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Sniper Elite fails to mesh two sides -- restraint, tasteless gore

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Patience is rarely the defining feature of a big-budget action game, so the charm of the Sniper Elite series has always been its choice of restraint over action. This is a war game that depicts its combat not on the front line but from 300 metres away, through the scope of a sniper rifle.

Less charming is the series' other recurring feature: gruesome, exploitative violence. Its return is proudly touted right on the back of Sniper Elite III's box, which promises players a "next generation X-ray killcam."

This is the curious dichotomy at the heart of the Sniper Elite series: serious-minded military realism crosscut with the tasteless pulp gore typically reserved for a Mortal Kombat game.

In the world of Sniper Elite, an extension of this gore is what seems to constitute a major leap forward. The close-up slow-motion shots of bullets graphically piercing the insides of Nazis, which has been one of the series' signature gimmicks since the beginning, has taken even further into the extreme in this game; bullets no longer just shatter a jaw when they hit them, they explode them into splinters of bone and teeth.

All that's required for the excess to be excused is the tiniest bit of context but Sniper Elite III is the third game in a row that fails to mesh the two disparate halves of its design. The grosser the game gets, the more stoic the tone seems to be.

Set during a lesser-known campaign in North Africa, the game is intent on depicting a moment of the Second World War that you rarely see. Massive environments full of sun-baked sand and rock look like no other war game and their bright and sunny lighting is a far cry from the usual jungle murk similar games entail. There's a lot of potential within this setting for an original story, characters and locales, and with the dead-serious tone, you assume that it's prepared to tell a great war story.

Not so. All the game reveals itself to be is a series of literal sandboxes with a few must-shoot or must-destroy targets scattered throughout them. There is almost no narrative connecting them, no attempt at creating characters and little historical merit. The game's presentation is that of a Ken Burns' war documentary, but it's content is as deep as a pop-music video.

If there's no interest in delving any deeper than a surface-level depiction of the Second World War, it remains unclear why the series continually feigns classiness. All imagination seems to be spent on concocting new and graphic ways to annihilate internal organs, while everything else around this "next generation X-ray killcam" feels as bland and uninspired as ever.

The physics of an exploding eyeball might've been perfected in Sniper Elite III, but they've yet to find a way to make it enjoyable to witness.

 

Mel Stefaniuk is a freelance writer whose love of both video games and writing have been intertwined since growing up with the text adventures of the '80s. He can be found on Twitter as @DisgracedCop.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 17, 2014 C14

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