Splinter Cell Blacklist review

Splinter Cell Blacklist review

T3 4
  • Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a solid and compelling entry in Ubisoft’s stealth series, but it’s bogged down by its need to satisfy too many disparate styles of play

    Splinter Cell Blacklist review

    Love

    • Sam Fisher
    • Old school stealth
    • Lethal gadgets

    Hate

    • No sense of humour
    • Short campaign
    • Restrictive gameplay

    Splinter Cell: Blacklist is the best entry in Ubisoft’s stealth series since Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory was released back in 2005. While that may sound like unreserved praise, veterans of this series will know that it’s a recommendation that comes with a couple of caveats.

    Chaos Theory was – and still is – not only the best game in this franchise to date, it’s also the last time players could take it for granted that Splinter Cell was a true-blue stealth game. That all changed with Conviction, which came front-loaded with high-octane action that moved at a frenetic pace.

    Splinter Cell Blacklist: Plot

    Conviction was also the last time that the Splinter Cell’s protagonist, the grizzled secret agent Sam Fisher, was voiced by Michael Ironside. He’s been replaced in Blacklist by the younger Eric Johnson because the developers said they wanted an actor capable of full-body motion capture as well as voice acting.

    To be fair, Johnson does a good job; even if his voice is reedier and lighter than Ironside’s thundering baritone, he has Fisher’s steely-eyed glare down cold.

    In a scenario that sounds like the premise of a season of 24, Blacklist sees Fisher head up a team called Fourth Echelon who are on the trail of a terrorist group called The Engineers. They, for their part, have demanded that the USA remove all of its troops from foreign soil immediately.

    If this doesn’t happen, The Engineers will unleash The Blacklist, a series of escalating terror attacks designed to bring the USA to its knees. It falls to Sam and his team to thwart The Engineers and, naturally, this involves a lot of sneaking about in the dark and deploying an array of delightfully lethal (and non-lethal) gagdets.

    Splinter Cell Blacklist: Gameplay

    In terms of how it plays, Blacklist is pitched somewhere between Chaos Theory and Conviction. The action here is split across three different styles of play: Ghost, Panther and Assault. Ghost describes the old school way of playing Splinter Cell where staying out of sight and gliding past enemies, leaving them blissfully unaware of your presence is the order of the day.

    Assault is the direct approach where players eschew stealth, break out the hardware and engage in all out gun battles. Panther combines these two elements.

    The intimation here is that players can pick the style that best suits them – a promise backed up by all the adverts that bear the legend: “Your Rules. Your Way”. This isn’t the case at all, as it happens.

    The single-player campaign contains moments – much as was the case in Conviction – where gunplay is pretty much unavoidable; one example involves Sam trying to escape a police station with a captive in tow and another occurs when Sam is betrayed inside the US embassy in Iran.

    The side missions, which are split across the three (and later, four) members of Sam’s team also impose styles of play, to a degree. For example, the missions offered by Grimmsdotter – Sam’s chief aid – are open-ended maps with multiple objectives and no checkpoints.

    Since being spotted in these missions results in instant failure, you can’t exactly hurtle into them guns blazing. Similarly the missions offered by Charlie – the team hacker – are essentially Horde Mode style matches where the player (or players) have to repel increasing waves of enemies. Being a Ghost isn’t exactly an option here. 

    Splinter Cell Blacklist: Features

    All that having been said, when Blacklist doesn’t try to impose its will on the player, it can be gloriously good fun. While the campaign is uneven in places and is rather criminally short, it contains moments of sheer brilliance; Sam’s escape from Guantanamo Bay (for reasons too stupid to mention) is a fantastic piece of design if you’re a fan of the series’ stealth roots.

    Similarly the collection of missions offered by Grimm and Kobin (the team’s unwilling accomplice) are worth the price of admission alone, although if you tackle them in co-op, make sure you and your mate are on the same page. Friendships can end in this game.

    Splinter Cell Blacklist: Multiplayer

     

    The game’s trump card is its superb multiplayer, which sees the return of Spies Vs Mercs, the game’s two-on- two or four-on-four battles in the dark. Sides are split between heavily armed and heavily armoured Mercs and agile, gadget-packing Spies who also have the benefit of night vision.

    Mercs are advised to sweep their torches into every darkened corner and what each other’s backs, while Spies win out by keeping to the shadows and only attacking if they are certain of a kill. Most matches play out as tension-packed games of hide and seek, guaranteed to get pulses racing.

    Splinter Cell Blacklist: Verdict

    Splinter Cell: Blacklist feels like a game that’s caught between too many disparate styles of play. In an attempt to satisfy both players who prefer action-packed gunplay and old- school stealth hounds, the developers have delivered a game walks a difficult line and occasionally trips over itself.

