"I think I can hit them both with one shot."
My Sniper Elite 3 coach/guide chuckled to himself, likely well aware that I couldn't quite get the angle that I was hoping for. But that didn't stop him from encouraging me to see if I could, in fact, use a single bullet to kill the two Nazi's standing roughly 100 meters ahead of me. After all, the upcoming sequel to Sniper Elite V2 is all about embracing a more-open attitude, so why wouldn't I be able to take out a commander and his subordinate with one well placed bullet?
The answer, it turns out, was a nearby rock face. That inconveniently placed outcropping probably saved my life, though. Because it wasn't until I began lowering my rifle that I spotted an untagged soldier; a single, previously-unseen patrolman who'd soon walk right past the area where my targets currently sat.
And how do you think he would've reacted when he saw two corpses where his commanding officer and squad mate were supposed to be chatting by a campfire?
For those who don't know, Sniper Elite 3 will actually be the fifth entry in the Sniper Elite franchise; a series born on the original Xbox and that found a second life on Steam a few years down the road. Like its predecessors, Sniper Elite 3 is a tactical shooter, and one which plays out on sprawling maps that offer players the freedom to try all sorts of approaches to its missions.
Some (like me) may be familiar with the franchise thanks to Sniper Elite V2's recent Free For A Day promo, and holy crap am I glad I spent about a dozen hours with Rebellion's Sniper Elite remake before heading to Los Angeles last week. Because that early experience with the Sniper Elite franchise made it far easier to appreciate all the hard work that Rebellion has put into its upcoming sequel.
In fact, I don't think I'm being disrespectful when I say that Sniper Elite V2 doesn't hold a candle to what Rebellion has ready for players in Sniper Elite 3. And V2 was pretty much all I played for the week leading up to this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo.
Set a couple of years before the events of Sniper Elite V2, Sniper Elite 3 pulls players out of the fallen city of Berlin and transports them hundreds of miles south of the German capital, dropping them behind the heavily-contested frontlines of the North African campaign.
My own hands-on demonstration began just outside the Libyan city of Tobruk, during the infamous 241-day siege of the city; stepping back into the boots of series protagonist Karl Fairburne, an American OSS agent who disguised himself as a Nazi sniper in previous Sniper Elite games.
With the Germans shelling Allied forces at every opportunity, it was my job to take down a handful of the mortar teams operating in the hills outside of the city, and the mission proved to be quite the effective introduction to the expanded and improved gameplay of Sniper Elite 3. The harsh sunlight of the African desert also provides a decidedly different feel to the game; forcing Karl to find ways to hide in broad daylight, without the assistance of the ash, smoke and rubble that carpeted much of Berlin at the end of 1945.
But before we continue, let's back up a few minutes and talk about the re-tooled Loadout menu that will players will use in Sniper Elite 3.
Acknowledging that previous entries in the franchise weren't exactly great about communicating players' ability to change their starting equipment, Sniper Elite 3 no longer "hides" the Karl's inventory options on a separate tab of the game's loading screen. Instead, Rebellion made the Loadout menu an easy-to-skip, but impossible to miss, part of accepting a new mission in Sniper Elite 3.
Rebellion also says Sniper Elite 3 will reward those who actually take the time to search the remains of their targets, expanding your inventory with a variety of rifles, secondary firearms, weapon attachments and the various other tools you'd expect to see in Sniper Elite 3. I got to see a couple of the new toys from Sniper Elite 3, during my hands-on time with game, including a flint and stone tool that allows players to create timed dynamite charges that have the added bonus of giving off attention-attracting smoke.
Sniper Elite 3 also tweaks the series' breath meter, ditching the sometimes-confusing meter found in Sniper Elite V2 for a more-simplified system that requires players to keep Karl's heart rate below 80 beats per minute if they'd like to take advantage of the game's focus mode. Alternately, if you're one of the masochists who plays Sniper Elite games without Focus mode enabled -- like the person receiving a Sniper Elite 3 demo at the station next to my own -- you'll still find that keeping Karl's heart rate low is key to lining up the game's longest shots. Some of those shots can get pretty long, too.
