Sniper Elite III: Afrika
Developer: Rebellion
Publisher: 505 Games
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 2-player co-op online & 2-12 online multiplayer
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One of our favourite sniper game franchises returns with a hot and sweaty new set of missions set in the African desert campaigns of World War II. And for once I find myself playing a game that couldn’t be more appropriate as we all swelter in the hot weather. Sniper Elite III: Afrika is in fact a prequel to Sniper Elite V2 (which was set at the climax on the war.) You play gravel-voiced hero OSS (Office of Strategic Services) officer Karl Fairburne and sneak and snipe your way through the North African theatre, where you learn of a secret mega-weapon being constructed by the Nazi forces.

I should probably say, for newcomers to the Sniper Elite series, that this is no third-person WWII Medal of Honor or Call of Duty, it’s all about sniping and you can’t even “run & gun” for long on the easiest ‘Cadet’ difficulty setting. So... if a more considered, tactical shooter that has you spotting enemies carefully through your binoculars (so you can keep tabs on them), then popping a shot off at one or two soldiers and then moving to another position (or possibly running away screaming like a frightened little girl as in my case) isn’t for you, then stop reading now.

The enemy AI has been significantly improved from Sniper Elite V2 and will hunt you down remorselessly on the higher difficulty settings. They now have various states of mind; Passive (patrolling, guarding etc), Suspicious (when they may have heard you do something or found a dead body), Searching, and Attacking (once they’ve spotted you or you have revealed you position by not relocating after firing.) Officers also have better sight and hearing than grunts, so need to be treated with extra caution. The AI, while far from flawless, is some of the most dynamic and adaptive we’ve seen in a shooter recently, and as well as being aggressive and accurate can be sneaky and cautious too, and will take cover and wait for you to make a move while sending one man to hunt you down, sometimes trying to flush you out by using grenades in a realistic manner. On the easiest (Novice) setting you can literally get away with murder, this is thanks to dopier enemy AI (they have narrower sight cones and poorer eyesight and hearing) and you take less damage from enemy shots, and this makes for a fun, casual game. However, there still simply isn’t enough machine gun or pistol ammo to “Rambo” your way through the game and you’ll have to act like a sneaky sniper at least some of the time, or get surrounded and overwhelmed. Marksman and Sniper Elite settings are more of a challenge with better enemy AI and add realistic bullet drop and wind to make aiming more demanding. You can however, crank the difficulty up to ‘Authentic’ should you be so inclined, which improves the enemy awareness and accuracy, removes the mini map, awareness and alert status gauges, the tagging of enemies, and amazingly even checkpoints and the ability to save during a mission! This transforms the solo campaign into a truly rock-hard old-school experience, only for the hardened gamer or the OCD trophy/achievement hunter.

As long as you don’t have any weird moral or taste issues with the hugely over-the-top glorification of the horrific damage a sniper’s bullet can do to the human body, you’re probably going to love Sniper Elite III’s bullet cam. The franchise’s steadfast fascination with its big gimmick, a slow motion bullet-cam that flows the path of the bullet from barrel to gory destination, borders on the video game equivalent of self-abuse, and you will turn it off or minimise it at some point (thankfully there are settings to decide just how much bullet cam you want now, not just ‘on’ or ‘off’). But… that will most likely be after you’ve killed and watched hundreds of skulls and bones get shattered, lungs, kidneys and intestines ruptured, eyes splattered and more than a few testicles get shot off-and yes, you really can do that.

Sniper III has some interesting armoured enemy targets like tanks, half-tracks and trucks that, unless you have armour-piercing ammo, require multiple precision hits on specific weak points to destroy them. These vulnerable points will be highlighted when you view a vehicle through your binoculars. There are plenty of landmines in the game, and a single one will destroy a truck or half-track, but one will only blow the tracks off a tank, immobilizing it and turning it into a very dangerous static turret that need to be finished off with great caution. This means it’s a good idea to place a couple of landmines together or beef the explosion up by placing dynamite near one. Another nice idea is that as well as the usual fuel drums, petrol cans and gas tanks, ammo crates (which often contain rockets, dynamite and various mines as well as ammo) are not only places to replenish your loadout, but also realistically can be shot and blown up, wounding or killing anyone near it as the ammo cooks off in a spectacular fireworks display.

