Sniper Elite III Preview - One Shot
Written Thursday, February 06, 2014 By John Robertson
Linearity dressed up as faux-freedom, rigid objectives and working through interconnected corridors for levels typified the experience of playing Sniper Elite V2, a game that promised a lot but failed to live up to its potential.
In a bid to combat that, Sniper Elite III is setting out on a very different path from what we've come to expect from the series.
Rebellion Developments' goal with their latest take on the sniper-shooter sub-genre is to create something altogether more open-plan, a game that provides options at every turn and one that encourages you to think before you act and act before you die. Sandbox, I believe, is the associated catch-all term.
Like the rest of the series before it, Sniper Elite III sets itself in the theatre of World War II; more specifically in the underexplored portion of the conflict that raged in North Africa. The map we're shown, the third level of the game, is set in Egypt and makes good on the goal of providing larger spaces of play. Various passages, bridges, open areas, clumps of buildings, military depots and vantage points combine to provide a range of options for getting from point A to B with a view to completing the objectives that lay scattered across the map.
Four primary objectives must be fulfilled to pass on to the next level, with two optional secondary objectives included for completionists. In which order you complete them is up to you.
One such primary objective involves disabling a long-range 88mm cannon centrally located on the map and positioned on a stabilising platform of metal girders and walkways. Various options exist when it comes to decommissioning it: blow up the ammunition crates stationed beside it, dispatch the crew and sneak in to plant explosives or stealthily move below the platform and cause an explosion that collapses the whole thing.
The job can be made slightly easier by combining two of the options; namely, killing a couple of patrolling guards and using the now clear path to make getting underneath the platform a safer proposition. Like previous Sniper Elite games, holding your breath brings up a red dot on your scope that shows you where you must aim to allow for the effect of wind and gravity on your bullet's trajectory. Holding your breath and shooting only when the 88mm gun itself fires a shell (the sound masking your own gun's shot) results in two dead guards. Easy.
You can now move in and optionally drag the bodies away to prevent them being found by other guards, but in this instance doing so would mean passing through so many choke points that it's probably safer to leave them where they are.
With explosives placed on an oil drum that has puzzlingly been left underneath the cannon's platform, almost as though the game designers knew we were coming, all that's left is to retreat a safe distance and bring the whole structure to its knees. Objective complete.
The explosion causes all nearby guards to enter a state of high alert and actively begin searching the area. It's during moments like this that the design team warn you to stay in the shadows and avoid undertaking anything but the most necessary of movement.
If you are seen, a brand new 'relocation' phase is activated that tasks you with hightailing it away from your last known location. A pop-up on your HUD informs you as to how far away you need to move before you're safe, effectively acting as a means of letting you in on exactly which area of the map the guards are concentrating their search for you.
You're sometimes forced into relocating even when you haven't been seen. Firing too many shots from the same place results in the enemy being able to pinpoint your position, setting up a core gameplay loop of: shoot, move, identify new sniping point, shoot and move again.
This was the idea of previous Sniper Elite games, of course, but 3's more open environments make your decisions as to where to move, and how to move there, more poignant and involved.
Poignancy of decision is compounded by the fact that the health system has been changed wholesale. Abandoned is the regenerative approach of the last game, with medikits now the only way to refill the yellow health meter sitting on the bottom left side of your HUD. The level we're shown is largely devoid of such medikits, forcing a slow pace as you make sure you're safe at all times.
To help with that you're able to tag any enemies you can pinpoint through your binoculars, enabling you to see their movements even when they're behind a rock or standing on the other side of a truck. Rebellion is trying to push the realism angle as much as possible, but, it would seem, you can't just throw away any and all 'gamey' elements for the sake of simulation.
The series' trademark x-ray killcam is back in full force, depicting the exact path your bullet takes when entering and exiting your victim's body. It was gory before, but an extra layer of muscle and flesh makes it gorier still.
More interesting is the inclusion of a killcam for destroying vehicles. Shooting the vent from the front of a truck, for example, gives you access to the vulnerable engine within. A second well-placed shot triggers the slow-motion, x-ray killcam and shows you just how your single bullet has managed to cause a combustion engine circa-1940 to ignite and eventually explode.
It's an odd 'feature' to add, although it does give you a moment to reflect on just how much damage a sniper rifle is capable of. Which, we imagine, is precisely the point.
Presently, we've only seen the game up and running on a PS4 - the console easily handling the wide vistas and various explosions. A short tech demo is revealed to us that highlights the upgrade from PS3 to PS4, focusing on how improved tessellation results in the complete removal of blocky, angular models.
A cannon's barrel on the PS4 is perfectly round, on the PS3 it is not. It's an unsurprising approach to technology for a game seemingly obsessed over the small details.
If Rebellion can consistently get those small details right throughout the entirety of the game, adding micro focus to the grander approach to level design, then Sniper Elite III really could be the game that many wished Sniper Elite V2 had been.
Sniper Elite III has yet to be given a release date.