|Sniper Elite III: Afrika|
Publisher: 505 Games
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 2-player co-op online & 2-12 online multiplayer
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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?
- Glitches galore.
- Some last-gen graphics and animation.
- It could have been SO good.