And now to list some of the things about Sniper Elite III that annoy or irritate us. There are times during the bullet cam when enemies that are being hit disappear altogether, leaving just a bullet in flight and all the bone scrunching and squishing sounds. The act of picking up a dead body (to hide it) or swap your weapon for a downed enemy’s is sometimes inexplicably fiddly, as you have to be standing in just the right spot, which will often appear to be the completely wrong spot to you-like being 3 feet away from a corpse and facing away. And while I’m having a good old moan; why do you die when you fall 12ft? Why does dropping from any height over about 6ft “hurt” our OSS hero? And, as if to remind us of a lesson we all had drummed into us as schoolchildren, you can even get “hurt” when running down stairs quickly! Why does the level of control over Karl deteriorate to pre-analogue era levels when carrying a body? And why can’t you throw dead bodies into/over some objects/pieces of scenery (like many of the walls in the game) that are the perfect place to hide your victims’ bodies? There are also instances of enemies’ corpses disappearing or getting stuck on scenery, and live enemies who have pathfinding AI so bad that they “moonwalk,” stuck on scenery until you put them out of their misery. All these relatively minor flaws add up to make Sniper Elite III feel a bit, well... rough, and like it needed several more months testing and polishing.

As you can see from the screen shots at times the visuals are pleasing, and we’ve been lucky enough to play the game on Xbox 360, Xbox One and PS4, and for the most part the game looks highly detailed and smooth-we were particularly impressed with the characters’ uniforms and weapons, and the enemy vehicles look amazing (see pics below), and, if you’ve ever seen a real Tiger tank in action (like several of us Tank nuts here at Gamecell have at Bovington Camp) you can’t fail to be wowed by the moment when you come face to face with one. Understandably this is one of the tensest and most exciting sequences in the game, despite some unrealistic movement on the part of the tank. The game has a lot of nice effects and mist, dust, smoke, flames and explosions are all particularly believable, dust motes, leaves and embers float around and the rock textures, trees and other plant life are also praiseworthy. But most of the time when playing the game on PS4/Xbox One you can’t fail you realise you’re playing a HD port of a distinctly last-gen game.

This is because some of Karl’s animation looks stilted, and may even have been re-cycled from Sniper Elite V2. New animations such as leaping over gaps look and feel mechanical, and climbing ladders is a painfully linear and ponderous experience–you can’t even fire a pistol and there isn’t a ‘slide down ladder’ button-I guarantee you will ask why you can’t save vital seconds by sliding down the numerous ladders in the game, especially as every other game that has ladders seems to allow it. Although the animation on the AI characters is very lifelike and believable, some hyperactive and unrealistic looking ragdoll physics will provide some unintentional amusement as you discover dead bodies in strange, unlikely and even anatomically impossible positions (see pics), and “dead” bodies jitter around trying to find somewhere where the ragdoll is happy to lie. Enemies will even sometimes fall dead but never reach the ground-levitating with skill that both David Blaine and Dynamo would be proud of. We came to label these instances as “Gravity Fails” ™.

Unsurprisingly the desert maps are much more open than Sniper Elite V2’s, but there are an awful lot of areas that look like you should be able to climb onto/up to/clamber through that are inaccessible because of “invisible walls”. Explore a lot (or even just look in the “wrong” direction) and you will find some rough, unfinished-looking scenery (including levitating rocks and gaps in scenery), and some horrendous clipping (bodies and other objects disappearing into scenery.) While this has become the norm over the last couple of generations of game and is common in PS3 and Xbox 360 games it doesn’t exactly nurture love for the developer or instil you with the impression that this is a next-gen game that’s pushing your PS4 or Xbox One in any way. There are also horrendous animation “fails” like when Karl picks up a dead body and actually doesn’t, and is stood there holding nothing over his shoulder, which you then actually have to put down! You can also fall off a bridge or gantry to your death when performing some set animations (like searching a corpse), and I’ve even fallen through the scenery when trying to swap weapons for a downed enemy’s weapon!

