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DoubleTake: Sniper Elite 3

Posted on May 30, 2014 AT 04:20pm

Hunting season

Now, we should probably start by pointing out that neither of us have any hands-on experience with the first two Sniper Elite games, but I know you’ve reported on the franchise a bit, and I’ve learned a decent amount through cultural osmosis. As far as I’ve been able to tell, the first one, released back in 2005, was pretty well received for its open-ended mission design and emphasis on tactics over brute force. The sequel, V2, was a little less so, because its missions were a bit more linear—though it earned some points back by letting you shoot Hitler’s testicles off in a DLC mission. Now that I’ve established my near-complete ignorance, I’m going to go out on a limb and say I think fans will be pretty happy with the direction this third game is heading. The two missions we got to see—one of which we got to actually play through—took place in very open maps with tons of vantage points, multiple ways to complete objectives, and non-linear progression. But enough about what other people might think. What do you think, Chris? Josh
Chris I mean, if the complaints lobbied against V2 are in line with what I experienced reviewing Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2, I’d say so. Ghost Warrior 2 was an exceedingly linear experience in which I walked down jungle corridors to predetermined sniper spots and more or less proceeded to shoot fish in a barrel. Occasionally, I had to sneak by enemy units on patrol, but those moments were pure stealth. Getting spotted meant game over—Ghost Warrior 2 offered no alternative contingencies beyond sniping. Well, that’s not exactly true. You had a handgun, but it might as well have been decoration. Sniper Elite 3, on the other hand—as we both experienced—is built around sandbox sensibilities. What we played accommodated everything short of full-blown assault, and even that was something of an option when walked in on by snooping soldiers. Not quite full-blown John Rambo stuff, but you can get yourself out of a jam with a little blam-blam and not be outright punished for it.
Yeah, and I think the important thing is that Elite 3 realizes that sniping isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. If you’re positioned in an area where you don’t really have a solid vantage point, but you do have a lot of cover, you can also take a standard stealth approach, sneaking up on people and popping them in the back of the head with a silenced Welrod pistol or giving them a pointy hello with your knife. Even for a third-person shooter with a clear focus on one small section of warfare, there’s a decent amount of tactical variety. If you want to spend the whole game picking off bad guys from a distance, you’ll be able to do that, but if you’re the type who needs to mix things up a bit to keep yourself entertained, you can definitely do that, too. I spent one section of the level sprinting, knifing, and grenading Nazis like some kind of tweaked-out CoD player, and while I definitely died a few times because of my stupidity, the game didn’t slap me on the wrist so hard I felt like I couldn’t have made it work if I wanted to. And the sniping itself is plenty fun, I think. Having to take into account bullet drop and wind speed keeps it from being a simple point-and-click adventure. Josh

Chris I don’t disagree, but it’s a specific sort of fun, to be sure. It all comes down to tastes. Even taking into the account the Plan B stuff to fall back on, the title is a clear indicator of you ought to be doing most cases, and “fall back on” is the key phrase here. To that end, I think, interest in Sniper Elite 3 isn’t of the mass-appeal variety. While, within the some 30 or 45 minutes we took turns hiding in the scrubs, pickin’ off Nazis, I enjoyed challenging myself to stay unseen and remove threats one goose-stepping target at a time, I’m not sure that I could sustain that interest over the course of eight to 12 hours (if it’s anything on par with the original Xbox release). Again, that’s just a personal problem. To be clear, it’s a very competently made game that handles without complaint once you have all the buttons down pat, but I can only watch someone’s brains get blown out of their skull so many times before it starts feeling a little restrictive and repetitive to me. And gross.
Yeah, I’m with you on the gory, X-ray killcam stuff. I understand there are people who love watching bone shatter and organs explode in graphic, slow-motion detail, but it’s a bit much for my stomach. And I see what you’re saying about Elite 3 feeling very particularly focused. If I’m being honest, one of my biggest worries is that the niche the game is trying to fill is already pretty packed with games that offer the same type of gameplay, but not as the only option. Marking enemies from a distance and then picking them off with a sniper rifle, moving from cover to cover so they can’t pin you down is a viable strategy in a few shooters I can think of—Far Cry 3, for instance. That game, though, also lets you go in guns blazing, or smoke everyone out with a flamethrower. I think the strong emphasis on making the sniping feel interesting and strategically deep will set Sniper Elite 3 apart, but I’m just worried it might not set it far enough apart. Then again, that might be more of a statement about the entire industry than about this one game. It feels like so many titles try the jack of all trades approach. Maybe I should be celebrating a game that tries to limit its scope and do a few things very well. Josh
Chris I share your concern, but I think—despite the presence of all that you just listed—Sniper Elite 3 is, at its heart, a sniping game, and those other bells and whistles are just nice to have. They’re cushioning, here, more than padding. At least, so it seems. There’s nothing stopping veterans from reloading checkpoints if they want to be a ghost, but mid-tier players or newcomers don’t have to feel the taxing exhaustion of repeated game-over screens because they were spotted. As for the sniping itself, there’s a complexity to it that you won’t find in most other games in which sniping is just another and-also-this component. You have to account for bullet drop, wind direction, even sound detection. There was a section of the map we played that saw us timing shots to some repeating noise in order to mask the report of our rifle fire. That was neat. I think Sniper Elite 3 knows its audience, and while borrowing liberally from other it-does-it-all games, doesn’t quite cross the threshold into their territory.

Before we wrap up, there’s one other thing I wanted to say. Oddly enough, one of my favorite parts of playing through the demo was the fact that the game is set in World War II. I know that sounds silly, given how many years shooters spent milking that source material dry, but it was almost comforting to be back holding an M1 Garand again after spending so much of the past decade stuck in gritty modern combat against non-specific Middle Eastern or Russian terrorists. Or, I guess, shiny near-future combat against non-specific South American or Russian terrorists. I also appreciate the fact that the game is set in North Africa—probably the one front of the war that didn’t get exploited into a fine powder over the years. Maybe I’m the only person on the planet who’s ready to fight Nazis again, but after so much of the same thing, it feels nicely different to be going back. Josh
Chris Don’t quite share your sentiment regarding the comfortable pair of familiar old slippers that is killing Nazis, but I do agree that North Africa, as a setting, presented a welcomingly different environment to stain with Aryan blood than most that we get, period, let alone in World War II shooters. And I suppose clunky, analog technology and 100 percent human skill could be considered quaint as compared to the over-reliance on technology modern day coddles us with. I certainly hope longtime fans of the series will appreciate Sniper Elite 3 in its entirety as much as you did its dusty old weapons. I suppose there can be, at times, something powerful about that—the comfort of familiarity.

Josh Harmon, Associate Editor
Josh Harmon picked up a controller when he was 3 years old—and he hasn't looked back since. This has made him particularly vulnerable to attacks from behind. He joined EGM as an intern following a brief-but-storied career on a number of small gaming blogs across the Internet. Follow him on Twitter @jorshy. Meet the rest of the crew.

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