I’ve been stuck in a video game release dry spell as of recent. I’ve still got another week until Batman: Arkham Knight is released, and I don’t get to see Fallout 4 until November. In order to placate my patience, I’ve been dipping into bargain bins to hold myself off until something actually worthwhile comes out. Until then, looks like I’ll be playing Sniper Elite III.
You play as Karl Fairburne, an OSS Sniper serving during the North Africa Campaign of WW2. The OSS was the precursor for what would later become the CIA, and to say these guys acquired intelligence that changed the very course of the war is putting it lightly. While you are a sniper, just know that a sniper’s primary mission is not sniping; it’s reconnaissance and intelligence gathering.
Death From Afar
While the plot is basically a series of locales tied together with a shoestring narrative, it works just fine. Do we really need much exposition to explain why shooting Nazis is acceptable? Is it a reach to assume we’re going to find intelligence on a Nazi secret weapon and we now need to assassinate the scientist or general involved? We’ve all seen this movie a thousand times.
The gameplay is navigating a series of large maps to get into positions to execute targets. This may sound linear, but it’s surprisingly broad to a level I’ll almost call it a sandbox, which allows for numerous ways to go about any kill.
Say for example, you want to kill the target. You can clear a building and get to the roof, look at your map and take a narrow pass between areas to go around and flank, you can get close enough to lure him out then execute hand to hand quietly, or just bum rush with a Thompson Submachine Gun. While it is possible to just go loud and start firing, it’s not recommended. Enemies will swarm and kill you faster than you can imagine, but at least you have the option.
The best way to snipe is to mask your fire with louder sounds. Kicking generators will cause them to backfire, giving you a window to shoot without being detected. Being near an artillery piece that’s firing will do the same.
When you kill enemies with a well-placed sniper round, it goes into slow motion following the bullet, complete with an X-Ray of the penetration. It shows in full detail brutal head, liver, kidney, heart, lung, and even testicle shots. This happens on almost every sniper kill, but seeing different organs exploding helps it not wear out its welcome too fast.
Also, getting the feel of sniper ballistics takes a while, but you’ll eventually get the hang of it.
The game is frustrating at times, but it has a way to help alleviate that frustration: you can save anywhere at almost any time. If you want to save between kills, you can, and I recommend you do. Clear a building, save. Find intel, save. Screw up a shot, load. Save as often as you need. Finally, a stealth game that has figured out only having checkpoints ruins stealth games!
The controls are pretty smooth, until they’re not. It’s not the controls themselves that will get under your skin; it’s the animations.
When you climb up a ladder, you arrive at the top and stand up. You want to sneak up on the target, but you’ll make noise approaching while standing, so you crouch and move forward. However, there is a near one-second delay when you arrive at the top of the ladder before he will automatically return to a crouched position. You already hit crouch, but he returned to crouch as you hit it, making you stand up and start running at the target. He turns, starts shooting, and alerts more soldiers.
This forces you to work around the game instead of just playing it. The game does so much right, it really hurts me to say this breaks it a little bit. It doesn’t help that climbing ladders isn’t the only time you see this animation delay.
The game is rendered intentionally less than realistic, giving it a feel similar to a game like the Saboteur, but without the Noir and in a higher contrast. While the Nazi camps seem similar, the locals are mixed enough to satisfy without feeling like you’re merely walking through the same camp but with the palm trees in different locations. It’s a good thing the presentation shows it isn’t taking itself too seriously, otherwise the bullet penetrations would be too silly.
The audio is god-fucking awful. I’m playing on PS4, so I have a speaker built into my controller. The speaker is actually pretty neat in some games, but it’s distracting here. I do like a noise indicating an enemy sees me, that’s just fine, but why are you making ridiculously loud one-note sounds when nothing is happening? I’ll be making my approach, and suddenly the controller speakers will go loud for nothing. My map shows no approaching enemies, no one can see me, I’m still hidden, so what the fuck?
Gameplay: 40/45.The shooting mechanics are not as refined as they could be, and sometimes I swear the AI can’t decide if they’re paste-eating retards or cyborgs who can hear a fly fart from across the map. I’ll conclude by saying the testicle shot is actually pretty difficult to accomplish, but when you finally do manage to sever a man’s bean bag… you’ll kind of wish you didn’t.
Controls: 15/25. You’ll understand why the first time you climb a ladder.
Graphics: 15/15. I’ve always loved this design, and it compliments the cartoonish kill cams.
Sound: 2/10. It gets two points because guns sound like guns and explosions sound like explosions. Now shut that goddamn controller up.
Story: 1/5. What story?
Masculinity Score: It’s a military shooter, enough said. You’re a quiet professional, a man of few words who follows orders and gets shit done. The kind of stuff our grandfathers took to their graves.
Total: 73%. It’s far from perfect, but it’s further from bad. If anyone’s been looking for a stealth game to tide you over, I’d recommend lowering your expectations, but still giving it the benefit of the doubt. I will say that it completely succeeds at what it’s trying to be: a mindless shooter with a fun death mechanic. There are worse ways to spend a weekend.