Less forgivable are the numerous aiming issues (like hitting the tops of walls that your telescopic sight tells you you’re aiming over) even in designated sniper nests, which really shouldn’t happen. The only silenced weapon in the game, the Wellrod single shot pistol is also a bit crap; sometimes giving a clean kill with a headshot and others just seeming to mildly annoy the intended target and reveal your presence. Throwing stones (to distract/attract enemies), grenades and setting traps and mines is also a painfully sluggish process, and I’ve been killed a number of times just because it takes so damn long to get a weapon back in your hands after throwing a stone/grenade, or because once set in action, the trap or mine-laying animations can’t be cancelled and mean you can get caught out by the unpredictable AI.

Sound-wise the game fairs pretty well, with lots of authentic sounding battle effects. Explosions boom with deep resonance and all of the weapons sound about right. Enemies’ voices are less convincing, and the too-frequently repeated phrases they utter as they search for you can sound like they’re right next to you, when they’re in fact a hundred yards or more away. Sound and distance is also an issue when landmines and other explosives detonate and the sound doesn’t carry to you despite the fact that you’re clearly within earshot-maybe you don’t hear them it’s because those enemy soldiers talk so loud!? The enemies are very light of foot though, and you never hear their footsteps, which is no mean achievement given all the sand and gravel in the game. The use of the PS4’s joypad speaker is also a bit dubious, with a tinny reload sounds and annoying alert warning that will eventually annoy rather than enhance the gaming experience. The music is really good though, and consists of some rousing militaristic orchestral tunes and incidental music that are extremely apt. I have to admit that I found myself whistling the main theme long a after I’d finished playing the game.

As well as a full 2-player campaign co-op mode and various multiplayer adversarial modes; Deathmatch & Team Deathmatch, Distance King & Team Distance King (the player/team with the longest combined shot distance wins), No Cross (teams are separated on map so it makes for a total sniper game with no close-quarters kills or nasty surprises), Solo survival, Survival (2-player co-op) and Overwatch (one snipes, one acts as spotter & lockpick). The maps are vast and mostly well-designed with tons of overlooks, ledges, nooks and windows, and are the perfect size-at least as big as a sniper game needs. I think it’s safe to say that Sniper Elite is seen as a mostly solo experience and won’t live or die on its multiplayer component, but all modes are tense, yet playable and fun, and should you get stuck on a mission it’s a great boost to be able call in a friend for co-op campaign play, which, with the right partner, is a lot of fun and is made considerably easier than playing solo as you can revive your buddy (within a 60-second “bleed-out” time) if they get “downed.” Calling synchronized shots on tactical targets, acting as bait and spotting all become part of co-op play, and add immeasurably to the overall campaign experience—if you like playing co-op shooters with friends you’ll love Sniper Elite III.

Although the desert setting doesn’t quite capture the intense atmosphere of the bombed-out cityscapes of Sniper Elite V2, the larger areas make for much less linear gameplay, and there’s nearly always more than one way to complete and objective or mission. Combined with a truly addictive multiplayer component and atmosphere that only sniper games can supply, this makes Sniper Elite III a worthy addition to anyone’s collection, especially at its realistic price point. For all its flaws (and there are many) Sniper Elite III’s various desert locations are a genuinely interesting and fun sandbox (pun intended) to play and experiment in, and the AI of the enemy supplies plenty of tense and exciting moments-enough, I suspect that most gamers will finish the campaign and then want to replay it at a higher difficulty setting or in the co-op mode with a buddy, and you can’t really ask for more than that from a game.

Best Bits

- The bullet cam!
- Plenty of intense and exciting moments.
- Online co-op play.
- Strangely addictive and atmospheric online multiplayer.
- Did I mention the bullet cam?
Worst Bits

- Glitches galore.
- Some last-gen graphics and animation.
- It could have been SO good.

by: Masonic Dragicoot

Copyright © Gamecell 2014