One shot can change history...
It's World War 2 and I'm crouched in a ruin, there are a pair of Nazi soldiers talking about their latest plan for the war. It's mostly small talk, then it turns to something that makes my lips thin, my hand tightens around the grip of the welrod and I resolve to end their lives right there and then...so I creep closer and tuck in just behind a box. No one else is around, the fire provides a stark relief to what I'm about to do...
One shot to the head drops the first guard, the second has barely enough time to draw his gun before my knife slams into his gut and I snap his neck for good measure.
I scavenge what I can from these butchers and move their bodies out of sight.
I make it through the small ruin moving slowly, hunting another guard, I take him down with the welrod and stash his corpse in a nearby bush. Now I can get to the rise where I want to be...where I have the best sight line on my next target. I break the generator and settle into the sniper nest, laying down and taking aim through the scope.
The world shrinks in an intimate moment of pure connection between me and the general, one shot...covered by the sound of the generator's timely backfire. He slumps, I smile.
There's something almost primal about a game like Sniper Elite 3, something voyeuristic about being a sniper in general, about holding the power of life/death in the single press of a trigger. You are 100s of feet or meters away from an intended target, they're busy fixing the busted wheel on a truck and they don't even know you're looking at them through the crosshairs of a Lee Enfield or Gewehr 43 sniper rifle. Their life condensed into a single moment caught between the intersection of a rifle sight.
You take a deep breath just like Karl Fairburn in game, adjust your sights for wind/bullet drop and press the trigger. If your shot's true, you'll send this fellow to his just reward in a single beautiful x-ray choreographed moment of anatomically correct death that shows it gruesome detail just what that bullet did. Get it wrong and it won't matter, he'll know something's up and you'll have blown your chance to take him down silently.
If there's nothing there to mask your sound, the first shot will send your enemies running for cover as they realise something terrible is out there hunting them.
If you shoot again, they'll start to realise where that terrible thing is.
A third time? Then you best hit what you're aiming at, because by now you'll have given away your position and they'll come looking for you.
This is just one example moment from the 17 hours I've spent with Sniper Elite 3 since we got the game for review. It's a huge sandbox playground of extended sight lines, tactical approaches and free-form gameplay that finally lets you live out the dream of being that perfect sniper. The Desert Ghost, as the enemy often call you. From its slick relocation mechanics and tuned gameplay Sniper Elite 3 stands out amongst the crowd, throwing into shadow its predecessor Sniper Elite v2 and offering a superb slice of World War 2 action where you can make every bullet count.
Karl Fairburn trades the grimy and dingy locales of v2 for the hot and hazy climes of the African deserts and towns. This is the hunting spot of Hitler's dreaded and feared Afrika Korps and introduces a real nightmare, the Tiger tank. Sniper Elite 3 re-tunes many of the mechanics that were prevalent in v2 and adds a layer of brand new mechanics that offers a real chance to turn your hand towards harassing your enemies as a true sniper would.
It's not a case of throwing massive amounts of lead at your enemies and then shifting position, it's a case of studying the lay of the land, working out your routes and sight lines in the massive environments and reacting to objectives that aren't always right there at the start. Sniper Elite 3 teases you into a map offering more and more things to do as you explore and achieve your goals.
Karl is also a pretty agile fellow, and by holding down the A button you can traverse/climb/slip over obstacles in your path automatically. This gives you a good sense of freedom and helps when getting to some of the more interesting sight lines/sniper nests. It's also great for sneaking into houses when you can just pop over the windowsill spec-ops like and stab a nazi in the back of his head.
One of the biggest problems that Sniper Elite v2 had is no longer present in 3. Shooting mechanics in 3 are finely tuned and the enemy AI reacts to stimuli a lot differently. They no longer automatically know where you are when you fire a shot that isn't masked by the sound of something in the background. The first shot will harass them (if it doesn't kill someone outright) and send them into cover, they'll panic and begin to react with heightened awareness. The second shot will draw their attention towards your direction, perhaps they'll become suspicious and send a couple of men to investigate (unlucky for them).
