E3 2014: Sniper Elite III is a Sharpshooter’s Dream

Big shooting franchises like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Uncharted, and Gears of War have always put an emphasis on action.  Set-pieces and over-the-top shootouts with assault rifles in hand are what these franchises do best.  Aside from ‘All Ghillied Up’ and ‘Vendetta’ from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: World at War respectively, big name shooters rarely let you engage in zoomed out and impersonal sniping.  Rebellion Developments knows there’s a market for a sniping game, and here they are with Sniper Elite III.

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Sniper Elite III is the third entry in Rebellion’s franchise, and the first to hit the Xbox One and PS4.  Karl Fairburne returns as the main protagonist, but the setting has been moved to North Africa in order to make the game feel fresh. The deserts and plains of North Africa make a nice change of setting from the ruined cityscapes of previous games.

Like its predecessors, Sniper Elite III encourages players to play cautiously.  Finding a safe place to hide, tagging enemies, and then taking them out one-by-one is still the most satisfying way to play, but running and gunning is also an option.  You’re given a sub-machine gun and a pistol alongside your rifle, but the game is purposefully designed to make this option more difficult.

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If there’s one glaring problem in Sniper Elite III, it’s the game’s poor AI.  There were times where I would cross in front of an enemy or take down his friend right next to him and somehow manage to go unnoticed.  I kept shooting the same guy right in front of me and it took him a few seconds to realize I was there.  Rebellion told me that the difficulty was lowered for E3 and that there will be better AI in higher difficulty settings, but the concern still remains.

This is the first Sniper Elite game on PS4 and Xbox One, which brings a number of improvements to the franchise.  Areas are huge and open, giving players numerous ways to tackle objectives.  I played a night level twice, the first time taking the sneaky approach with a silenced pistol.  In my next playthrough I found a sniper perch and rained hell on my enemies.  The developers assured me that there were even more ways I could have completed my mission.

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Despite the upgrade in hardware, Sniper Elite III doesn’t look like a next-gen game.  The environments are very static, rocks had lower-resolution textures, and grass looks like a cardboard cutout.  This is likely a result of the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions and the need for the developers to achieve some kind of parity between this gen and last. On the bright side, this hasn’t impacted the amazingly detailed killcams.  A successful sniper kill slows down time, and gives you an x-ray view of the bullet meeting flesh and bone.  It’s extremely graphic and satisfying.

Speaking of parity, the developers confirmed that the only major difference between the current-gen and last-gen platforms are the graphics.  All versions will have the same content.  Rebellion also had both the PS4 and Xbox One versions available to play.  Sniper Elite III is one of those games with a higher resolution on PS4 than Xbox One, but from my time spent with both versions, the difference is negligible to the point where you won’t notice unless you have them side-by-side.

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Sniper Elite III could turn out to be the best entry in the franchise by embracing a new setting and a new sense of player accomplishment with its open design.  Sniper Elite should continue to dominate the niche it’s carved for itself, as it’s highly unlikely that this year’s Call of Duty and Battlefield games will scratch the same sniping itch.  The AI needs work and the game could stand to look a lot prettier, but Sniper Elite III still makes it feel fantastic to kill unsuspecting people hundreds of yards away. Get it on July 1st when it launches for PS4, Xbox One, PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.