The Splinter Cell franchise has been a rather divisive series for fans. On the one hand, the series (since its debut in 2002) has been acclaimed by a diehard fan-base for its hardcore focus on stealth light and dark gameplay. On the other, it has tended to be generally unforgiving to newcomers. Splinter Cell: Conviction, the previous entry in the franchise, attempted to remedy that with the introduction of a more straightforward storyline and simpler action gameplay which was decried by many fans but lauded overall by critics and newcomers to the franchise. Splinter Cell: Blacklist is the latest attempt by Ubisoft to unite both camps and largely, it succeeds.
Blacklist, like most games carrying the “Tom Clancy” badge is steeped in political intrigue, black ops machinations and terrorist plots. It follows an older gruffer Sam Fisher, who after the events of Conviction, has been reinstated to run the new Fourth Echelon after a devastating attack on a key US military installation by a group of terrorists calling themselves The Engineers. The terrorists declare their intentions of unleashing coordinated attacks on the US termed “The Blacklist” over a period until the US withdraws all its troops deployed oversees. The President entrusts Sam Fisher to take down the Engineers by any means necessary which involves reinstating his clearance and teaming him up with his old handler, Anna ‘Grim’ Grímsdóttir and two new-comers; Isaac Briggs, a field agent and Charlie Cole, a hacker specialist.
The game involves Sam Fisher taking on missions around the world as 4th Echelon follows the trail of The Engineers. The mission base of operations is aboard a futuristic well-realized aircraft through which Sam can undertake various missions. Aside from the main story of hunting the Engineers, Sam can undertake intel-gathering missions by interacting with the key team players aboard the plane. In addition to allowing you to upgrade your plane with various enhancements, Grim provides Sam pure stealth missions in which discovery usually means game over. Briggs on the other hand provides Sam co-op only missions which can be played split-screen or online with a friend, while Charlie offers missions where you take down waves of enemies to retrieve dead-drop Intel from his contacts. This in addition to providing much-needed tech upgrades to Sam’s gear.
The gameplay brings back the same fluid 3rd person shooter stealth action from previous entries along with the trademark “Mark and Execute” from Conviction which allows Sam to mark up to 3 enemies and take them down simultaneously with one button press when they’re all within range like the badass black ops agent that he is. The execute ability is still earned by performing a successful hand-to-hand takedown, but Blacklist updates “Mark and Execute” by adding a new mechanic termed “Killing in Motion”. In practice, this involves a scenario where you can mark three enemies in advance, run up to a fourth, take him down and tap a button to execute the other marks all in a fluid 2 second window. It’s a beauty to witness. Also returning from Conviction is “Last Known Position” which, when spotted, shows an outline of where Sam was last seen to allow you to flank enemies. Naturally, it wouldn’t be Splinter Cell without true light and dark gameplay and Blacklist ditches the black and white filter that would be engaged while hidden in darkness in Conviction for a simple green led that lights up on his back when hidden out of view from enemies.
New to Splinter Cell is a rating system that grants you points after each mission depending on play style. The points translate into cash, which in turn can be used on the various gadgets and upgrades for Sam and his team. Ghost play style which awards the most points, involves playing through a mission undetected, disturbing as little of the environment, unseen and only engaging enemies in non-lethal takedowns when necessary. This tended to be my most preferred play style, while also being the most difficult to achieve. Panther gameplay allows you to play like Conviction played – undetected, with efficient quick lethal takedowns. Assault play style encourages you to go in guns blazing and disregard stealth entirely. This ensures a game that caters to hardcore and casual players favorably and is a major plus in every way.
I won’t go into spoiler territory as to how the globe-trotting adventure plays out, but it was a fantastic ride in every way and the game offered hours of fun for me and a teammate – both on single player missions, but particularly on split-screen missions. There’s just so much fun to be had in stalking and hunting your prey in a number of inventive ways. The other game mode which I unfortunately didn’t get to experience was Spy vs Mercenaries. This is an online-only multiplayer mode that makes its return from Splinter Cell Chaos Theory. It allows two teams of 2 players each to square off against each other with different objectives and abilities. From what I’ve read about it, it’s tons of fun so definitely worth looking into if you have a PSN or Xbox Live account. With the ability to replay through different missions on different difficulties and play-styles, all this adds up to a remarkable wealth of content and overall value in the package Ubisoft is offering. There is something here for everyone and I was wholly entertained.