Sniper Elite 3 preview: bullet to the head

By Ozzie Mejia, Feb 06, 2014 7:00am PST

Sniper Elite has given soldiers plenty of opportunities to take down Nazis on World War II's European battlefields, but the series is ready to move into a rarely-seen area of the conflict. Sniper Elite 3 will take soldiers into the North African landscape, for a fresh look at WW2. Players will once again take control of American sniper Karl Fairburne, but developer Rebellion hopes to refine his latest adventure with some new additions to the Sniper experience.

Aside from the scenery, Sniper Elite 3 will also feature a far less linear approach to its campaign than previous games in the series. With the AI refined, players will encounter a more stealth-oriented campaign where they can exercise a variety of tactics. Of course, the heart of the series is still in place. Namely, you can still snipe enemies in realistically gruesome fashion.

Rebellion builds upon the gorgeous landscapes seen in Sniper Elite V2 and applies their penchant for beautiful scenery to the North African mountainside. There are multiple routes in place, allowing for multiple approaches to each level's multi-part objectives. Natural sniping positions are provided, but there are also numerous paths to take to complete objectives in any order.

Just as in previous games, players could tag enemies spotted through Fairburne's binoculars to help keep track of foes' whereabouts while exploring the opposing camp. One objective required Fairburne to neutralize enemy weaponry, giving Rebellion's creative head Tim Jones a chance to show some of Sniper Elite 3's open-ended missions in action.

Jones began by sneaking around the enemy camp, keeping out-of-sight by using his surroundings and helpful shadows to help blend into the background. Nosy enemies would get taken out with a melee attack and corpses would get dumped away from open areas, to help further avoid detection. When it came time to move on, Jones showed off the game's signature sniping mechanic.

Sniping has been refined, both visually and mechanically. Players must not only account for their breathing techniques and heart rates, but must also take real-world physics into account. Bullet trajectory will be affected by both gravity and wind force, although my time with the game also indicated that sniping would be most affected by AI movement. Enemies don't simply stay in place, as they're constantly on patrol and behave more like real people. Of course, once a sniper's shot connects, players are rewarded with the wonderfully graphic visual of bullets piercing bones through the game's bullet cam. Sniper Elite 3 adds even more detail to this process, adding muscle and circulatory system detail to the internal view. Only the most precise shots will earn these slow-motion shots, giving skilled snipers something to aim for.

Of course, there's more to sniping than simply aiming and firing. Jones demonstrated advanced sniping tactics by timing his shots to coincide with enemy anti-tank gun fire, in order to have his sniper rifle fire masked by the background noise. When he needed a diversion, he plugged a far-away enemy in the leg to leave him crying out for his comrades, giving Jones a chance to escape undetected. Later, Jones set up a sniper nest and covered his tracks by planting trip wires and mines to cover him against nosy enemies approaching his position.

With levels larger than anything in previous Sniper Elite games, Jones noted that 3 would feature a 'save anywhere' feature in addition to a traditional checkpoint system. Given the game's deliberate pace, Rebellion wants to give players the option to save anywhere and help them take their time in completing the game's objectives without the pressure of feeling like they have to start over upon failing. Jones does note that there are some drawbacks to this, such as accidentally saving in the middle of a firefight, though Rebellion hopes to minimize this issue before the game's final release. However, the open-ended nature of this game does make co-op optimal and Sniper Elite 3 will indeed feature online co-op for two players.

Sniper Elite 3 is working into its beta phase, meaning Rebellion is still hard at work squashing some remaining bugs. I encountered a few camera kinks and one instance of an AI soldier walking endlessly into a wall, providing examples of lingering issues that the developer hopes to have wrapped up before the game releases.

Sniper Elite 3 will make its way to PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 later this year.

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