Some combat video games are elaborate. Their stories can twist and turn through secret cabals and heated yet nuanced action. Characters and their personalities can impact the choices made. And a game's ultimate objectives may slowly be revealed only after layer upon layer of battlefield intrigue gets peeled away.
Sniper Elite III, however, is a war game that doesn't worry about such creative carnage. It's straightforward, slow, and centered on just two simple and bloody goals throughout.
And it's more than happy to be so fixated.
Karl the Unquestioning Killer
You play as a gravel-voiced American military operative who goes by the name Karl Fairburne. He's deployed deep in the heart of North Africa during World War II with an uncomplicated objective: dismantle as much of Hitler's Afrika Corps as possible while seeking out a giant prototype superweapon being built somewhere out there in the deserts or tropical wilds.
In truth, if a guy like Karl had ever really existed, the war would have been over in a quarter of the time. For he is truly a force of nature. He's a heartless loner who scares even his fellow troopers. He's a solo operator who can head into a camp of entrenched enemy forces and take them all out while barely working up a sweat.
And to be honest, that's all the storyline and character detail worth recounting here. This deadly guy does his thing through eight kill-or-be-killed mission levels and eventually finds that super-secret mega-tank-building facility in about the last hour of play. Until then, however, gamers need only worry about those two goals I mentioned above. What are they?
Sneak and Kill …
The game may have the word sniper in its title, but a huge chunk of play involves creeping, crawling and slipping in and out of shadows to make up-close kills. The mission maps are enormous and fairly open with a variety of "grab this intel," "release that prisoner" or "blow up that tank" objectives to keep Karl moving along.
The rules are simple. Don't be seen and don't make noise. Scores of German soldiers populate any given area, and if alerted they become a crack-shot force zeroing in on you with automatic weapons and grenades. There are often enemy snipers on watchtowers and hillsides that will quickly hone in on your exposed location, too.
So you need to slip up on enemies and shove a knife in their spine or up through their jaw. And when using your silenced pistol you'll want to make sure the body drops where another passing soldier won't spot it. Need to use that sniper rifle? Then it's a good idea to be near some noisy machinery or time your shot with the upcoming roar of a low-flying plane.
… And Relish the Moment
Each mission level eventually gets to a point where it's necessary for Karl to find a raised area and unleash his most hellish skill. The silent sneaking and muffled-gurgle throat-slashing may be this game's challenge, but its creators have designed the sniper sharpshooting to be the "reward." And it is a very messy prize you win here.
When it's time to peek down that long-ranged rifle sight, Sniper Elite III becomes a near-jubilant celebration of anatomical mutilation. A so-called X-ray bullet cam stays with the lethal projectile as it exits the gun barrel in slo-mo close-up mode. It then makes its way to a fleshy target a few hundred yards away with a growing anticipatory roar. As it hits the victim, we see all the gory damage displayed in a detailed and graphically realistic image—skulls are obliterated, livers are lacerated, bones shatter, lungs deflate, testicles explode.
All that extravagant carnage can be dialed down—so the bullet cam only delivers its dirty details, say, once in a while. But, frankly, it's those closely examined gruesome visuals of mulched muscle, crushed clavicles and gushing gore that give this game its "oooh!" factor, its M-rated oomph. It's quite simply the sick thrill the gamemakers hope you'll come looking for.