When the first game came out, it was the best stealth game of its time. However, the subsequent games then harbored the lopsided goal of expanding its audience, and perhaps it was foolhardy at best. But Ubisoft has not relented and put a lot of effort into this new release with the same mindset. With a new developer, Ubisoft Toronto, and a considerable bit of hype behind it, Splinter Cell: Blacklist is set to make it finally work.
Coming out with Splinter Cell titles as an action game while trying to maintain its stealth roots has just made the later games half-baked at best. They still do retain a lot of the Tom Clancy-ness, with all the military espionage drama that one can expect from Splinter Cell. Blacklist came three years after Conviction, just during the twilight of the PS3 and Xbox 360. If there is to be another Splinter Cell game after this, then it will most likely come out for the PS4 and Xbox One.
Blacklist doesn’t continue right after Conviction, but it’s also (thankfully) not a reboot. Sam Fisher is back, but without the aging Michael Ironside providing the voice and motion capture. Taking over those duties is Eric Johnson, famous for being Lana Lang’s boyfriend in Smallville. If Sam sounds a bit different to you and looks more spritely, then that’s the reason why. Perhaps with this video game series being almost 11 years old now, it was time for the mantle of Sam Fisher to be passed on to another actor.
The story of this game is about a terrorist group known as the Engineers, who attacked a US military base in Guam as the first of many weekly attacks they have planned unless their demand of overseas American troops being recalled home is met. Sam and the Fourth Echelon didn’t take too kindly of this blatant threat and have set towards addressing the issue. Aloft the Paladin, their airborne base of operations, the Fourth Echelon works hard to follow the movements of the Engineers and intercept their efforts in order to stop them.
The gameplay is much of what has been built up in the Splinter Cell franchise, taking from games like Double Agent and Conviction. Perhaps much to the stealth fans’ chagrin, there is a choice between equipping an assault rifle to charge in headlong or doing it the classic Sam Fisher way with stealth and cunning. You still get the Mark & Execute and Last Known Position systems that Conviction had, but the stealth gameplay does feel like it did with Chaos Theory and prior. You definitely get a higher score if you go for the more quiet and discreet way of doing things, kind of like in the newer Hitman games.
If you’re one of those people who constantly whine about stealth games not being like it used to, then perhaps you should go for the Perfectionist difficulty to remove the assistance and go up against cutthroat enemies for your fix. If you aren’t that hardcore, but do want to play around, then the lower difficulty levels should do just as well for you. Despite being Fourth Echelon’s commander, Sam Fisher likes to take on missions personally due to his skills as an operative. At his disposal, there are the various
Aside from the usual kit, you can get gadgets to make things easier and more exciting. You can acquire them with the money you earn in each mission, and they come in all shapes and sizes with different functions that are quite neat. There are sticky cameras with noise emitters to scout and distract, tripmines to kill hostile patrols, and even a drone for better recon capabilities. You can also customize Sam’s personal kit like gloves for enhanced marksmanship and boots that don’t tap and squeak for better stealth.
There’s also multiplayer here, including the Spies vs Mercs mode that was introduced back in Pandora tomorrow. Up to eight players can throw down in two teams, with the spies looking to hack objectives and the mercs trying to kill them all. If you’re not into competitive multiplayer, then you and your friends can join forces in cooperative play to tackle missions together. In co-op, perhaps you can take more liberties in gameplay by compensating for lack of discretion with added firepower and team dynamics.
The console versions of the game may have been more fortunate this time around as there are technical issues with the PC version, mainly with the graphics. Players with older graphics cards have reported crashes with the DirectX 11 version of the game. Ubisoft was able to release a patch later on the release date to remedy the situation, but there are still some other bugs in different levels in the game that still need to be addressed.
But perhaps the biggest flaw in this game is what had already been touched upon, that you cannot go through the whole game with pure stealth as there are situations where you are forced to shoot your way out of them. Deus Ex: Human Revolution had the same problem with boss battles that were nigh impossible for those who did not pick up lethal weapons beforehand. That’s the failing of the newer Splinter Cell games as they don’t seem to stay faithful to the original premise of stealth gameplay like with the first game.
It may not be the perfect game that fans had been hoping, but it’s still a good enough Splinter Cell game that takes from its predecessors, although not totally unblemished. It looks great with stunning graphics and nice presentation, and the characters are fleshed out quite well. Sam Fisher’s new voice actor actually does a good job in replacing Michael Ironside, so definitely not all is lost.
Tested in PC. Final Score: 8/10