The popular Tom Clancy series starring operative Sam Fisher has always prided itself on offering a believable, true to life stealth gameplay experience, allowing users to think quickly on the fly with the necessary freedom of exploration and diverse engagement. This was never so evident until Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, which for the time hit a high note for the series, which unfortunately for the series has never quite been able to replicate let alone surpass…until now.
Gone are the action-only focused restrictive elements which plagued the likes of Splinter Cell: Conviction. As if going back to the heart and soul of the Splinter Cell reality, while maintaining the valuable gameplay ingredience learned along the way, Splinter Cell: Blacklist without a doubt takes the series to new heights.
Splinter Cell Blacklist is all about giving you the player the freedom to express yourself in a multitude of ways. This new flexibility system is founded on three gameplay types: Ghost (stealth/non-deadly), Panther, my personal favorite (stealth/deadly) and Assault (loud, proud and deadly).
After accepting a mission from Charlie, the games IT expert with vast connections across the globe (a sort of Otacon type from the Metal Gear series, but not) I found myself in a foreign country waiting for an evac that would take some time getting to my location. In the meantime, Sam is expected to hold out as waves of enemy troops flood his location eagerly searching to extinguish his existence. With strategically located ammo and gadget crates throughout the map, I began my stealth but deadly (Panther) approach by opening an upstairs window to gain a vertical advantage. While two enemies decided to come into close proximity of my location, the choice was mine. Unaware that I could take out two birds with one stone, I decided to slide down the nearby pipe getting a level position on the enemy for the perfect kill shot. Ultimately and unintentionally, my pimped out silenced sidearm aimed at the back of an enemy did some major damage. Silently eliminating two enemies with one well placed bullet would only scratch the surface of this amazing new sandbox affair.
In what seems like a seamlessly blended combination of mission types running in parallel with the games campaign narrative, Sam Fisher and his new team of specialists find themselves housed aboard the more than impressive ‘Paladin’. The games uber-military aircraft, a sort of home away from home air carrier of great size and perks. Now players can choose between which mission objectives they deem fit for the occasion as the games interactive ‘SMI’ map interface allows you to either stay on the campaign trail, jump to those more than fun cooperative (14 co-op missions) or solo side missions or immediately thrust into the series new multiplayer mode, Spies vs. Mercs or SvM.
In addition, Blacklist offers more side missions which are accessed between your individual team members and a captor who for his own agenda also agrees to aid you in your cause to thwart all potential threats from US soil. Taking side missions or running along the main campaign, Blacklist greatly rewards players with a generous currency system, fueling the games customizable features. Players can now fully customize Sam and his many assets. From the goggles, spec op suit, weapons, black market weapons and gadgets, to the Paladin itself, if players have the money they can go the extra mile acquiring every advantage for a more thrilling and diverse experience when they touchdown behind enemy lines.
Playing as Sam Fisher feels more organic than ever. With smooth and simplified controls, Ubisoft nails the free flowing gameplay with style. The impressive mark and execute feature is back, now more intuitive. Blending seamlessly into the action regardless of how you choose to play, mark and execute allows Sam to get out of some dangerous scenarios. I also found myself experimenting with this ability pushing the envelope on just how many enemies I could execute simultaneously. I’ve got up to six and each time it always looks so ridiculously cool. Running at two guards for the quick knife takedown which then turns into a quickly blurred execution of four more enemies raises the excitement meter every time.
Move the toggle ever so slightly and Sam moves as you would expect someone with his military experience. While the controls can seem slightly too sensitive early on, player will quickly catch on to how to best navigate Mr. Fisher with finesse. If Sam is in a tight jam and needs to high tail it away from the enemies hot on his trail, Sam can bust through doors, run away from bullet fire while sliding into cover, quickly scale walls, vault object while maintaining his running momentum in the process of taking out enemies, there is almost no limit to Sam’s military dexterity. From daytime to night missions, Blacklist is a well played Splinter Cell approach as the game continues to keep players in the action thinking about how to engage the enemy or approach an objective without being detected. This balancing act heavily favoring your time in the field, exploiting all your hard earned customizable toys, positioned with just the right amount of cut-scene plot thickening dialogue, keeps the story and your increased feeling of awesome moving right along.
