Sniper Elite III Review
As a series progresses, it's supposed to get better. Developers should take advantage of more powerful hardware, and they should continue to tweak and refine. While Sniper Elite III doesn't qualify as a AAA title, it still represents a definite positive progression in the franchise, especially after its lackluster predecessor. With much larger environments, more freedom, better AI, and more gameplay depth overall, it's a worthwhile experience for the snipe-happy gamer.
Perhaps the most significant change in this iteration is the locale. Rather than sneaking along rubble-strewn streets, filled with dead ends (the previous title was extremely linear), we work our way through the brighter - definitely sandier - African territory. As you might expect, thanks to the more capable PlayStation 4, this is by far the best-looking Sniper entry yet. The visceral x-ray feature leaps right off the screen, for example. However, there are still plenty of washed-out hues, the lighting isn't as good as reported, and the overall design hovers right around average.
The sound is a bit better, as a compelling soundtrack and crisp effects punctuate an often tense adventure. The crack of your rifle shatters the stillness of the night (or day), guards react quickly with shouts and orders, and various engine sounds are typically audible. It's a more immersive atmosphere thanks to more authentic, dynamic sound, but again, it falls short of next-gen expectations. The voices are decent and the combat effects, from the explosion of dynamite to the gut-wrenching shattering of bone, work well. It's not exactly impressive, but there isn't much to complain about, either.
If you're the kind of person who can't wait to locate sniper rifles in your games, you should have a lot of fun with Sniper Elite III. Due to the wider areas, you have more options concerning a strategic approach, and there are much-appreciated gameplay additions that make the game feel more robust. For instance, we finally get a radar that gives the location of our enemies, and that HUD also displays cautious and alerted guards. We're prompted to relocate if an enemy spots our position, we're given relative distances, and if we tag enemies with our binoculars, we can even determine the weapon they carry.
And of course, there's that ridiculously over-the-top x-ray mechanic, which is the franchise's most recognizable feature. Rebellion worked to make this feature even more pronounced, as bullets will crunch through bone and muscle tissue. Eyes will pop out of skulls, appendages will be lost, blood will spray; it's a slo-mo piece of gruesome gore that punctuates the horror of war. Of course, one could argue that such a feature simply isn't necessary at all, and if you feel that way, you can disable the x-ray kill cam. Unfortunately, when you do, the game immediately begins to feel like a generic everyday shooter.
Control isn't perfect and the game isn't quite sure what it wants to be. There's a sense of leniency when sneaking about; guards often seem deaf, although they have better vision than before. You can almost run 'n gun, which defeats the whole purpose of the title. However, if you choose to take your time and plan out an attack, you will be justly rewarded, especially if you take full advantage of your arsenal. Equipment like land mines, trip mines, dynamite, and various forms of ammunition add some much-needed depth to the experience, and encourages the player to experiment and formulate a strategy.
There's also something to be said for the increased diversity in the environment. This was seriously lacking in the last entry, so it's nice to see many different locales in the new installment. Whether you're sitting atop a castle during a thunderstorm, crouching behind a tank in a densely populated area, or firing across the sandy expanses of the African desert, you'll rarely encounter similar territories twice. Optional mission objectives increase the longevity of the game, even if they're not always well defined. In short, while the last game felt too light, this one feels like a fully-realized production.
That production isn't devoid of problems, though. For instance, there was a time when I placed a landmine and it mysteriously disappeared. And as for the AI, it is much better, but there's still plenty of room for improvement. Enemies will often sit right out in the open, even after you've given away your position, and their predictable movements sometimes make it feel like shooting fish in a barrel. Still, I mentioned at the start of this review that we should be looking for improvements in a new entry, and for the most part, that's what we get. Besides, this should mean that the fourth effort will be worthy of an 8 or above, right?
Oh, and it's fantastic that we can play through the campaign with a partner. It sucks that it doesn't support local co-op, but at least we get the online option to team up with a friend. This opens up a whole host of new strategy opportunities, and it's infinitely more enjoyable to conspire with a buddy before approaching a particularly difficult segment. There's a competitive online mode as well, but it's not quite as enticing. Battles boasting a bunch of snipers sounds like a great idea on the surface but after a while, it really starts to feel quite tedious. I just don't think a game like this is well-suited for competitive multiplayer. A big "yay" for the co-op, though.
Sniper Elite III is a step in the right direction. We've still got a ways to go but the improvements here are obvious and appreciated, and greatly enhances the fun factor and general quality. It's on next-gen consoles and although it doesn't feel "next-gen," there's no doubt that Rebellion took advantage of the extra power. The AI could still get better, the control isn't perfect, and without that wicked x-ray kill-cam, the game feels a touch bland. But it remains accessible, rewarding, and entertaining, and it's worth trying if you're a sniper fan. On top of which, what else is there to play right now? This ain't a bad option during the summer drought.
The Good: Bigger, airier, much more detailed environments. More freedom. The addition of much-needed gameplay mechanics, like radar. That x-ray kill cam is just...insane. Campaign co-op is a big plus. Rewards the strategic approach.
The Bad: Graphics still a little lacking. AI is better but could be much improved. Control isn't 100%. Competitive multiplayer feels tedious.
The Ugly: "Doesn't get much uglier than a kill-cam eye shot."
7/15/2014 Ben Dutka