During World War II, snipers instilled fear and confusion unto opposing soldiers. Shots rang out from impossible directions, often killing important members in the chain of command. This brand of tyranny made snipers the most important part of any battalion. In Sniper Elite III, this power and control you have over the enemy is felt as each bullet passes through the cranial cavity of those you point your rifle at.
Karl Fairburne returns as the unstoppable killing machine during the World War II era. He is sent to North Africa to stop the German Afrika Korps for something or another. The hollow story rightfully takes a backseat to what’s center-stage of the game, the x-ray camera angles that show off the grotesque ways a person can die from just one bullet at extreme velocities. And that’s okay, the story is there just to be exciting enough to shuttle you from to the different locations spanning just eight levels. That number shouldn’t discourage, as you’ll be spending at least an hour or two on each one as dynamic objectives appear until the primary objective has been completed.
Given the game’s implicit suggestion of using guns to accomplish your goals, you’ll be rewarded just as handsomely for being stealthy, as being quiet also aids your cause. Completing objectives, getting kills, getting stealth kills, finding hidden items, and more earn you points that add up to a total score. This score is placed into an accumulating rank structure that spans all modes of gameplay. Unfortunately the score system, especially during gameplay makes it feel arcadey, especially up against the thin plot that struggles with itself.
As any sniper will tell you, or just playing enough games as the sniper class will teach you: after each shot, you should change your firing position. Shots will be heard by the enemy and will begin to investigate the source. This is where you can relocate and wait for them to lose interest. A way of preventing this, is finding a generator, and damaging it so it sparks and sputters every so often that it obfuscates the sounds of your shots for undetected kills.
Loadouts allow you to customize up to four different profiles, and experiment with different gadgets and weapons for specific situations. Not everything is unlocked right away, and is gated by player rank. As that rank increases, new items are available for use. I never strayed too far from the original blueprint the game starts you off with, but with being able to customize the starting rifle with different sights and barrels, is enough to at least try out a few times to cater to your playstyle and preferences than being stuck with a weapon or item you don’t ever use.
Once you have setup your shooting position, aimed down the sights, acquired your target, you begin to empty your lungs. You pull the trigger and then you watch the bullet leave the confines of the barrel of your rifle and travel its path towards the targeted enemy. It is there that the camera slows down and sounds like a train barreling down the tracks as it breaks through flesh, then bone, and now organs, killing them instantly — Oh, and you can shoot a guy in the nuts. Yup. If it weren’t for the rest of the organs being rendered and getting ruptured by a shot, it would feel gimmicky. The brutal x-ray view is back, now more than just bones and simple fleshy parts seen in Sniper Elite V2, you’ll now see arteries to yes, testicles. It’s over-the-top and completely unnecessary, but this is the fuel that ignites Sniper Elite the series, and elevates Sniper Elite III with the enhancements to the x-ray mode.
Editor’s Note: If this violence is too much for you, there’s a surprising amount of levels in which you can dial down what the bullet camera shows you, all the way to nothing. Since this is what makes the game so special, I advise against it. But if you must, play with the settings until you find what you can tolerate the most.
Challenges allow you to return to combat by taking on waves of enemies. This is something similar seen in the Nazi Zombie Army games which is a spin-off of the Sniper Elite series themselves. You don’t have to go it alone, you can bring a friend for extra damage and coverage. Or you can play Overwatch where one of you spots with binoculars and the other executes with the rifle, requiring communication and precision. If the campaign solo isn’t doing for you, a friend can join you for double the fun. And it really is, there’s a risk with playing with a stranger and a lack of communication, but a friend will expedite time spent in a level as enemies drop quicker.
Multiplayer returns, and features very standard modes of play, with the standouts being “Distance King”, which encourages the longest rifle shot, and “No Cross”, whereby sniping is the only way to kill, as the floor is the equivalent to lava and will get you killed for leaving for the wide open areas. But somehow, Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch aren’t everything you’d expect. There’s not just blatant shooting from MP40’s and Thompson’s. Missing a shot means someone will hunt you down, and it is absolutely intense. I could physically feel my heartrate accelerate as I searched for someone and constantly was watching my own back at the same time. These are rare moments in multiplayer, where you put stake in your virtual player’s lives.
Sniper Elite III is a wide-open field in which to play mind games with the enemy over and over again. That repetitiveness may wear you down over time. If not that, then the violence and over-the-top gore might. But it’s really hard to look away when lead breaks skin and begins to ravage a bad guy’s innards. It’s a guilty pleasure that I am willing to partake in.
A pre-release Steam code was provided by the publisher for review purposes.