
Sniper Elite 3 is a realistic sniper simulator that mixes precision marksmanship with a Mortal Kombat level of gore. You’ll be tasked with taking real world conditions into account (such as bullet drop, sounds around you and even your own heartbeat) to make your stand as an American sniper during World War II. While it is nice to break away from European combat in a WWII game and focus on the North African campaign, at the end of the day you still are shooting Nazis. You’ll start the game by holding off the German attack during the Siege of Tobruk, but will quickly be recruited by British Intelligence in an effort to investigate reports of a super weapon being designed by a German general.
I’ll level with you guys, the story is here but it’s fairly thin. This is another excuse to go kill Nazis, one of gaming’s favorite bad guys. You’ll come across only a few characters of note throughout the campaign, although they feel almost completely void of any personality. For the most part, it’s just you and your rifle let loose in Africa. Karl, the main character in our story, is your clichéd American war hero, complete with a voice so gravely you’ll have to wonder if he simply eats cigarettes by the pack.
The campaign contains eight missions, all set in the African desert. While you’ll definitely notice the different locales as you play through, I have to imagine that someone walking in and out of the room may have a very hard time distinguishing one area from another, outside of two exceptions. The levels seem to fall into one of two extremes, extremely linear or massively open. The linear levels leave open areas for sniping, but funnel you down the traditional path for the most part, while the wide open areas can sometimes lead to a lot of backtracking.
The actual gameplay is extremely slow-paced for the most part, with some moments of pure panic. As a sniper, your main goal isn’t to collect the highest body count, but to accomplish your mission as stealthily as possible. This means waiting for the nearby generator to backfire to cover up the sound from your perfect shot and hiding the body before anyone else can be alerted. There’s a certain exhilaration that can only come from pulling off a masterful shot, and those moments are highlighted here.
Sniper Elite 3‘s strongest selling point is still easily the bullet cam feature. Once you line up a decent shot with your sniper rifle, pulling the trigger will slow down time and allow you to watch as your bullet streaks through the sky and destroys your target’s organs and bone structure. It’s extremely impressive at first, and really adds a flair of character to the game, but it isn’t without its faults.
The first fault is that they simply happen way too often on the default settings, leading to them being devalued a bit. This is an easy enough fix since you can simply turn them down in the options menu, but the second issue is a bit more complicated. Bone fragments, blood splatter, and other residual gore can erupt from your target, but they’re still attached to the character model. This means that, should you nail that perfect headshot that sends shards of skull into the sky, they’ll jet out to a certain point before being unnaturally jarred from their path as the ragdoll physics cause the body to fall. It’s simply unnerving.
All of that leads to a game that could’ve been decent enough. However, Sniper Elite 3 was not content to limit its bugs to simple faults in presentation. The enemy AI is extremely inconsistent, to the point where I sometimes had to wonder what the hell they were doing. Should I take a shot from a half mile away, they may spot my muzzle flash and immediately charge my position. However, while I was descending a ladder, I climbed through a German who was making his way up only to have him become vaguely aware that someone was in the area.
I can also state comfortably that I have never had as many issues with a save function in any game, PC or console, as I did with Sniper Elite 3. The game will auto save as you progress, but also allows you the option to set a quick save of your own. The problem is that once you load a quick save, the game forgets all of the auto saves. This lead to a great moment where I accidentally loaded a quick save and had to replay the last half of the previous mission since there was no way to get back to where I was.
On top of that, I had multiple instances of the game simply refusing to launch due to save issues, while locking up my Xbox One’s hard drive in the process. Attempting to load the game would start the program’s loading screen, but wouldn’t make any progress. At this point, I couldn’t launch any other application either. Turning the system off didn’t release the stranglehold it had on my hard drive, and it wasn’t until I physically unplugged my unit from the wall that I was able to resume function.
Restarting from that point, I was notified that the console save wasn’t in sync with the cloud save, and I would have to choose one. Of course, given no information outside of the date of the save, I had no idea where any differences would be. I never noticed any major changes picking one over the other, but this is a very simple issue that I’m surprised still exists. Simply by stating the time of the save, the user can make more informed choices, but as it is we’re left with the bare minimum of information.
I ran into this issue on three separate occasions, and I had promised myself that if I had encountered it a fourth I would have abandoned the review then and there. I’ve seen a few other people with this issue, so I’m positive that it’s not an exclusive issue on my end, but I can’t pinpoint with certainty what is causing it.
There is a multiplayer component to be found in the game, but there’s nothing really to talk about. It has your standard variations on Deathmatch where you’re given extra points for long kills, but the game’s focus on sniping largely leads to people camping areas and waiting for someone else to stick their head out long enough to get a clear shot. I was honestly surprised to find that I was having a good time with it, but it’s beyond slow-paced at times. A 20 minute match may have the winner walk away with only 6 or 7 kills. On the bright side, though, co-op is available for the entire campaign, and there’s also a wave-based challenge mode.
Sniper Elite 3 would have been an alright game had it not had some of the most inconsistent AI I’ve encountered in years, as well as the noted game breaking bugs. If you’re willing to overlook those and willing to play a slower-paced game, there’s definitely enjoyment to be had here. The gunplay is just as refined and as enjoyable as you’ll remember from the previous titles, so it’s a real shame that the game is so lackluster in other accounts.
Here’s hoping that Rebellion can learn from this and that we’ll finally get that near perfect sniping game we’ve all been waiting for.
This review is based on an Xbox One version of the game given to us for review purposes.