Sniper Elite is somewhat of an odd series. It started as what many considered a decent third person, World War II-themed shooter that follows Karl Fairburne's mission to stop Soviet forces from acquiring Germany's information for building nuclear weapons. That game was remade in 2012, in Sniper Elite v2, which added the series' defining feature: an x-ray killcam that follows the path of your bullet into the bodies of enemy soldiers. It is, to say the least, visceral.
Sniper Elite III is built almost entirely around that feature – now with simulated veins and muscles, plus additional gore utilizing the power of the next-gen consoles – and many encounters are set up in such a way that you can put bullets to skulls. Or to Nazi soldiers' testicles, should you so prefer.
Whereas its predecessors were comprised of essentially linear levels (with precious few buildings open for exploration), Sniper Elite III (set in the African theater) takes a much more open approach to its level design, which is absolutely a good thing. Objectives can usually be attacked from multiple angles, while roofs and sniper's nests can be used as vantage points to scout and tag enemies or as platforms for a few strategically-placed rounds. And pieces of machinery can be sabotaged to make noise to cover the sound of your rifle firing.
A benefit of this more open design, coupled with the game's general improvement to A.I., is that enemies react much less predictably. In Sniper Elite v2, if you were detected, enemy soldiers would usually have no option but to charge you head-on because the levels were so confined. Here, though, there is plenty of space for enemies to get around and flank you. This means that traps (setting anti-infantry mines next to bodies, laying trip mines, and planting dynamite) become much more important to your survival. Or you could avoid enemy soldiers and take out only those who stand directly in your way, hiding away their bodies in secluded places. If you decide to help the Allies' war budget by expending as few bullets as possible, you can distract guards and get them out of the way by throwing rocks or setting fires with the "flint and steel."
Or, you know, you could sneak up and stab them. That works, too.
One thing I love about the game is how different difficulty levels actually affect the gameplay: other games tend to boost enemy A.I.'s accuracy, give them more health, or simply increase the amount of damage that enemies' bullets do to your character. And while all of that remains true for Sniper Elite III, the biggest change in the game's four difficulty modes is how 'realistic' your sniping experience will be: as the difficulty level goes up, the player has to compensate for bullet drop due to gravity, then windage, and then loses the red box 'aim assist' that predicts the bullet's trajectory. And, if you want to, you can exert control over every factor – enemy difficulty, aim assist, gravity, and windage – using the "Custom" difficulty setting.
Even the multiplayer mode is entertaining. Co-op is fun, offering the opportunity to play the entire campaign with a friend, to engage in a survival mode (against waves of Nazi soldiers), and a mode called "Overwatch," in which one player spots enemy combatants and the other player snipes. Competitive multiplayer also has its moments of fun, with my favorite being the designated "no cross" maps: maps where the teams are physically separated, and thus are forced to compete on the merit of marksmanship.
However, Sniper Elite III is not without its problems. For gamers on Xbox One, you will be immediately greeted with a 16GB patch if you purchase a first-run physical copy. That isn't really a problem, per se, but if your connection speed is slow, or you just want to sit down and play, the extra wait time is definitely an inconvenience. And while the game undeniably has brilliant lighting effects, some textures just don't look that good; I've even seen scenery (like rocks) floating six inches above the ground. The framerate also seems to stutter when you spin the camera around. Additionally, the Xbox One version has pretty significant screen tearing: however, there is a VSync option in the menus which, when turned on, noticeably alleviates the problem.
And, of course, as anyone who has played the previous entries in the series knows, the A.I. can be a little... unpredictable. You might, for example, take a shot with the suppressed Welrod pistol and miss your target by about two inches, and nobody will notice or even care; but if you do successfully make the headshot on the unaware guard, which is an instant kill, another nearby guard might go on alert even if he has been looking the other way the entire time. The game's "visibility" meter – in the form of an eye at the bottom left-hand corner of the screen which opens wider when you are in a more brightly lit area – also doesn't seem to have much effect on how enemy soldiers will notice you: I've been crouched up against cover in near-total darkness and the A.I. has spotted me through the wall; but I've stood out in the open, right underneath a lamppost, and they haven't seen me when they're just standing across the road. Thankfully, the A.I. is not bad enough to be game-breaking; it's something the series has always struggled with, and while it is certainly better now, it still has its quirks.
Sniper Elite III is a fun game, but it is not necessarily a great one. While the killcam is a unique feature, and it can be sadistically entertaining to watch bullets tear through your enemies, it is really the only thing that separates the game from other generic third person shooters. The open level design and optional objectives allow room for tactical planning and freedom to accomplish your mission in whatever way you see fit, but wonky A.I. and uninspired shooting mechanics can ruin a good run. It's worth the price tag for the borderline ridiculous long-range shots you can pull off, but the campaign isn't so good that I'd want to play through it a second time right away.
I don't think I ever won a single fight in Soulcalibur II. Thankfully, I'm marginally better at reviewing than I am at fighting games.