    It feels weird to say it, given the very intense nature of its protagonist, but Splinter Cell: Blacklist feels unwieldy and unfocussed. That having been said, there’s certainly enough here – especially in the multiplayer – to keep fans glued to their consoles long into the night.

    Splinter Cell Blacklist release date: 23 August 2013

    Splinter Cell Blacklist price: £39.97

  • Splinter Cell Blacklist sees the return of grizzled secret agent Sam Fisher in an adventure that combines subtle stealth gameplay and hard-hitting action

    Splinter Cell Blacklist review

    Love

    • Sam Fisher
    • Old school stealth
    • Lethal gadgets

    Hate

    • No sense of humour
    • Short campaign
    • Restrictive gameplay

    The last ten years have seen something of an evolution for Sam Fisher, the gruff, hard-bitten protagonist of the Splinter Cell series. Not only has graphical fidelity improved his visual appearance – making him seem less Ken-Doll-like than he was in the series’ first iteration – but the stealth gameplay that the series shot to fame with has required an action-packed augmentation to win new audience members.

    In the current industry climate where development costs are huge and sales expectation are even huger, a straight stealth title just doesn’t cut it any more. For this reason the developers have come up with something rather more versatile for Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist. They’ve even super-sized the villains in the main campaign.

    Where once Sam fought a war in the shadows, he now battles foes as the nuclear countdown clock approaches midnight.

    Splinter Cell Blacklist: Plot

    The pitch for Blacklist is as high concept as any James Bond film. Figures from several rogue nations, known collectively as The Engineers, have banded together to demand that the USA remove all of its troops from within their borders.

    If this demand isn’t met, The Engineers have vowed to unleash The Blacklist; a series of escalating attacks on USA targets that are themed around aspects of American foreign policy – Consumption, Freedom, Oil and so forth.

    Faced with this serial-killer-esque terrorist threat, the USA does the only thing it can: it calls in Sam Fisher, teams him up with a squad of special operatives and tasks this group – tagged Fourth Echelon – to hunt down The Engineers.

    Naturally, this leads to Sam being plonked down in exotic locations around the globe where he has to sneak, shoot and parkour his way to his objectives. In the missions we were able to play, Sam was tasked with extracting a criminal from the clutches of some terrorists at a police station. To that end, he has to evade a street battle between insurgents and Fourth Echelon forces and a ton of armed terrorists.

    Splinter Cell Blacklist: Gameplay

    Blacklist has been built from the ground up to accommodate three different styles of play, which the developers have tagged ‘Ghost’, ‘Panther’ and ‘Assault’. Ghost is old-school Splinter Cell in which players stay off the AI’s radar, clinging to the shadows and only employ deadly force when they need to.

    Assault is the full-frontal style of play, which basically equates to playing Blacklist like a slightly tweaked third-person shooter. Action takes place in short bursts and it’s easy to get taken out, so cover and flanking is placed at a premium.

    Panther is a mixture of Ghost and Assault; players can employ stealth tactics until they feel boxed in or impatient and then they can leap from the shadows, taking down enemies with quick and brutal attacks.

    This three-pronged style of play is aimed at netting the largest audience possible for Blacklist. That having been said, stealth is still an option in Splinter Cell: Blacklist – it’s just not the only option – and players will have to become somewhat versatile in their approach to this game.

    Splinter Cell Blacklist: Multiplayer

     

    This is equally true of the multiplayer, which is split between competitive and co-op modes. The former is a kind of cat-and-mouse game in which stealth Secret Agents are pitted against well-armed Mercenaries.

    Agents are tasked with hacking a terminal in the map and then the Mercenaries have to find and gun down the Agent who executed the hack. This involves a lot of frantic searching as the maps offer myriad hiding spots for the Agents – and they’re free to attack the Mercs into the bargain.

    Co-Op is split between two members of Fourth Echelon; Briggs – a wetworks soldier like Sam – and Grimm – Fourth Echelon’s second-in-command and character long-time fans of the series will remember. Briggs’s missions are checkpointed adventures, which accommodate the three play styles mentioned earlier.

    Grimm’s on the other hand, are self-contained stealth missions that demand the Ghost style of play. There are no checkpoints here; if you die, you start again and if you don’t adopt a Ghost style of play, you will die a lot.

    Splinter Cell Blacklist: Verdict

    Splinter Cell Blacklist is shaping up to be something rather special. On the evidence presented here it’s easily the biggest Splinter Cell game ever created and the developers are making a concentrated effort to accommodate the desires of both fans and newbies to the series. If all goes according to plan, Blacklist could very well be one of the last great titles for this generation of consoles.

    Splinter Cell Blacklist availability: 23 August 2013

    Splinter Cell Blacklist price: From £27.50

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