A third shot is likely to give away your position and they'll attack. When they do, they're relentless and will hunt you down if you give them the chance. So Sniper Elite 3 relies on a relocation mechanic to model the idea of shoot/move/shoot again.
When you shoot the first time and the enemy are panicked as their best friend drops dead, you'll often enter a Ghost mode where they are now completely freaked by your accuracy and efficiency. Ghost gives you bonus XP (we'll talk about XP and levels in a bit) and a small icon will show up to tell you this is active. Now you can shoot again and again if you want, and you're feeling cocky. Or you can move away from that first firing position and take up a new position somewhere else, shooting again. This maintains your Ghost status and keeps the enemy off balance, they don't know where you are and they can't zero in.
If they do zero in you'll get notified it's time to relocate, and you can move away from the zone indicated on your mini-map. Once you're clear the relocation bar on the HUD will drain and you're safe again. Don't expect the enemy to just go back to being complacent though, now they'll be on guard and they might even change their patrols.
There are numerous objects in Sniper Elite 3 that allow you to snipe with relative safety as long as you time your shots. There are generators that can be broken to provide a moment's sound masking as they rattle and clank, trucks are sometimes active on the level and they'll provide backfire that you can use to mask a shot. Then you have environmental masking, such as artillery bombardments nearby or the sound of planes scooting overhead now and then.
If you're patient and you take advantage of the sound masking you'll be able to thin the Afrika Korps numbers quite nicely, bringing them down to virtually nothing in the level you're on. If you go in guns blazing expect a hard fight, tougher foes and surprises now and then.
There's also revamped stealth mechanics that mean you can distract guards with a quick show of your face around a wall, they'll get suspicious and come to take a look. So you can use a takedown to get them out of the way, then hide the body before someone else finds it. You can throw rocks, set small fires and use those as distractions. The Welrod is back for those people who like to maintain a low profile and virtually noiseless approach. A quick shot to the head will deal with unsuspecting guards.
You can use the new takedowns as a viable 'get out of trouble' card, but beware, nearby enemies might hear the struggle. Sprinting at a lone guard before he can yell and taking him down has worked many a time when I found a straggler and needed to take him out quickly. Crouching and approaching the guard slowly is a better option if you can do it, of course.
You have new gadgets and some old favourites are back.
New rifles, new pistols, new secondary weapons and it's all easy to get to from the d-pad or the weapon-wheel. You can even customise your rifles and set up to 4 preferred loadouts on the loadout screen. Changing a scope, barrel, stock or trigger on your favourite rifle will alter some of the variables and there are always trade-offs. You can also change the reticle...
Trip mines are back, so are land mines, S-Mines are an anti-personnel mine that covers a wide area with a nice bang and can be used as an impromptu trap if you know a guard's patrol route. Dynamite makes a welcome return and can be remotely detonated via a small fire (flint and steel in the weapon wheel), or a well placed shot.
You have medkits and bandages to help you recover from your wounds if you're ever shot. Medkits will heal you fully, bandages only heal 2 segments of your health bar.
You have a rifle, a secondary weapon (mp40, Thompson etc), a pistol and your trusty knife. The knife is often used in takedowns to a brutal and satisfying effect to swiftly end a threat.
As you play Sniper Elite 3 you'll get XP for various shots, efficiency and combat tactics that you use. These all stack up and you'll gain a level, unlocking new equipment and guns for your arsenal.
It's a joy to play too, because the new controls and smoother controls means that the game doesn't tend to cock up when you want to do something cool. It's always reacting well to your control input, moving swiftly from stealth takedowns to shooting, and back again. Traversing the environments, moving into cover and changing posture are all done smoothly and cleanly.
Even picking up a body now isn't a chore. Also, you'll loot that corpse as you're moving it - usually finding ammo or useful gadgets to restock the ones you may have used. You'll also find ammo/weapon crates in the huge maps.
There are various difficulties to play on and Custom makes a return, letting you alter the enemy AI difficulty, the ballistic realism and the tactical assist GUI. There's also Sniper Elite difficulty that removes all assistance, makes the game hard as nails and removes 'save' anywhere. There's a bunch of options to fine-tune the game too, turning off the x-ray cameras and so on. Or you can increase the frequency of the bullet cams if you want (we love this).
