Whenever I wasn't setting up a shot, emptying my lungs, and pumping a sharp metal bullet through the thick skull of an unsuspecting enemy soldier, I was frustrated with Sniper Elite III. Not because the surrounding mechanics are broken or the levels are poorly structured, as the subsidiary elements of this third-person shooter are, for the most part, serviceable. However, every action building up to you actually pulling the trigger of a rifle feels more like a chore than an interesting setup for the perfect shot. There's an undeniable satisfaction that stems from the glorious slow-motion kills that abound in Sniper Elite III, but missions tend to promote stealthy, silent takedowns rather than the grotesque headshots it does so well.
Fortunately, what the game does best is on full display early on. The level design in Sniper Elite III is more open than previous games in the series, often encouraging shots being fired from more than 300 meters away. Instead of funneling you down a straight path, each of the eight locations in the campaign presents you with a sniping sandbox where creativity leads to better shooting and stronger positioning. Bullishly rushing headfirst into enemy territory is always an option, but the grizzled protagonist crumples to the dirt after just a pair of well-placed shots. Silent steps often lead to better vantage points, and with so many routes to choose from in any given level, the method by which the objective is completed is up to you.
That doesn't make this an open-world game, though. There are various side objectives like shutting down search lights or sabotaging the enemy's explosives supply, but there's still a clear path to completion within every mission. An ever-present objective marker reminds you that just 200 meters away lies a folder of intel that could greatly benefit the Allied forces, and all you need to do to collect it is pick off whatever patrolling soldiers stand in the way.
You're not required to kill everything with a heartbeat in order to progress, but the innate satisfaction that comes with long-range marksmanship is almost too great to pass up. After perching atop a sniper nest and locating a viable target, you have the option of steadying your breath and adding an additional red reticle that illustrates exactly where your bullet will drop. Once you fire off that perfect shot, the camera ignores the man behind the rifle and instead follows the round as it leisurely approaches its mark. It's a remarkable scene that all but erases auxiliary threats, letting you enjoy the slow-motion mayhem. The crack of your barrel will likely alert anything with a heartbeat nearby, but in that very moment, all that matters is the journey of a single bullet.
The finale of the shot is pure, primal bliss. A quick X-ray view of a perfect kill shot often shows the lead splintering both ends of the skull, forcing bits of brain to escape from the newly opened flesh caverns. Eyes pop, lungs burst, and yes, testicles rupture as you pump round after round into the opposition. It's the feature attraction of the series, and it's better than ever. You kill hundreds of unsuspecting enemies in this manner, watching as formerly distinctive faces are violently torn beyond recognition. Turning off the drawn-out animations is an option, but this boorish display of bloody precision is a guilty pleasure.
Regrettably, you're more often faced with tedious stealth sections than the extended sniping segments that make the game so captivating. Levels are littered with soldiers who perk up as soon as you fire off a noisy round, and since you're about as flimsy as any single enemy on screen, clearing the map with a silenced pistol or a quick flip of the knife is often the most intelligent route to success. That's not to say that Sniper Elite III is overly challenging, however. If you take the time to spot and tag enemies before firing, you ensure that you have time to relocate to another vantage point immediately after taking your shot. The game rewards you for relocating successfully, though it's too easy to simply backpedal to an area that you've already cleared and then wait for enemies to cool off. If you prefer to stay put, puttering generators and the timely hum of planes flying overhead can mask the crash of your rifle, but these contrived elements aren't enough to fix the core problem that stifles the fun. Sniper Elite III shines when you're looking through the scope, but there are just too many situations throughout the campaign that encourage close-range monotony over the wildly entertaining sniping.
Slowly creeping from cover to cover to keep your heart rate down isn't exactly a thrill, but the locales you'll explore are at least more colorful and distinctive than what we've seen from the first two entries. The drab browns and grays have been replaced by the lush African theater, where beautiful lighting shines through bright green foliage and the jagged edges of sprawling mountains. It doesn't have the graphical pop that you expect from a current game, but Sniper Elite III still impresses with multihued vistas that appear to stretch for miles.
A handful of difficulty settings extends the life of an otherwise stunted campaign, which features one of the most forgettable World War II narratives in recent memory. The deadly serious dialogue and macho posturing aren't the right matches for the often laughably over-the-top death animations, but the story sequences are sparse enough to ignore. The best commentary will often come from a second player, as the cheers and jeers resulting from a brutal assassination are more interesting than anything an in-game character has to say. It's easy to bring a friend into any of the campaign missions for some backup, and while it can be cumbersome to coordinate shots without alerting the guards, adding a second sniper to the mix creates a whole new set of tactics to consider.
Regrettably, you're more often faced with tedious stealth sections than the extended sniping segments that make the game so captivating.
The co-op offerings extend to an asymmetrical mode called Overwatch, which acts as a wave-based alternative to the campaign. The bulk of the action revolves around spotting and downing as many enemies as possible before either supplies or health are depleted, and since shooting guys in the head is the draw of Sniper Elite III, this additional mode is worth a look. However, completing objectives and coordinating kills with a friend in the campaign is a much more interesting challenge than simply popping off as many rounds as your rifle will allow.
Competitive multiplayer is light on surprise and heavy on disheartening deaths. One of the most frustrating ways to die in any online shooter is a surprise sniper bullet to the head, since it's often a sudden end that makes you feel powerless. Those, by and large, are the only deaths you'll encounter here, and you can expect them early and often. Unique modes like Distance King and No Cross are a welcome change from your basic Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, as both encourage long-distance shooting over up-close-and-personal encounters. Still, there's nothing within the competitive suite that demanded my attention for more than a round or two of play.
All of this is assuming you'll even be able to connect to an online game. Of the 30 or so times I tried to locate matches, I found my way into just three games. The other 27 times? I either failed to connect before the game even started, disconnected after a single spawn, or crashed to the PlayStation 4's dashboard. Sniper Elite III's multiplayer is unstable at best, with most of my playtime revealing a mostly broken experience.
I often found myself cursing the more frustrating elements of Sniper Elite III. Broken matchmaking, and half-baked stealth sequences shouldn't be this incessant in a series that's just reached its third outing. But it's almost too easy to forget all of these head-scratching issues when that bullet makes contact with someone's cranium. It's a shallow, crude pleasure, but the delightful disorder that's just around every corner is strong enough to overshadow an otherwise forgettable experience.