Sniper Elite 3 – Insufferably Bland

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Man, when I quit playing Doom a few months ago because I felt it was too bland I was severely underestimating the capabilities of modern day shooters. Sniper Elite 3 is where you really oughta go if you’re in the market for unrelenting mediocrity. And man, is that a downer after Sniper Elite 2 proved so capable of reviving the original’s legacy.

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The game loves throwing beams of light on your screen that make it aggravating to survey your surroundings.

This won’t be a formal review because I honestly couldn’t bear playing the game for too long. Not just because of the warm summer weather, but also because it just bored me so thoroughly. Once again we take control of ace sniper Karl Fairburne, now on a mission in Africa to assassinate a German general. The switch to an African setting is a daring one, considering previous games enjoyed a great atmosphere as you wandered the streets of Berlin during the twilight of the war. Sadly, it’s a gamble that does not pay off.

The African setting I found to be very unappealing and repetitive. It’s a lot of bright and brown, with maps that exchange the bombed-out ruins of Berlin with wide-open spaces. Sniper Elite 3 is a lot less linear than previous titles, which was certainly a point worth addressing, but the execution falls short. Objectives are now spaced apart far and, with this being a stealth game, you are encouraged to travel these distances slowly, lest you are spotted and killed. Linearity is then still preserved because key areas lead you through bottlenecks.

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Get used to these boring, pre-animated takedown moves. You’ll be seeing them a lot.

The switch to Africa wouldn’t even be that bad if the game retained the qualities of previous titles. Both the first and second game offered the unique experience of treating the sniper rifle like the core part of the gameplay, instead of a novelty toy the player scarcely gets to use. You do have a sniper rifle in Sniper Elite 3, but the implementation is poor and you rarely have a reason or opportunity to use it.

You still need to account for physics to line up your perfect shot, but the indicator for where you’ll hit is entirely off and sometimes glitches out entirely. When you do get it to work and line up a good shot, bullets sometimes strike invisible walls that don’t disappear until you get closer. Yes, this is a sniper game where you can be too far away from an opponent. I was just shocked to see it happen. To literally just see a puff of smoke pop out of an enemy and have them panic a bit, but remain completely fine even as I emptied two magazines into them.

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Mind you, that is assuming you actually get to use the sniper. Sniper Elite 3 is more of a regular stealth game with scripted takedown moves and a heavy emphasis on managing your visibility and noise. Previous titles also had stealth mechanics, but these were secondary to you sniping enemies. The game was really about you picking a spot to open the attack from, setting traps to defend it, and then sniping at foes that were kind of helpless against it, or taking to the streets and having to desperately fend off enemies while out of your element. Now, it’s a game where sniping feels like a last resort.

Once you fire, every enemy will know your position and start flanking it. The improved AI behavior, ironically, detracts from the experience because it feels less cathartic. Once I took a shot, I just knew I was going to be shot back at from every angle and taken down within seconds on the higher difficulties. Sniper Elite 2 also made it beneficial to remain undetected for as long as possible, but levels had enough loud noises to reliably mask your shots. There are still noises in 3, but they are brief and the sources that generate them have such poor range that I’d rather just not shoot enemies at all.

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To be nice and fair, Sniper Elite 3 still avoids feeling too much like other shooters. However, whereas its predecessors did so by focussing on satisfying sniping mechanics, this third installment neglects the series’ strength in favor of being a stealth game. And the sad reality is that we already have a lot of very good stealth-action games. Sniper Elite 3 is not breaking new ground here.

The result is a game that I couldn’t enjoy in any way. The sniper sees little use and is too unreliable, stealth is a bother, the visuals are boring and too bright, and the missions play out in oversized maps with too much downtime. I can see how some might find it appealing, but as a returning fan of the series I could not stand to play more of it.

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