Sniper Elite 3 preview: night sniping

By Ozzie Mejia, May 29, 2014 1:30pm PDT

In the field of battle, Karl Fairburne has only one friend to aid him. That's his trusty sniper rifle. Sniper Elite 3 revisits the American sniper before the events of Sniper Elite V2, with developer Rebellion unveiling two more levels, just ahead of the game's scheduled summer release. Shacknews had a chance to see some of the levels in action before ultimately stumbling through one of the game's latter stages.

The first stage on display was the Siege of Tobruk, based on a real battleground from World War II. This is Sniper Elite 3's tutorial level, meaning many of the game's stealth elements aren't at play for the first half. This portion of the stage saw Fairburne walk around with his welrod pistol, a silenced bolt gun from the WWII era. The weapon is primarily made for stealth and not so much for stopping power, allowing Fairburne to quietly traverse through levels. It won't, however, hold up in a firefight.

The tutorial stage also mainly serves to help introduce players to the objective system and to the sniping mechanics. One example had Fairburne aim at an Axis spotter stationed atop an elevated mountain area. The idea was to take him out to prevent him from calling in Axis aircraft and Fairburne indeed plugged him with a sniper bullet straight through the eye socket.

Indeed, the game's gruesomely graphic kill cams are every bit as rewarding in Sniper Elite 3 as in prior games. Fairburne could often be seen nailing soldiers right in the skull, causing the bones and brain tissue to splatter about. In a wonderful bit of detail, the bullet's trajectory shifts as it travels through the victim's head and becomes compressed by the weight of his insides. As explained previously, the kill cam will also extend to vehicles, with Fairburne able to take out trucks or tanks and take out any guards caught in the ensuing explosion. With these tools of the trade in mind, it was time for me to try this out for myself.

I had the chance to try out Sniper Elite 3's Gaberoun level, the first of the game's stages to take place at night. As with the game's other stages, it's open-ended, allowing players the choice of how to proceed through their objectives. The ideal choice is to find a sniper nest and fire away at targets, but as I quickly learned, that option isn't always available. Though I sabotaged a nearby piece of equipment to make it malfunction, I wasn't always able to time my shots with the noise it made, quickly drawing attention to myself.

This is where Sniper Elite 3 turned into more of a standard third-person action game. If I couldn't find a hiding spot and I had an enemy in front of me, I quickly rushed him and used a melee takedown. While this is a normal tactic in this kind of game, it also has some real consequences. Trying to follow this move up with a long-distance shot proved to be folly, since Fairburne's heart was racing to the point that I couldn't aim at all. Fortunately, there's no shortage of hiding spots, whether it be inside a tent, in a bunker, or within the plants.

The game's stealth should be enough to satisfy meticulous enthusiasts of the genre. Snipers can't be too careless, since patrolling guards could just as easily find bodies laying about. Since they're also constantly listening for sound, it won't take them long to look to the snipers nest for anything suspicious. Skilled snipers must constantly be on the move, which is where the level design's openness works to the game's advantage.

As I was harshly reminded through my repeated failures in playing through Gaberoun, Sniper Elite 3 is heavily based in realism. Aiming a sniper rifle isn't as easy as it looks. I constantly failed to compensate for wind and breathing patterns, which caused many of my shots to veer away from my target. Many of my shots that did hit punctured the target's mid-section, showing his spleen and stomach burst upon impact. Snipers must be patient before taking that precious shot.

One intriguing tidbit that I picked up involved the possibility of no-kill playthroughs. This may sound somewhat counter-intuitive in a game about sniping enemies and making their various bones and organs explode, but the idea arises from the Sniper Elite 3's sophisticated AI system. With enemies constantly seeking out anything suspicious and able to react to noise accordingly, no-kill playthroughs become an enticing challenge. Rebellion notes that certain levels can be completed without killing any enemies at all, aside from high-value targets.

Sniper Elite 3 appears to continue the series' penchant for high-skilled shooting and for highly-graphic action. The open levels make single-player and co-op play ideal, which is why it's somewhat disappointing to hear that co-op will only be restricted to two players, with Rebellion citing game balance as an issue. There are also a number of competitive multiplayer modes in the works for up to 12 players. While standard deathmatch and team deathmatch are available, some modes revolve around the sniper aesthetic. For example, one of the game's modes (Distance King) will have players competing over who can take the longest shot.

Sniper Elite 3 is set to arrive on PC on June 27, with Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 versions releasing on July 1.

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