PAX East 2014: Sniper Elite 3 could be a stealth fan must-play

It would be easy to ignorantly write off Sniper Elite 3 for any number of reasons. It's a war shooter in crowded genre, it seems targeted toward a specific type of shooter fan, and it's not really a sniping simulator. To be blunt, it comes off as a franchise looking to get a bit of that Call of Duty cash. That notion is something that Marketing & PR Coordinator Robbie Cooke admitted might be a failure of the franchise's marketing. It turns out that Sniper Elite 3 is something far more interesting — a stealth game in the vein of Splinter Cell with an added focus on sniping.

I went into my PAX demo with some of those assumptions and left pleasantly surprised by a game that’s more in my wheelhouse than I realized. I mean, if you aren’t a huge fan of shooters like Call of Duty but love games like Splinter Cell and Metal Gear, you may find a lot to like here. That’s just about the exact opposite of the audience I assumed Sniper Elite 3 was aimed at. Add in my other assumption that Sniper Elite might have been some kind of ARMA-esque sniper simulator and I’ll admit I really didn’t do my homework before going into this one.

Sniper Elite 3

The demo I played was with the PS4 version of the game, which looks crisp and detailed, if not mind-blowingly stunning. I was dropped into a narrow path that led into a small maze of trenches. My first enemy was a guard watching over the area from a turret emplacement. I could snipe him from there, but I didn’t want to alert the enemy just yet. Using my binoculars, I marked the turret and a few other guards further ahead before sneaking my way into the trenches. Eventually I worked my way around and stabbed the guard, then snuck my way silently past some more guards.

Entering the next area, Cooke told me that the sound indicator at the top of the screen was telling me that artillery strikes would mask my sniper shots. It’s a little touch like that that really gives the game that sniper slant. Unfortunately I wasn’t so great with the controls yet, and alerted some nearby guards instead of making the shot I wanted. I quieted things down in my area with a silenced pistol, but the noise I made meant that I had to relocate for enemies to lose me and calm down.

Anytime you make enough noise to alert the enemies, the game indicates how much distance you have to put between you and that spot to get safe. When sniping, you can fire once, which spooks the enemy and puts them into an alert state. Fire again and they’ll narrow down your position to make a sweep. That makes it a tricky trade-off — sniping is a safe way to take out enemies from a distance, but it can bring you trouble later on. Taking shots, then moving to a new position seemed like the best option.

Sniper Elite 3

This also gives the game a version of the last known position mechanic from Splinter Cell. A smart player can alert the enemy, then move and flank behind them. In one instance I had them so focused on one area that I backstabbed three guards in one fell swoop.

There’s a good bit of depth to Sniper Elite 3, with some varied options for your approach and even some potential for that sort of “sniper sim” depth when you play on higher difficulties. On the standard difficulty, the game still has considerations like bullet drop due to gravity, but offers a guide for where the shot will land when you hold your breath.

It goes a bit crazy when it comes to pulling off a sweet headshot, though. As a historical piece, Sniper Elite’s slow-mo, X-ray vision headshots complete with exploding skulls and brain matter come off as a bit tasteless. Hopefully that’s something you can turn off in the final game.

Sniper Elite 3

Beyond that, my only concerns for Sniper Elite 3 are whether Rebellion will polish some of the rough edges before the game ships, and whether the environments will remain open enough for engaging stealth. In a sniper/stealth game like this, I like to see some wide open spaces and multiple complex paths through the environment. Sniper Elite 3 offers plenty of paths, but it also blocks you off from the spaces between them. It’s a picky quibble, but in the age of Splinter Cell: Blacklist and MGS: Ground Zeroes, even small inaccessible areas come off as limiting.

Either way, Sniper Elite 3 was far from the game I assumed it was, and as a fan of games like Splinter Cell, I think the game could actually be a lot of fun. It could turn out that the limited level design, excessive gore, and glitches are what keep Sniper Elite 3 from being a must play, but I hope that isn't the case.

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