Splinter Cell: Blacklist Review
Author: Jeff McAllister
After the more action-oriented gameplay of Splinter Cell: Conviction, SC fans were worried that one of the best stealth series around would be headed in that direction for future releases. Thankfully, developer Ubisoft Toronto has stuck true to the game’s roots with the release of Splinter Cell: Blacklist offering players the gameplay style that they are most comfortable with; be it sneaking through vents while shooting out lights, going all-out and mowing down enemies as they appear, or mixing things up with a little from column A and a little from column B. Blacklist touches on just about everything great from the previous games and combines them all into one solid package.
Sam Fisher is back with the newly formed Fourth Echelon, although this time around he is voiced and performed by Eric Johnson instead of the grumbly and surly Michael Ironside. Along with Sam, Anna Grimsdottir returns as the go-to for mission information. Newcomers to the team are Charlie Cole — the wise-cracking computer hacker; and Briggs — the no-nonsense, straight-edged partner that Sam relies on while on the ground. Blacklist follows up the events of Conviction, where there is a new threat to the United States, called the Engineers.
This terror group has a series of attacks lined up to strike across the US, called the Blacklist, which will be activated every few days if the US soldiers currently stationed in other countries are not recalled. As you progress through the 11 or so campaign missions ranging from mansions to mountainsides (and including some pretty amazing environments that I won’t spoil) it becomes clear that the Engineers are after more than they are willing to divulge.
Like previous Splinter Cell games, the shadows are your friend and stealth is the one true way to play the game. Oddly enough, there are a number of missions that take place in broad daylight, masking the essence of what Splinter Cell is about. As for the rest: shooting light bulbs, distracting guards, dropping from ceiling pipes, and hopping out of shadows like an incredibly athletic boogeyman are all in place.
Much like the previous games, you have a slew of gadgets at your disposal, such as sticky cams, noise makers, and even a little Tri-Rotor drone that you can fly around, but once you have gotten your tactics down after a few missions, chances are you will return to the same load out over and over, using only the gadgets that feel best for you.
Sam has some new techniques in his arsenal which make taking down enemies a brutal and awesome ordeal. The vicious takedowns –- whether you choose lethal or non-lethal tactics — will have you cringing and wide-eyed at the same time. Grabbing enemies by their ankles from ledges above you and smashing their heads into the ground will make you literally say “ouch” as it happens. When your sidearm is the weapon of choice, the “mark and execute” system returns from Conviction, allowing you to mark three enemies and seamlessly execute them in a single flashy/worry-free move.
It’s a quick and clean way to remove multiple enemies at once, but once helmeted adversaries are introduced, you’ll have to watch who you use the system on. Also returning from Conviction is the “Last Known Position” white silhouette that will appear when you get spotted by enemies. If you do happen to get spotted by wandering enemies, there’s a grace period where you are warned that you are about to be caught — then the white outline will appear where the enemies think you are, affording you the time to sneak away and either flank them or just flat out run away.
A new feature available in Blacklist is the ability to upgrade your weapons and Ops Suit using the money earned from completing missions. Each time you perform an action within a mission, you earn extra money to collect when it is completed. Leaving guards alive will net you extra dollars, as will finding laptop and dead drop collectibles.
Playing through missions as a sneaky sneaky Sam will always net you more money in the end than going full out running-and-gunning will, but regardless of how you play, the money earned can go toward purchasing or upgrading your weapons, upgrading your iconic tri-clops goggles, or even upgrading your flying headquarters, the Paladin.
The Paladin is where you hang out in between missions, using the SMI (the gigantic interactive map that shows locations of available missions), spending your hard-earned cash on upgrading your HQ, giving you additional abilities such as faster regenerating health, unlocking additional black market weapons, or adding options to your radar, showing where enemies are and which direction they are facing.
You are also able to walk around the Paladin, much like the Normandy from Mass Effect — minus having your own quarters with a space Hamster — where you can phone your daughter, talk to the other crew members, and receive additional side missions.
There are 4 different types of side missions you can play through, all of which can be played solo or coop with a friend (except for Briggs’ missions which must be played with a coop partner). All of the character side missions have a different style of gameplay: Grim’s missions have you interact with environmental objects as you remain undetected, while Charlie’s missions are basically wave-based survival missions. These are self-contained missions that take place in smaller areas, and are a nice change of pace to hone your skills while taking a break from the main campaign.
Aside from the 12-13 hour (on normal) campaign and the numerous side missions, there is also the fantastic and unique online mode of Spies vs. Mercs which was sadly missing from Conviction. You are presented with two teams: Spies and Mercs (obvs) — where the Spy team operates in the third-person, sneaking through the shadows to try and hack computers, while the Merc team operates in first-person to hunt the spies down before they can hack the terminals.
It seems pretty straightforward at first, but with the two teams and their very different gameplay styles, it makes for some hectic and incredibly fun action. Teams can be played in either 2v2 or 4v4, and are best played with constant communication between teammates. At the end of each round, the teams switch and the Spies then become the Mercs and vice versa. Once you level up enough, you can unlock other game types within the multiplayer such as “Extraction”, where spies try to steal intelligence, and “Uplink” where teams try to control uplink points.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist isn’t a reboot of the series, but it does go back to the basics of what made the series so popular in the first place. The stealth and shadow gameplay is one of the best around and it is refreshing to see that Blacklist continues that legacy. Aside from the gameplay being some of the best in the series, the amount of content that is thrown at you from the two-discs (on the Xbox 360) is well worth the investment and time — both on and offline, solo and with friends.
Title: Splinter Cell: Blacklist