Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist Xbox 360 Review
Publisher: Ubisoft Developer: Ubisoft Toronto Genre: Stealth, Action Players: 1-8
Age Rating: 18+ Other console/handheld formats: PS3, Wii U
With so many people to please, it’s sometimes difficult to find a balance in game design. Heading back to 2010 and the release of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction for example, this is one game that polarised opinion. Conviction could be described as an action stealth game, as it was a brand new take on the genre, and with everyone seemingly in a rush these days, protagonist Sam Fisher suddenly became the ultimate killing machine who could move from area to area and take enemies down in a swift “blink and miss it” manner that wasn’t very typical of the stealth genre.
But with Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Ubisoft took a good look at the series as a whole, as well as the wants and needs of different players, and the results are a game that blends classic Splinter Cell with the ideas that were introduced in Conviction. This is a game that was designed with many different play styles in mind, and in this way it should be truly satisfying to many.
When it comes to the story, Blacklist actually has a rather thrilling one in which a group of terrorists (The Engineers) plan to attack a target in America every week unless their soldiers are brought home from foreign soil, and Sam Fisher and the newly formed Fourth Echelon team are tasked with putting an end to these plans. The only thing truly wrong with the plot is that Sam Fisher is no longer Sam Fisher, and the character lives on by name only. The Fisher of Blacklist no longer comes across as quite as menacing, looks slightly younger, and sounds even younger. Yes, it was a controversial decision to replace long serving Fisher voice actor Michael Ironside, and it’s even worse when the new actor sounds so generic, and the character is also lacking in the black humour that he has become known for over the years. This isn’t Sam Fisher anymore, he’s just a pretender, and he even looks slightly different. With that said, Eric Johnson still deserves praise for voicing the character in a believable manner, and I truly have nothing against his talent, but he’s just not Sam Fisher.
But those who were dismayed with the gameplay direction that the character had been taken in with Conviction will be glad to know that stealthy Sam is very much back to doing what he does best, so certainly in this way he’s more like the pre-Conviction Fisher, or he can be, I should say. As I mentioned earlier, this is a game that gives you choice, and it’s also one that rewards you for your choice.
There’s three ways that the game can be played, with each one split into an individual style. Assault is for those gung-ho types who like making lots of noise with their weapons and leaving lots of mess in their wake, while not giving a toss if they’re spotted or not. Panther, a play style for the purist, is all about not being detected but still being efficient at killing your enemies, using silenced weapons and killing with brutal melee moves. Finally, the Ghost play style, another one very much for the purist, is undoubtedly the trickiest one to keep up, as it demands you to be quiet, only allows you to incapacitate your enemy, and even calls for you to leave enemies undisturbed for maximum points. You aren’t restricted to a particular play style, and you can even mix things up if you like, but if you are aiming to master a style at the end of a mission, then it’s obviously best to stick to a certain method. All in all, the styles are a wonderful idea, and the game caters for everybody because of this.
The Mark and Execute feature makes its return, in which you are able to swiftly kill or incapacitate up to three targets once you have charged the ability up. Depending on how you want to play the game, the feature can be ignored completely. The cover system no longer has you holding a button down to stay in cover, although it still allows you to quickly to move from cover to cover just by pointing at it and then pressing a single button. I did find that Fisher went into a cover area that I didn’t expect him to from time to time, although this only happens when there’s a number of cover areas very close together, of which seems to confuse the issue a little. As for other techniques, you can hide in the shadows with your night vision goggles turned on as well as shatter lights with a well placed bullet, and you can distract guards by calling out or whistling, and you can once again move any enemy bodies out of sight. Believe it or not, some of the latter features were absent in Conviction.
The level design also gives you plenty of scope as to how to approach each situation, and some areas allow you to stay rooted to the ground or opt to do some climbing instead, of which includes crawling upside down along drainpipes above the heads of your enemies. Missions also feature high value targets for you to capture, laptops to hack and data-sticks for you to seek out, which will earn you extra points that can be used once you are back at base. The levels are wide and open, and each mission is very replayable because of this, and that’s without taking in the additional difficulty levels.
When you are back on board the Paladin (which is a plane that serves as your base of operations), Blacklist also grants you plenty of choice. Charlie, one of your Fourth Echelon colleagues, has various gadgets, weapons and upgrades that can be purchased, and these include everything from upgrading Fisher’s suit and goggles to buying a new machine gun or attaching a silencer to an existing weapon in your arsenal, and so on. There’s an impressive amount of options, and speaking to the returning Grim also allows you to upgrade the Paladin itself, which gives you further gameplay benefits.
The Paladin also unifies the single player and multiplayer portions of the game, with everything accessed from a massive computer in the centre of the Plane. Each of your Fourth Echelon colleagues have their own side missions, of which can all be played cooperatively, with some of them being cooperative only. Online play and split screen are both supported, and the missions are varied, with Grim’s missions being all about not being detected, while Charlie’s have you taking out waves of enemies without dying. There’s a lot of these missions, many of which are the same high standard of the story missions, and they just add so much considerable value to the package as a whole.
Speaking of considerable value, the return of the popular Spies vs. Mercs competitive multiplayer mode is certainly a welcome one. The mode now comes in two varieties, with the classic version as well as the brand new Blacklist version. The Classic version is of course the two on two mode that debuted in Pandora Tomorrow, in which a team of two stealthy spies equipped with night vision goggles, speed, and the ability to kill from all angles takes on a team of two heavily armed and torch-wielding mercenaries. The objective with the spies is to hack terminals, and stay in the area until the hack is complete, which means finding a nice hiding place, while the mercenaries (played from a first person view) are tasked with hunting the spies down and stopping them from hacking the terminals. Like Pandora Tomorrow, you’ll also be a spy in one round and then a mercenary in the second round or vice versa. The Blacklist version of the Spies vs. Mercs mode allows for customisation and is played in teams of four as opposed to the two in the classic mode, which is a nice twist on the mode. All in all, it’s still a brilliant and tension filled mode all these years later, and that’s regardless of if you are a spy or a mercenary. There’s other modes which include Team Deathmatch (mixing spies and mercenaries on each team) and a mode which has teams wrestling for control of uplinks, although it’s the classic Spies vs. Mercs that remains the standout mode.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a wonderful and feature-filled package. Those who just couldn’t get on with Conviction will be delighted to know that classic Splinter Cell is back, while those who liked the more brutal and stylish take on the genre with Conviction will be able to Mark and Execute their targets in the very way that you could in that game, and you can even mix things up if you’d prefer. There’s so many options that the single player campaign proves to be very replayable, and the cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes also bolster the package up, making the three year wait for a new Splinter Cell game very much worth it.