Everyone loves to be the sniper and hates to be sniped, a fact that’s probably played a huge part in the popularity of Rebellion’s Sniper Elite series over the years. Sniper Elite has proved to be a stable franchise for the Oxford based developer, so it’s not a big surprise that they’re currently working on the third game in the series.
Creating an authentic sniper game is a tricky business. Sniping is a real skill that needs to be mastered, with many variables such as bullet drop, weather conditions and even breathing to be taken into account. These are just a few factors Rebellion have been working on to make Sniper Elite 3 feel like you’re playing the role of a sniper during the WWII African conflict.
The demonstration at Rebellion’s studio last week took us through one of the game’s earlier missions called Halfya Pass, a vast rocky valley peppered with German soldiers. These new levels are much larger than we’ve seen in previous Sniper Elite games. In fact we were quite surprised at the scale of the level as the camera zoomed out to show the whole zone. It’s also important to note that the levels and objectives are not as linear as before, with players having multiple choices on how to tackle the map. Each level has multiple objectives, and how you approach these will be somewhat up to you.
Spotting enemies is not always easy as they taunt you in their sandy coloured uniforms, but when you do get one in your sights, the target can be tagged. That way, you don’t lose track of them if either you or the enemy moves. Once tagged, the enemy is visible behind objects and is highlighted as a grey shadow. It’s up to you whether you utilise this feature or not, so if you really wanted to play this as realistically as possible and ramp up the difficulty and tension, it’ll have to be a tag free zone. It’s a feature that’s purely there as an aid that crosses the line between realism and a game, along with the radar which shows where enemies and key objectives are.
Realism is what Rebellion is trying to approximate through Sniper Elite 3’s interface, which comes with numerous visuals to aid the player as they sneak around a level. Staying hidden is important to your success and there’s a small eye shaped icon on the bottom left of the screen to indicate whether you’ll be easily spotted by the enemy. Shadows and cover are your best friends, and they need to be sought and utilised as much as possible.
Being spotted by the enemy is not an option, so Rebellion let you know when it’s a good time to get moving. If the enemy are triggered by noise or spot you there’s an indicator that pops up telling you to shift your sniperly arse and ‘Relocate’. In other words, move quickly away from the location you were spotted before it gets peppered with bullets. While you hide, guards will eventually give up looking. But if you’re chased down then it’s likely to be fatal, because health no longer regenerates.
Making an effective kill will take some practice. Anyone who’s played as a sniper in a recent shooter will know that staying steady and regulating breathing is vital. In this game, your heart rate is indicated on the screen when the zoom action is activated and keeping still before pulling the trigger makes a real difference. There were a few times during the Sniper Elite 3 demo that shots were slightly missed due to movement, and when that shot doesn’t make a clean hit all hell can break loose. The longer you aim, the steadier the shot. So it’s worth taking time and keeping a close eye on that heart rate.
Staying hidden is not the only thing to worry about, because charging around the level like a bull in a china shop is not going to work either. The more noise you make, the higher the chance of being detected. Rebellion have taken this game mechanic and integrated it with the objectives.
At one point during the Halfya mission, for example, the player can sabotage a generator and cause it to malfunction. The resulting sounds alert the guards, who move in to investigate. With the generator now making clunking and banging noises, a sniper shot can be masked by the racket and go undetected. Later in the level, a loud hailer that was blasting over the German camp could also be used to your advantage. But timing is key to making that perfect shot in time with the game’s audio.
Rebellion has made the ‘bullet cam’ a central feature of their sniping games. Even when playing Nazi Zombie Army there was a sense of satisfaction when you followed the bullet towards its intended target. It makes you feel, at least in my case, a little better than you probably are.