GAME NAME: Splinter Cell: Blacklist
DEVELOPER(S): Ubisoft Toronto
PLATFORM(S): PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U
GENRE(S): Action-adventure, Stealth
There is something to be said for those that live their lives in the shadows, moving in and out of darkness at will, and Sam Fisher is just such a person. He is as effective in combat as he is at staying out of it when needed. This is something he has gotten better at over the years, and Splinter Cell: Blacklist is the latest in the franchise that utilises Sam’s stealthy capabilities. So, is the game any good? Or does it create chaos and lack conviction?
The Splinter Cell series has changed over the years. In the earlier games, like Chaos Theory and Pandora Tomorrow (according to many, the best games in the series), Sam Fisher was obliged to use stealth at all times. Defeating the enemy without being noticed was key to his operations and he was a master of it. And then, along came Splinter Cell: Conviction and suddenly, things weren’t so restricted. Conviction didn’t require you to play in the shadows if you didn’t want to. It opened up the world of action to Sam Fisher and resulted in a far less stealthy set of gameplay mechanics. It also focused a lot more on Sam himself, a more personal story and an insight into his character. And by my reckoning, it worked.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist swings the focus back onto Sam and his team, 4th Echelon, and how they work together to protect America against an imminent threat. The Blacklist has been uploaded and attacks on the country have been planned. They need to be stopped and there is nobody better for the job than Sam Fisher and his team. The story is far less focused on Sam himself, and it works to the game’s advantage, but at the same time, gives that typical Clancy feel to it. Granted, there are a few surprises, but that never really steals the show as what matters is the action and gameplay.
In terms of gameplay, Splinter Cell: Blacklist changes things again, or rather, it brings the entire franchise together in one action packed, stealth-or-assault adventure. In Blacklist, the decision on how to approach situations is completely up to Sam, and the player of course. In any mission, you will have the choice to attack head on in a ‘full-assault’; you can go ‘ghost’ and make sure nobody even knows you were ever there; or you can mix the two in a “panther” style approach and get the best of both.
The ability to choose for yourself really makes the game; with such an abundance of options, you will soon realise just how much depth there is in every level. If you go the assault road, you will need to prepare to battle enemies head on, which can be tricky, but given the game’s excellent cover system, is never overwhelming. Decide upon the ghost approach and you get the chance to be as strategic as possible. It will all come down to planning routes, depending on your gadgets and weaponry, and through meticulous enough planning, you can get through potentially tricky situations without having to fire a single shot.
But if, like me, you lack the patience required to go full stealth mode, then you will go for a mix and match. This often ends up happening because you’ll do all you can to keep yourself hidden, until you eventually slip up badly enough that is, and have no choice but to eliminate everyone. The great thing is that no matter which way you decide to do it, each is as rewarding as the other.
That ‘rewarding’ mechanic I mentioned before is both literal as well as figurative because you will be suitably rewarded according to how you play the game. If you decide to go ghost, for example, the game will tally up your score at the end of a mission and unlock various upgrades which you can utilise for that approach. So you might get a different body suit, which makes less noise as you go, or you will get weapons that compliment the silent approach you’ve been taking.
Similarly, if you move through a level, making sure to take everyone out, you can unlock more lethal weapons, better controlled weapons and better protection. It all depends on you and how you want to play through the game. This kind of option and selection is consistent throughout the game and makes each and every mission feel unique and fresh. In fact, it does such a good job of variation that you will find your self playing the same missions over just to attempt a different route.
In terms of feel, the gameplay mechanics are as fluid as you would hope for in this kind of game. The shooting feels solid when needed, the melee combat works efficiently and the stealth bits are so well set up that you will love every second of it. A highlight of Conviction was the mark and execute mechanic which allows you, once you have earned enough points, to be able to mark out enemies, depending on the weapon, and press execute to perform an action set piece where you will automatically take out the opponents with some degree of style. While this was restricted to certain types of weapon fire in Conviction, in Blacklist, mark and execute now includes combat kills and takedowns, making it even more enjoyable to plan and watch the action.
Everything in Splinter Cell: Blacklist just works so well. It may not bring a whole lot of ‘new’ to the table, but what it does do is offer a quality experience. And that goes without saying when you see its graphical prowess. From mansions to corporate buildings, and of course your mobile headquarters, the Paladin, everything just looks so believable, the tone is right on the money. And as for the soundtrack, well the music, sound effects and even the new voice acting for Sam himself (though I personally miss Michael Ironside) are all great and nothing seems out of place.
All in all, Splinter Cell offers an excellent action/stealth experience. It gives you so many options, options that increase the replayability ten-fold. And I say that before even mentioning the co-op missions, the return of Spies vs. Mercs and other online modes available. Sadly, the review code I had did not include these, nor the online leaderboards that are set up where you can compare how your mission went to friends. But while I may not have had the chance to try those modes out for myself, Spies vs. Mercs is one of the best modes to ever grace gaming, and its return to the franchise can only be a good thing.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist could well have ended up in the shadows of the many other great games released this year; it may have even wanted to hide in a box, but it hasn’t. Instead, it, and the Sam Fisher we all know and love, have come out guns blazing. Splinter Cell: Blacklist is, without question, one of the best in the series, but that all depends how you decide to play it. What is for sure though is that you should play it.