We're paying British veterans Rebellion a visit at their Oxford offices and are given a first look at Sniper Elite 3. This third chapter sees us travelling with American OSS agent and sniper Karl Fairburne to Africa - a welcome change of scenery compared to the numerous times we've been given the chance to partake in the landing at Normandy, Operation Market Garden or even the Eastern front in World War II games.
Sniper simulations may certainly cater to a niche audience, but there is no lack of competition for Rebellion's Sniper Elite. For the uninitiated it's easy to confuse the series with its competition Sniper: Ghost Warrior, but Sniper Elite has one distinctive trademark of its own: the X-Ray Kill Cam.
A slow motion camera follows the trajectory of the projectile all the way to the target, and then presents us with an X-ray of where the bullet hit and the damage it caused in painful detail. A macabre variant of Peggle's Ode to Joy, if you will, and one that's intended to instill the player with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction after the tense moments preceding the shot: all the creeping, surveillance and holding of your breath. Macabre indeed, but so are the takedowns in a game like Burnout, even if it spares us the sight of blood and shattered bones. This basic crash course in human anatomy has a high recognition value, perhaps more so than the actual title of the game. This feature has been expanded to include vehicles in Sniper Elite 3. Scoring a hit at a vulnerable spot in the car, such as the engine, triggers the same X-ray camera, and we get to watch on as belts are torn and the impact of the bullet ignites the fuel.
During the presentation we're tasked with taking down the artillery position of the German Africa Corps at the Egyptian Halfaya Pass at the Libyan border. Karl carefully makes his way over a ridge. Vegetation and small rocks provide cover from watch towers and patrols. From a safe distance the German soldiers can be tagged with binoculars and these will then remain permanently visible outside the line of sight. We also obtain useful information such as rank, armament, and even the current mood of the would be target. Head of Creative, Tim Jones, explains the four pillars of Sniper Elite 3. Approach in secret, plan ahead, execute and continuously adapt to the situation. An eye symbol tells us whether our cover is sufficient or whether we are in danger of being discovered. We carefully scout the location, explore possible routes to our destination, mark the enemy and then plan our execution.
Do we sneak past some or take them out one by one? Unknowing enemies can be taken out silently with the knife and there's a silencer on our handgun as well. The sniper rifle, however, does not and after the third shot (at most) we've announced our position to the enemy and need to look for a new spot to hide. This can also be used to your advantage. You can prepare various traps and mines to give patrols a nasty surprise. TNT can either be detonated from a distance with a well placed shot or can be combined with flammable objects to produce something of a time fused bomb. Another method to keep our position secret are various interactive objects, such as generators that drown out the noise of our shots.
When we use our sniper rifle to target enemies we switch to a first person view and zoom in on the target. Our heartbeat affects the behaviour of the target, and when we hold our breath by pressing a button a red dot appears. The bullet's actual point of impact is then influenced by wind and gravity. In the Halfaya level you probably don't have to use your sniper rifle much, as most of the distances allow for the silenced pistol. At the same time for this sort of demo it was probably wise to showcase a level that allows for different strategies and not one that just sees you zoom in on enemies from a distance - this level showed of various tactical options as well as the stealth focus of Sniper Elite 3.
Running and gunning is likely going to be very difficult. Your arsenal is limited. In this mock-up level we had a sniper rifle, a silenced pistol and various period-specific gadgets, and there was just enough room for a light machine gun with just one magazine. You'd be hard-pressed to fend off incoming German troops in the open.
A quiet and precise approach will be rewarded with experience points with which the weapons and equipment can be adapted and improved - even in multiplayer. The single player campaign is set to come in at around twelve hours, and can also be played cooperatively by two players. In addition, there are special co-op missions for two players with predefined roles. A player has the sniper rifle and can mark opponents while the other must meet specific objectives. In the classic vs. mode, up to twelve players can compete against each other - in a special variant the relocation mechanics from the single player will be picked up to bring more dynamism to the duels.
Rebellion is a small independent studio and they're proud of their engine, Tim is rightly proud as he shows us a smart tessellation feature. This should solve graphical problems, especially during fast zooming over great distances, in which the number of polygons is increased only in the most important areas. Nevertheless Sniper Elite 3 is probably not a triple-A glossy title for the next-gen consoles. The game is coming in Q2 2014 and is currently more likely to hit the same graphical standards of the likes of Spec Ops : The Line. Rebellion has done its homework and implemented solid game mechanics that give big hope for a tactical cat-and-mouse game with the Nazis, even if true innovation appears to be missing.