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Slow and steady a lethal combination in 'Sniper Elite 3'

Most of "Sniper Elite 3" is spent finding the best angle to pick off enemies from a distance.

Dust blew across my sights, obscuring my target. He was walking a ridge 1,200 meters in front of me, with a half-track and a small patrol of soldiers between me and him. I waited. Off in the distance, a plane approached. I aimed in, and waited for the calm half moment in between my breathing and the beating of my heart. I squeezed the trigger. A single shot rang out, its subsonic crack masked by the sound of the plane roaring overhead. The target was down.

Veteran UK developers Rebellion Developments created the majority of “Sniper Elite 3” around moments like these and have done so in a way that no two players will have experienced the game the same exact way.

Set during the North African campaigns of World War II, “Sniper Elite 3” places gamers back in the boots of Karl Fairburne, a lone sniper working for Office of Strategic Services sent out to stop the Nazis from finishing a project that could turn the tide of the war. The war story is admittedly a bit familiar but it serves its purpose in providing a great setting.

The deserts of North Africa are rendered in gorgeous detail, with the sun-soaked levels offering plenty of eye candy. The anti-aliasing on display here is of particular note. Everything in game looks sharp, crisp and without the dreaded jaggy edges of the past. Next-gen graphics are here and they look amazing.

The game itself is broken into missions, with a short briefing providing a synapses of what has to be done. After that, what happens and how it happens is largely left up to the player. You can choose to sneak around, masking the sound of your shots by timing them with artillery fire and airplanes, or you can find a sniper nest, settle in and start picking off targets one-by-one. If you’re feeling particularly ornery, you can eschew all pretense of stealth and blast your way through the levels.

There are plenty of tools available for any play style. Stealthy players can find generators scattered through the levels that can be sabotaged to provide covering noise, along with plenty of secret pathways that can be used to sneak up on enemies. Run-and-gun types will have access to a variety of explosives, including a bevy of traps that can be used to lure enemies to their deaths. Gear load outs can be customized in between missions, so players aren’t locked into one way of playing through the whole experience. A lot of games claim to offer this level of freedom; few succeed like the best levels of “Sniper Elite 3.”  

That’s not to say it’s always perfect.  One level in particular is more cramped and there are several spots where you seem forced to play a certain way in order to have a reasonable chance at success. Overall though, I was impressed by the different ways I was able to finish mission objectives and I think players looking for a bit of freedom in their action games will be pleasantly surprised at what you can do with the tools Rebellion gives them.

The sniping, of course, makes up the meat of the actual gunplay. On easier difficulty settings, the shooting is straight forward. You aim in, steady your breathing and fire when the time is right. A small reticule will appear to tell you if the shot is likely to be stopped by anything in the way. On the “Sniper Elite” and authentic difficulty levels, full ballistics come into play and each shot must be taken very, very carefully.

On any difficulty level, once a successful shot is out, players are treated to a slow-motion cutscene showing the bullet’s trajectory and then a close up X-ray view of the bullet smashing through bone, ripping flesh and exploding internal organs. The game is not for the faint of heart as this kill-cam is every bit as violent as it sounds.

Authentic difficulty also removes the ability to “tag” enemies – a feature that helps you keep track of enemies as they flit in and out of buildings and around obstacles. I would suggest that mode for anybody who really wants a challenge. The enemy AI is fairly smart, though there are still some holes in its logic. Enemies will try to track you down if they hear you, and they react to finding dead bodies. But if you hide long enough, they eventually forget and continue their routines. Still, on high enough difficulty levels, you’re going to be restarting quite a bit. The game rewards patience and flawless execution and punishes sloppiness with quick, gruesome death.

Speaking of quick and painful, the multiplayer modes available in “Sniper Elite 3” will quickly and thoroughly introduce those two things to the unprepared. In the bevy of deathmatch modes available, every player is a sniper and the arenas are enormous. Each match is a tense waiting game as the first person to move usually dies.  As with the rest of the game, hitting specific milestones will net you XP and unlockables, though their impact seems largely cosmetic. The entire campaign can also be played through online co-op, which is an added bonus.

“Sniper Elite 3” is a game that probably should be getting more attention than it is. The story is pretty weak, but every other aspect of the game really shines.  It’s a challenging, fairly unique experience with some of the best level design in the business, and if you have the opportunity to play this on the PC, PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, the visuals range from great to astounding.

Bottom line: If you’re a fan of shooters, this shouldn’t be missed. Multiplayer fans in specific will find months’ worth of playtime here.

Platform: PS4 (reviewed), PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
darnell.michael@stripes.com

Online at sniperelite3.com

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