Step in to the shoes of Buck ‘Elite Sniper’ McSniper-Elite the most elite sniper in all of the sniping elite sniper division. Armed only with his elite sniping gun he must snipe more elite-ly then the other elite snipers to become the most elite sniper in all the sniping world of elites to prove once and for all who the most elite sniper is.
I mean, I assume that’s the general gist of the game. I wasn’t paying too much attention; oh, and you have to shoot nazis because it’s WW2 times, except in Africa which is slightly different to all the other WW2 times games that involve shooting nazis in mainland Europe. The problem is that, despite the amount of sarcasm that I’ve jam-packed in to that opening few sentences, I’ve sunk a fair few hours in to ‘Distance-Shooty-Number-3″ which probably says more about my current state of gaming than being a reflection on the game’s quality… and for the record, if spending all your ingame time crouched to the point that your back starts to sympathetically ache is something you enjoy, then knock yourself out because there’s kind of nothing seriously wrong with Sniper Elite III, it’s just that I’m struggling to tease out what qualities made it worthy of the hours I’ve personally played it for.
But hang-on, let’s back up a second; this year has been slow gaming wise. Yes, global pandemic-ness has slowed release schedules, but even setting that aside there have been relatively few titles that I’ve sunk my teeth in to. Looking back over the year to date I’ve revisited some retro classics and even discovered some new-to-me retro classics, but these have mostly been short affairs. Arguably a stint playing ‘Mario Golf: Advance Tour’ on my birthday present super-cute-tiny Gameboy Micro that my wife gave me (much to the complaint of my thumbs) has been one of the larger single player romps I’ve participated in. I guess this also feeds in to that 3 month blogging hiatus that’s just happened; I’m struggling to really find a game that I’m interested in playing.
Which I guess brings me back to ‘Snipey-snipey-3’; a game that seemed to fit the bill of being the right parts ‘action’, ‘non-thinky’, and crucially ‘on-sale-on-Switch-eShop’ a few weeks ago when I was looking for something to idly play whilst sat on the couch. I also have a little bit of history with the series having played a couple of entries in the spin-off Zombie Army Trilogy and having owned the original Sniper Elite on PS2. The former sits right in the middle of guilty pleasure gaming territory, basically mixing nazis with the supernatural to send waves of them charging towards the player who can nonchalantly dispatch them with a high powered rifle. The latter was notable as a title for the complexity of sniping (including both bullet drop and wind) and that missions played out realtime with the player needing to be in specific locations at specific moments in order to get the perfect shot. ‘Sniper Elite III’ sits somewhere on the fence between these two diverging paths; on one hand you can switch on all the realistic bullet effects that you want, but on the other the game comes pre-packaged with a button that you can press to see exactly where the bullet is going to end up. In short sniping is reduced from a primitive ‘put crosshair on enemy and click button‘ to a much more advanced ‘put red diamond on enemy and click button‘. They also abandoned the real time aspects so you can take as long as you want picking off every last enemy in the level, but at least the levels are less linear than the zombie incarnation of the game with the player having the option of multiple routes and approaches to objectives.
I’d be lying if I said that I’d picked up this game for anything other than a bit of guilt-free shooty shooty action and it does at least have a satisfying balance between the stealth and combat elements. Sneaking around to get the next shot or pick off any enemy at close range with a pistol feels just hard enough to make it satisfying, but not so difficult that it kills the pace of the gameplay. Infact, whilst hugely repetitive, that basic gameplay loop is well done and pings all the right risk/reward centres in my brain. As far as I can tell, the only real way to play the game is to systematically pick every enemy out of an area as you comb your way through the map… I mean, why wouldn’t you? It is only made slightly awkward that the game seems to be oblivious that this is how ‘everyone’ plays the game. That uncomfortably gory bullet time x-ray camera thing kicks in for almost every shot which doesn’t feel as dramatic when you’re seeing it 60-70 times a level (although i did find the button to tone it down a bit in the settings). It also throws a buttload of various rifle models, machine guns, pistols, and explosives in the player’s direction when realistically you’ll stick with one of only a few rifles where the scope wobble is tolerable, a silenced pistol, and the odd stick of dynamite. But setting that aside, I was hooked enough to polish off every mission in the main campaign, all the bonus missions, and even went back to try a few on harder difficulties.
Outside of the sniping it’s all painfully by the numbers stuff; third person shooter, head to markers, bit of a boss fight, home for tea. Oh, sure, there’s some kind of plot and at one point we’re supposed to care about a character, but ultimately this is all just justification for shooty-shooty-bad-guy. Some time late in the game you come face to face with General Generic-Evildude (or whatever his name is) who monologues on about how he and the protagonist are ‘the same’ and despite our onscreen ‘hero’s’ protests; I couldn’t help but think of the several hundred hapless foot-soldiers that I’d cheerfully dispatched and kind of agree with him. It’s that cheesy action film that’s full of point holes and badly written characters, but you can’t seem to stop watching. Sure, you’re never going to admit to liking it at a fancy dinner party, but it doesn’t stop you secretly scarfing down popcorn to every onscreen cliche, and that was kind of what I needed from a game these past few weeks.
I’d also kick myself if I didn’t say a few words about the Switch. I’ve played quite a few ropey games on the Switch recently in terms of framerates, slowdown, and jagged edges. Coincidentally (I’m sure) these also seem to have been games using the Unreal engine. In contrast, Sniper Elite III actually looks and runs pretty darn well on Ninty’s pocket sized console. I’m sure other versions are better, and there were a few times enemies were a little… strange… but it holds a solid framerate, doesn’t seem to sacrifice much in terms of detail. I even get used to the motion control aiming in a way that I never thought I could… so why the heck don’t Switch owners get more decent ports?? I get that it’s not a recent game, but they’ve clearly taken a bit of time to make it a product worth selling which is way more than I can say for so many other producers.
So do with that what you want. Is it a recommendation? No idea. Do I have a point? Not usually… but it has been nice to blog about something gaming related and, despite how angry it makes that small indie-fan hipster gamer part of me, I have enjoyed playing it.