Sunday, September 8, 2013

Splinter Cell: Blacklist Review

Splinter Cell for my personally has been a series that has delivered some high points, but also some real lows. As a youngster I absolutely hated the difficulty of stealth and being Sam Fisher, but at the same time it taught me the reward for persistence. Something not provided enough in games of today. In recent times the series has enter a lull, not sure of its direction. It seems to be wanting to hold onto its stealth origin while also keeping relevant in an action orientated time. The trailers and clips we saw of Blacklist at E3 blew me away and I was keen to see more. Has it lived up to the early hype?


As I played through Blacklist, I was torn about how the game looked. At some points, everything looked beautiful, like when I was ninja’ing my way through the sun-soaked streets of Benghazi, Lybia. Other times, it looked less than stellar, like when I was sneaking through the dull looking Columbian mansion. The cut-scenes in Blacklist were actually a bit of a letdown as well, since the character models looked a bit dated. However, I was able to look past this because the performances that each character gave drew my attention completely.

The cast of Blacklist is a major strong point for the game. Each actor brought their character to life and made me really believe how stressed out they were with the realization that the fate of the United States rested squarely on their shoulders. The voice actor that played the leader of the Engineers gave an exceptionally good performance, portraying a cold, yet surprisingly calm villain. Hell, even Eric Johnson, who replaced the legendary Michael Ironside as the voice of Sam Fisher, did a solid job filling in Ironside’s shoes. I would also like to make a note that the guards in Blacklist were a LOT less annoying than the guards in Conviction, who were overly cocky and talked way too much. It was nice to fight against an enemy that sounded surprisingly human.

The soundtrack is also top notch, boasting some dramatic scores that peak during frantic and confrontational scenes and gameplay, and stays measured and low-key when sneaking around. The gameplay is also backed up by great sounding effects, such as gunshots, explosions, and ambient noises that added a more realistic feel to every environment I went through.

As an overall package, Blacklist is a pretty game that absolutely flourishes when given the oppurtunity to show what it is capable of. However some dodgy textures and falling back into the cold dark shadows is something that doesn't make this game look graphically impressive. The original trailer for this game showed bright open environments, and for good reason as they are the highlight for me.


In Splinter Cell: Blacklist, the game is tailored to whatever playstyle you choose. If you want to go in loud and make your presence known to the guards, you can. If you want to sneak through and stealthily kill everyone – have at it. Hell, you can even go through the entire game without killing anyone. The choice is all yours. Whichever approach you end up using, it will fall into one of 3 categories: Ghost , Panther, and Assault. At the end of each mission, your performance will be assessed in each category and you’ll receive rewards according to how you did. The points then translate to in-game cash that you can use to buy new weapons, weapon attachments/aesthetics, gadgets, upgrades for the Paladin, and ops suits to make you even more badass.

One great addition to Blacklist is the ability to customize a loadout before you start a mission. Unlike in the previous games, which gave you no choice and customization for what you brought into a mission, Blacklist allows you to adjust your loadout to however you like playing the game. If you’re more of an assault player, bring loud rifles and frags. If you’re more of a panther or ghost player, bring silenced weapons and gadgets that draw enemies’ attention. It’s all customizable to fit your needs and to make you the world’s most deadly agent.

Once you’re finally in the game proper, the gameplay is both familiar and different to fans of the series. I had played Splinter Cell: Conviction in its entirety a couple days before Blacklist was released, and one of the first things that I noticed was the difference in the controls. While I found Conviction’s controls to be more clunky and poorly assigned, I was beyond happy to see that Ubisoft Toronto had picked a more logical button layout this time around. This made playing feel a lot smoother, which in Blacklist, is the name of the game.

What do I mean by smoothness is the “name of the game”? Well, one of the biggest improvements I notice and praise is how smooth and fluid the gameplay is. Sam moves seamlessly from cover, climbs walls automatically when you sprint up to them, and can knife an enemy in the face without breaking stride. Its almost elegant how beautifully smooth every action you make is. This makes it much more believable that you are actually a bad ass killer, and not some clumsy, lumbering buffoon with a pistol.

The main premise of Splinter Cell still rings true in Blacklist: you still try to stick to the shadows, climb pipes, scale buildings, get the drop on enemies, and hide bodies to avoid detection. The game is definitely a return to the series’ roots after the more action-based turn that Conviction took, and it’s a welcome return for fans of the series. That isn’t to say that Blacklist is exactly like the old games, however. It still totes a bunch of new features and additions that give this game its own personality.

One of the biggest new features is the Paladin, the plane that serves as main headquarters of Fourth Echelon. In the game, it’s the central hub for everything: players start missions, purchase upgrades, and begin multiplayer matches all from this one, centralized location. While I’m a fan of the simplicity of a main menu, navigating around the Paladin isn’t that cumbersome, and actually verges on being enjoyable.

The campaign follows a more action packed series of events that we have come to know from games this generation, but still keeps true to its roots. This game accommodates both true Splinter Cell aficionados and the more casual player that doesn't have the patient for pure stealth. This mix of choice works well and is why other recent games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution have been heralded as great successes. The points scale rewards stealth more than anything else, but it isn't the be all and end all.

In terms of multiplayer, the popular Spies vs Mercs mode makes its return! It's awesome, enough said. This team-based challenge sees a squad of first-person merc hunters, armed to the teeth with fearsome firepower, tasked with taking out the stealthy third-person spies before they can hack into a series of terminals. Dodging the mercs' flashlights is incredibly tense as when playing as a spy, while checking every hiding place for hidden threats as a hunter is great fun too. It's a nail-biting game of hide-and-seek where the strengths and weaknesses of each team, even with different player classes, gadgets and upgrades to contend with, are perfectly balanced.


I love what they have done with this game. Instead of setting this game up to force you down one style of play, they've incorporated the best stealth elements of Chaos Theory with the more action orientated Conviction. This is a more user friendly game and ultimately I feel is better for the experience. The developers have recognized game design has changed and found a way to weave the true Splinter Cell roots into a 2013 game. This, with a super strong multiplayer component make for a gaming package that should excite fans of the series.

Graphics - 8.5/10
Sound - 9/10
Gameplay - 9.5/10
Overall - 9/10