As I mentioned before, Rebellion has sculpted some impressively large environments to explore in Sniper Elite 3. Much larger than anything that appeared in Sniper Elite V2, and the added space offers players more options than I could possibly begin to outline (much less experience) in a single preview of the game.
Drastically improved A.I. means the German army will react much more-realistically to Karl's actions, making frequent location much more of a necessity this time around, but that doesn't always work against the Sniper Elite 3 protagonist, either. For example, taking out one/all of the commanding officers in a given area will leave the remaining soldiers scared, scattered and much less-capable of responding to Karl's attack.
On the flip side, you're going to want to be pretty careful about firing your rifle. Especially if there isn't some kind of sound to mask the sound. Thankfully, the already much-improved Sniper Elite 3 also expands upon its masking mechanic, giving Karl the ability to use nearby noises (like the loud clank of a misfiring generator)to hide the sound of his rifle in areas where you can't rely on regular mortar fire, carpet bombing, thunder, etc.
One issue that stuck out to me, in Sniper Elite V2, was the fact that the game felt like a slightly more-tactical corridor shooter at times; a fact that members of the dev team openly-acknowledged while talking to me about the series. It's also a problem they seem to have completely eliminated in Sniper Elite 3.
Not only were both the maps I saw large enough to accommodate a variety of entrance and exit strategies; each gave players a number of options that allowed for the completion of your various objectives without necessarily having to stop and kill every single soldier on the map. Sure, you can still full-clear each level if you'd like, but those who'd prefer a stealthier approach shouldn't feel nearly as impeded in Sniper Elite 3.
You'll also realize pretty quickly that the game's objectives are quite as rigid as you might assume. Take my own Sniper Elite 3 hands-on demo, for example. As I mentioned before, Rebellion's E3 demo offered players a chance to take down a handful of mortar teams operating outside the city of Tobruk; an assignment which I immediately interpreted as: Kill the mortar teams.
It wasn't until I'd reached the peak of the hill that I'd slowly been scaling, and I began scouting out the final mortar placement of the mission, that I noticed a sizeable box of shells sitting precariously close to the base of the German artillery. I watched the group fire off two more volleys; the second in an effort to verify an opening that I'd spotted during the first. At the end of the third volley, I struck.
A single bullet detonated the box of shells sitting at the base of the mortar, destroying my final target and instantly killing a Nazi who was crouched nearby. The remaining members of the team sprang into high alert, but none had been facing my direction (to spot the muzzle flash) when I took the shot. Try as they might, they had no chance of finding me before I crawled the last few meters to the level's exit.
I received an achievement, for finishing the level without being seen, but felt an immediate urge to restart the mission. How many other mortar placements could I have taken down with a single shot? Would it have been faster? With so many more patrolmen still alive, could I still have completed the mission without being spotted?
I wanted to know the answers. Hell, I still do.
In all honesty, I'm pretty sure I could have spent most of my second day at E3 2014 playing Sniper Elite 3, if Rebellion didn't have dozens/hundreds of other media-types to talk to during the 6ish hours the convention would still be open on Wednesday. Seeing as that wasn't an option, I've had to settle for reliving my experiences in this article, and clearing out my calendar on June 27.
If you're looking for the fast-paced, thought-free violence of the Call of Duty franchise, Sniper Elite 3 isn't going to have much (if anything) for you. But, if you're the type who likes to see some thought in their shooters, and/or someone who constantly seeks the feeling of achievement that follows the execution of a masterfully conceived plan, then I cannot overstate how much Sniper Elite 3 should be on your radar.
Be sure to check back with iDigitalTimes.com and follow Scott on Twitter for more on Sniper Elite 3, including our review of the upcoming tactical shooter, for however long 505 Games and Rebellion continues to bless us with new Sniper Elite 3 content.
Were you familiar with the Sniper Elite franchise prior to reading this article? Been looking forward to the debut of Sniper Elite 3 for months now? Curious about some aspect of gameplay that Scott forgot to cover in his Sniper Elite 3 preview?
Let us know in the comments section!