I can see right through you
There’s something worrying about enjoying Sniper Elite 3. When you grin as a bullet punctures a soldier’s lung or a ricochet shatters an officer’s skull, it feels like you’ve become a little unhinged. That being said, it is so deliciously separated from reality that it is fun, it’s fun in the same way gorey horror films of the last century were. Sometimes you’ll fire a shot and marvel at how perfectly it lined up with an enemy’s vital organs from hundreds of meters away. Sometimes you’ll fire a shot and laugh because you shot someone in the scrotum. Both are equally satisfying and both are equally bad topics to bring up around the watercooler. They both make you sound like a psychopath.
The X-Ray killcam is only a part of what makes Sniper Elite different from its peers. It seems to happen much more often than in the second game, to the point where nearly every shot is coupled with a slow motion killcam following the bullet from the barrel of your rifle all the way to your target’s spleen. It does an excellent job of tricking you into thinking you’ve done something amazing and oddly doesn’t feel repetitive even after the hundredth time. There’s so many variables in motion each one is genuinely different and you’ll quickly find yourself trying to line up trick shots (more than one soldier with a single bullet is always fun) and it becomes a mini game in itself.
Other than that Sniper Elite is a kind of third person shooter (although the sniping is always seen through the scope). There’s much more to it than that though. There’s a stealth mechanic that’s simple and not particularly subtle but forces you to think carefully about positioning and timing. You can silently sneak up behind soldiers and take them out and you can even time your gun shots with environmental sounds to mask your location. Annoyingly these are set things like (incredibly unreliable) generators backfiring or artillery rounds, signified with an icon on the screen. If you think that tank engine or nearby gunfire will do it, you’ll be wrong. Like in Splinter Cell, if you’re seen a silhouette will appear around your last known location and you can use this to flank enemies and catch them unawares. These mechanics turn many of the surprisingly open environments into a freeform puzzle where you find a path through the base or camp without causing a general alarm. There’s a few missions where an alarm is the end of it but generally sounding an alarm just turns the game into a shooting gallery and it’s always an option to simply run and gun if that’s your thing.
There’s a few other nice unique features like the ability to manually set up trip mines and take out vehicles with well-placed shots on weak points but unfortunately all of these mechanics, including the stealth based ones, are somewhat gimmicky and never feel natural or intrinsic to the game. Sniper Elite is very much gamified which opposes the more recent trends in gaming of trying to hide all of these immersion-breaking elements. That’s not necessarily a terrible thing but it means any drama the game is building towards falls flat. Sniper Elite ends up feeling like an incredibly polished arcade game. We had no idea why we were crossing North Africa mowing down legions of Hitler’s finest but we had a blast doing it. Plus you get to shoot Charlie Brooker in the face in the DLC.