Visually, Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a mixed bag, both pleasing to the eye as well as not so much in many instances. Once you’ve fancied up your outfit and gear and make for the mission, Sam’s detailed character model is impressive with weapons and suit features all appearing functional. The highly detailed Paladin flight vessel which you can fully upgrade has all the would-be necessary nuances, items and shadow effects for a believable experience aboard Air Fisher. Even the main character models can be impressive at times but don’t expect to be wowed. While the eyes and mouth give off a believable sense of real life engagement, hair is poorly represented. Sometimes the skin of characters can also appear as if it is made of plastic. Level designs are a joy to play offering much in the replay department, yet you will not be looking to return to these areas due to your desire to admire their graphical fidelity.
One thing which also stood out much was Sam Fisher and his unevenly portrayed character. While his appearance spoke volumes about his experience with the gray hairs making themselves known, his voice and body both better represented someone in their early 30’s. No, the legendary voice of Michael Ironside is not represented here. However, I believe the new voice acting of Eric Johnson was well done and a nice and even transition however, some added black dye on the hair would have certainly been a better choice. Of course Mr. Ironsides voice is a thing of legend in the Splinter lore however, Mr. Johnson certainly held his own in Blacklist. For the gamer who doesn’t mind decent graphics in exchange for a truly great time with a ton of gameplay options at their disposal, they are in great hands with Blacklist.
As mentioned before, Blacklist offers a new multiplayer mode, Spies vs Mercs/SvM which is a nice added touch. Once you’ve mastered or should we say have harnessed your operative skills in the field, taking this act online can seem most useful and some getting used to at the same time. For starters Spies vs Mercs is much fun, especially with your friends. Yet if you’re thrown into a match full of strangers you’re still in good hands. Spies are more closely related to your offline campaign style of play. Played in 3rd person view, Spies have low armor while being much more agile and limber, able to scale walls much like Sam Fisher. Spies can also utilize the shadows to spring surprising attacks on Merc from behind as well as vertically. Going bullet for bullet with a Merc is not smart however unless the scenario is well played, a lesson I learned countless times. Mercs on the other hand are sort of the heavies in comparison. Always played in first person view I was surprised at just how cool it felt to switch from the Spies to Mercs.
Feeling more powerful, there is also a sense of vulnerability as your first person field of view which feels much more restricted creates a slight sense of fear, especially on the darker more shadowy maps. Spies vs Mercs is all about team work. Playing against very skilled Spies, Merc players should quickly resort to staying together ever so careful to watch their corners, and high points in a given area. However this not to say the Spies have an unfair advantage. Mercs can run and vault objects as well but don’t think about climbing. Spies v Mercs offers multiple playtype variants, all a blast to play. While many games offer multiplayer offerings as a bullet point of enticement, this is not the case with Blacklist. SvM is the real deal, tying up much of my playtime as of lately and I still haven’t fully mastered my craft as an operative.
There is so much to take away from Blacklist. I find myself engaged in multiple warring affairs each time I jump in to play. There is something innately competitive about scanning your ‘SMI’ interface and seeing members from your friends list identified on your map in some foreign country. Oftentimes you’re posed a challenge from a friend who has acquired a high level or bag of cash tempting you to take a stab at besting their efforts. ShadowNet provides detailed insight into social feeds containing friend challenges, leaderboards and progress.
Ultimately, Splinter Cell: Blacklist is easily the best in the series by a mile. There are a wealth of gameplay options, all of which feel great to play and rewarding. This is a completely new Splinter Cell which has taken the best from the series and made it much better. Adding the multiple play types of Ghost, Panther and Assualt to the mix, and Ubisoft has made a brilliant decision, giving the game much reward in the area replay value. While the game is never too difficult, I encourage players to challenge themselves on the alternate difficulty settings with ‘Perfectionist’ offering an experience you will not soon forget. Despite the uneven gray hairs yet the youthful voice acting, Sam is most certainly back in the saddle. With so much attention given to the games gameplay details, I can’t help but wonder just how much more impressive this experience could have been on next-gen hardware. Hopefully Ubisoft takes this amazing experience to the next-gen with an enhancing app companion.
Image playing the next Splinter Cell in campaign or cooperatively with an additional real-life player, who is along for the ride via wi-fi from their tablet or smartphone assisting in your mission objectives? I’ll just leave that for the imagination.