Sniper Elite 3 pays incredibly close attention to the physical price of war. We’re not talking here about the human cost of life, but rather the intricacies of how bodies respond to violence. When you shoot someone in Sniper Elite 3 and you do so with unerring accuracy and finesse, you’re rewarded with a slow-motion shot that tracks the trajectory of your bullet as it leaves your rifle and pierces the head of the soldier that you just scored a headshot on. The skin of your enemy strips away in the moment, exposing eyeballs and the pink-red canvas of the muscles of the face, and their gaze almost meets yours before the bullet punches cleanly through an eye and exits the back of their head in a shower of blood and bone chips.
This is, of course, what the franchise is known for. Sniper Elite fans aren’t looking for a re-run of Spec Ops: The Line. This is undoubtedly a game that praises you for being good at the art of stealth execution, and playing by those rules can be incredibly rewarding when all the elements click into place. Unfortunately, the Nintendo Switch port of Sniper Elite 3 is let down a little bit by graphical lag and AI bugs that haven’t quite been ironed out from when the original was released, which means that enjoying the sniping experience isn’t quite as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.
Sniper Elite 3’s central conflict pits you against a very familiar enemy for the time period that it’s set in: World War II. However, you’re in Africa. If you’re particularly concerned with historical accuracy, then you might want to forgo the DLC that this Ultimate Edition port on the Switch comes with; we don’t want to spoil your fun too much, but you do get to shoot Hitler. The North African conflict is very real, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re playing the history mode from one of the new Assassin’s Creed games.
The focus in Sniper Elite 3, as we’ve mentioned, is the brilliance of your kill. The utter devastation that you can wreak with a single, well-timed bullet. For all of that pomp, however, unless you’re cranking the difficulty up on the game then it’s tough to see how you can claim to be the arbiter of destruction when you get a fair amount of assistance in one of the most crucial parts of sniping – figuring out exactly where your bullet is going to pierce.
The game gives you a very helpful reticle when you’re focusing (slowing your heart rate down to aim better) which indicates the part of your unfortunate victim that you’re going to inflict injury on. The controls for this on the Switch feel incredibly intuitive, and it was very satisfying lining up our first few potshots this way: wind whistling in the background, the distant hammer of artillery, and nothing but our slowing heartbeat rattling the JoyCons before we loosed a veritable arrow of death. However, having your hand held like this arguably takes the wind out of your sails a bit; instead of having to calculate or guesstimate trajectory based on the various environmental conditions, you’re informed of your bullet’s outcome even before it leaves your gun.
Sure, it’s easy enough to turn up the difficulty if you’re so inclined, but that also makes the enemies more difficult to deal with in the sections of the game that don’t revolve around sitting in a sniper’s nest and picking off anyone who sneezes in the wrong direction. There’s a surprisingly large stealth component to Sniper Elite 3, and while it’s ostensibly about taking out hits on your enemies from a bloody long distance, you’re going to get very well-acquainted with the Welrod pistol.
This is because part of the challenge of Sniper Elite 3 is crawling, shooting, and stabbing your way to a place where you can actually blow someone’s brains out with your Springfield rifle. There are huge portions of the various maps in-game which require you to traverse enemy camps and to pick off dissenters in incredibly close-quarters without being discovered. There’s no “best” way to do something like this; Sniper Elite 3 provides you with a bunch of viable options when it comes to shooting, creeping, or killing your way through the environment. The only limiter on you is your skill at staying disguised.
Well, it’s not the only limiter. Unfortunately, those bugs that we mentioned earlier on in the review are definitely an issue when you’re trying to make the most of the open-ended stealth sections that are required of you to succeed in Sniper Elite 3. Enemies appear to oscillate between being largely vacuous, or incredibly intent on blood depending on the difficulty – that’s fine on the face of things, but it’s how they (and you) have a tendency to glitch into the world around them that’s the issue.
Trying to take out a Nazi with a pistol? Easy. Trying to take out a Nazi with a pistol, being discovered by their mate because you weren’t quiet enough, but then getting stuck in a wooden box while they shoot you to death and you can’t do anything about it? Not so nice. Sniper Elite 3 also relies on what we like to refer to as a dynamic sound system: if you’re loud, enemies will notice you. This means that if you’re smart, you can mask the sound of your close-quarters shots by waiting for the right time to strike – an air raid going on over, an enemy loading up a cannon, or some other background chatter.
Unfortunately, the Nintendo Switch’s audio system isn’t quite robust enough to give you the full benefit of all the audio cues. Making it tough to actually gauge what’s an important part of the execution mechanic in the game means that more often than not, those fraught group situations where you’re up to the gills in enemies can turn ugly very, very quickly. Shooting your way out of this with a machine gun is hardly the way to resolve conflict in a title about sniping, and when things all go to custard because there doesn’t appear to be much consistency in when enemies can detect that they should notice you or when you can safely take killer shots, it does get grating.
That being said, Sniper Elite 3 has had a bit of a rough time since its release 5 years ago, and for an introduction to the franchise that’s modern and portable, you could do much worse than this game. There’s something grotesquely satisfying about the slow-motion gorefest that your best kills can turn out to be, and while you have the option to disable them, they can be problematically bright sparks in campaign moments that are otherwise mostly you praying that a strategy of traversal you’ve picked out for an enemy camp won’t be jeopardized by elements beyond your control.
The freedom that you’re given in Sniper Elite 3 is a definite draw for those who would consider themselves veterans of the series, and landing perfect shots in tiny bits of metal to blow up an entire armored truck that’s gunning towards you is probably the most intensely satisfying bit of gunplay we can imagine. That being said, unless you consider yourself a hardcore fan, the bugs and the good-natured jank might err on the side of being too much to wade through.