Fans of Rebellion’s period sniper simulator often look to Sniper Elite V2 (which also got a Nintendo Switch re-release earlier this year), with its campaign through the ruins of Berlin, as the moment the series really found its groove, but it’s the sequel that followed two years later that truly took all the things we love about Karl Fairburne’s stealthy murder spree and turned up the dial. With a new setting – the heat of the North African conflict in 1942 – the Oxford-based developer introduced even larger sandbox maps and finally reworked the sometimes clunky stealth system. And boy, did those changes make a huge difference.
But before we jump into all the things this third-person, WW2-set shooter did so well in 2014 (and today), let’s get into the real reason you’re reading this review: does this port do that original version justice? Well, we can confirm it absolutely does. Sniper Elite 3 Ultimate Edition takes every bit of content the original release enjoyed – including the single-player campaign, all the subsequent DLC missions and all the multiplayer/co-op modes – and wraps it all up in one delicious portable package.
There’s barely any slowdown – even when things go awry and you’re outrunning a couple of tanks and an entire platoon of angry Nazis – and at most there’s the occasional bit blurring and some jagged asset edges. This is, after all, a game that made its way onto PS3 and Xbox 360, so it’s a good fit for Switch’s hardware. Motion controls are also included, and they make lining up a particularly lengthy shot or tagging enemies with your binoculars a lot easier; so much so it's genuinely hard to go back to aiming with the sticks.
So let’s get back to why Sniper Elite 3 is still a killer addition to the franchise. That slower, purposefully methodical approach to gameplay returns for its threequel, as does its real calling card: those grisly, triumphantly graphic X-ray kills that signal a successfully lined-up shot. Every part of sniping is given a suitably dramatic role to play. You’ll look to down your scope, hold your breath by pressing ‘R’ and watch as a red reticule shrinks into place. You’ll pull the trigger and watch as the bullet leaves your rifle, the Coriolis Effect warping the air around it as it heads across the map. The thunderous sound of its approach as it strikes its victim, shredding brain, lung and testicle with equal ferocity. It’s gratuitous violence on an almost pornographic scale and we will admit to feeling slightly disgusted with ourselves at several points, but it’s the ultimate payoff in a game like Sniper Elite 3, where it really is a kill-or-be-killed world.
Stealth was revamped somewhat for this entry, offering a fairer approach to ‘line of sight’ evasion that sees an outline of Karl appear whenever an enemy sees him for long enough (much like the system Splinter Cell started using for Conviction). With a longer period elapsing between a guard’s suspicion and outright aggression, and a far more open approach to map design, you can now relocate to a new area when spotted and reestablish the hunt. You can still kill enemies up close with your silenced Welrod pistol (or the variety of other weapons you can equip during and in-between missions), but the XP offered for anything other than rifled-based kills is still a little too low, ultimately forcing you to fight loudly or at distance.
Sniper Elite V2 was hyped as an open-ended experience with multiple routes to complete each map, but in reality, the occasional side-street and open building weren’t enough to hide the fact it was actually a far more linear experience. By embracing a new generation of hardware with Sniper Elite 3, Rebellion produced single-player environments that can finally be called ‘sandbox’ in nature. Now you can have multiple objectives at once, with the option to complete them in any order as you make your way through each substantially larger location. You can use guard towers to mark nearby enemies, harness the cover of anti-aircraft cannons to mask your fire and sneak through rock formations to quietly dispatch a nearby Nazi squad.
Having optional objectives appear as you explore new areas – such as performing kills from a specified sniper’s nest or destroying munitions dumps – reveals just how non-linear each of its eight campaign maps are. That number might seem small, but it’s easy to spend well over an hour in each one, especially if you’re trying to ghost your way through the entire story. With almost every action dolling out XP, you’re always in a position to level-up and unlock new gear (such as trip mines and other anti-personnel items). Character animations are vastly improved over Sniper Elite V2, although enemies still jerk like possessed marionettes whenever you perform a CQC kill.
Another issue that hasn't been fixed since the original release is the fact that the enemy AI often seems quite silly, which breaks the immersion somewhat. Even on the highest difficulty setting, Nazi soldiers aren't really any smarter – they just hit harder and faster – and you can easily exploit their tendency to respond mechanically to gunfire by shifting position and trapping them before they have a chance to retaliate. It's hard to know how Rebellion could have solved this next issue without giving you a 'mission fail' every time you get spotted, but it's also rather ridiculous that enemy soldiers will ignore the fallen, shattered bodies of their comrades and return to their patrol positions after a short period of time, rather than doing everything they can to ensure the area is totally secure. We also have to mark the game down for its daft storyline, which doesn't do a great job of leveraging the real-world location and historical setting to create a captivating plot.
As we mentioned, Sniper Elite 3 also gets all the DLC released post-launch, adding a few more hours of content on top of the main package – as well as all the additional modes that add a nice dollop of replay value. The six multiplayer modes (playable locally or online) return with No Cross (where you can only kill opponents at a distance) and Distance King (the kill at the furthest distance wins) still being the most enjoyable. Solo players can also play through two horde-style Survival maps, but these are easily at their best when played in co-op. You can play cooperatively through the entire campaign, as well as taking on three Overwatch missions where one player spots enemies, and the other X-ray kills them into oblivion. It’s dumb fun, but it’s brilliant and sums up Sniper Elite’s delicious brand of ranged death-dealing perfectly.
While Sniper Elite V2 Remastered introduced Nintendo Switch owners to Rebellion’s WW2 sniper shooting gallery, it pales in comparison to the leaps and bounds Sniper Elite 3 Ultimate Edition makes in order to progress the series. While the stealthy, ranged formula is still intact, those far more open maps allow for greater player agency and more systemic moments as you unleash hell from up close and afar. Improved stealth, an unoriginal yet satisfying XP system for cheap rewards and some ridiculously fun multiplayer modes make this a real series highlight that runs like a dream on Ninty’s hardware, but dumb AI, a rather boring storyline and a rather worrying focus on gratuitous gore all conspire to sully the experience somewhat. Having said that, there are few things in modern video gaming that are as perversely satisfying as popping a Nazi's testicles from halfway across a battlefield, so break out your M1 Garand and get reducing the Reich’s virtual headcount, because this game is well worth a look, despite its shortcomings.