One feature that we really like: Sniper Elite 3 allows you to save at any time and it needs it with those HUGE levels and varied objectives. A mission can take just over an hour to complete if you want to do everything, or if you're just looking at eliminating all resistance to make the exfil that much easier.
It's wise to thin their ranks as much as possible, because Sniper Elite 3's AI is re-tuned too.
Talking of the AI, it can be relentless, use tactics and generally provide a superb challenge if you boost it to the top level. Even on rookie it might give you a run for your money of course. Expect the unexpected and you won't be caught off guard by a sudden flanking move performed by superior armed forces.
Tanks are like mini-boss battles and must be disabled via land mines, dynamite and armour piercing rounds (you can swap ammo in the weapon wheel) come in handy when you're stripping them of vital areas to try and get to that fuel tank. There's another way to take a tank down though, through the driver's vision slit... you'll need AP ammo to make this effective and your accuracy needs to be pixel perfect. It's a satisfying moment if you get it right. You still need to blow the tank of course, but it's not going to drive anywhere without that guy driving it.
X-Ray kill-cams are back, the signature feature from the series. They're even more gruesome than before too, with layers of muscles/veins/internal organs and the cam will show you just how much damage that shot did before the guy expires.
There are also vehicle X-Ray kill-cams too, and those are extremely awesome as you slowly pick apart an armoured grille to reveal the engine and fire the last shot into the machine. It all comes apart in a realistic mess of broken gear shafts, big ends and hammering pistons.
Sniper Elite 3 is great like that.
The bottom line to take away from all this is that the mechanics are a lot better in 3, they're cleaner and work as they're supposed to. During the whole of the 17 hours I spent with the game I had no issues whatsoever and the AI only pulled a couple of dumb moves the whole time.
Then of course you have the fact that the game looks gorgeous on the Xbox One, runs at a smooth pace and doesn't stutter. The level of detail is superb and graphically it's a really superb looking game, especially in some of the bigger outdoor areas where the sun filters through the clouds and slashes through desert mountains in knife-like rays of gold, bleeding across the ground.
Extra care and detail has been taken in providing a nice animation suite for the main character, the guards and other characters in the game. Impact shot physics have been exaggerated somewhat to provide a more action-orientated payoff for some of your better shots, but that's fine.
The music is superb, the sound work top notch and Karl Fairburn's gravel-voiced character is mean and moody, just like v2. The story is interesting and the payoff is pretty awesome at the end, or at least we thought so.
With a ton of collectibles and some challenges granting XP in the levels, you'll want to replay them again and again.
Then you can play the whole campaign with a friend, cooperatively over Xbox Live. You can also play Survival Solo or with a friend, where you fight waves of bad guys. There's Overwatch coop (spotter and sniper return) and a suite of adversarial modes where you're sniping each other, working as a team vs. another team or playing on dedicated no-cross maps where sniping is KING. We had a blast with a lot of the multiplayer on this, though matches were a little scarce due to the game not being out yet. It's out tomorrow though, so expect the servers to appear, since they're peer-2-peer rather than dedicated servers.
The whole package is superb value for money, there's a lot of content to be drawn from the game as it stands and we can't wait to see what DLC appears for it. We love the new huge mission areas and we'd happily accept even more big playgrounds to flex out sniper muscles on in single player/coop, we're not all that fussed with adversarial modes.
Coop is the next big thing in the industry and we couldn't be happier, I know I couldn't, because I am a huge coop fan.
It's hard to know what to score this one because it's such a big improvement over v2. With no issues and the fact that the game's a huge amount of fun. The new Africa setting and the expanded/expansive environments allowing you to play how you want go together to make this third person shooter a breakaway hit. Everything we didn't like about Sniper Elite v2 is fixed and better in 3.
The bottom line though, and the most important thing beyond the bells and whistles: is the game fun?
We can answer that with a resounding: Yes.