Sam Fisher’s finally back! It’s been 3 years since we saw the master spy in action where he appeared in Splinter Cell Conviction. Now he’s back as the leader of the newly formed Fourth Echelon with more weapons, more gadgets, more ferocity and a more evil villain, one like he’s never faced before. Ubisoft have clearly learned their lesson since Conviction, but how does Blacklist pair up against some of it’s earlier ancestors? And is it really a proper Splinter Cell game?
Yes. It is. For those of you die hard Splinter Cell fans who criticised Conviction for being too easy and for removing some of the core features that made a Splinter Cell game, Blacklist has gone back to the ways of the originals. Stealth, sneaking, hiding bodies, waiting, night vision goggles and difficulty are all on the menu in Splinter Cell Blacklist. But first let’s start with the basics.
The campaign. Sam Fisher comes face to face with a whole new set of enemies known as The Engineers. They are responsible for compiling ‘The Blacklist’ which details a series of terrorist attacks on American soil. Their demands? That all American troops stationed overseas be recalled and sent back to America, preventing Western Interference in countries that may or may not need it. It’s up to our good old friend Sam to stop both the Blacklist and the Engineers.
Now I played through the campaign on ‘realistic’ difficulty, and I can assure you it’s definitely that. One wrong move and the nervous and twitchy guards engage their overly happy trigger fingers right in your direction. And for me, that’s not good enough. It’s a Splinter Cell game. No bullets should be shot unless they’re coming from me. So whenever a mistake like that was made, I restarted the checkpoint. If this is a similar style as to how you play, then you’ll find yourself doing this a lot. The campaign and coop missions will have you criticising your every move, and you’ll force yourself to get it right, no matter how many times it takes to master.
But fear not, if you don’t consider yourself a stealthy person, then going in guns blazing is also rewarded, as there are 3 play styles to master. Ghost, Panther and Assault. Ghost involves staying hidden and either avoiding or non-lethally taking out enemies. Panther involves using stealth to kill your enemies, and Assault involves taking off the silencer and attacking everything in the room with a pulse until the floor runs red with blood. However, if you don’t consider yourself a stealthy person, then you really shouldn’t be playing Splinter Cell.
The story takes you and your team all across the globe, and that’s one of the things I love about Blacklist, the locations and the variety of obstacles that these provide. With a Splinter Cell game, there’s a formulae that you’ll usually end up perfecting. For me, that involved checking the environment before taking a step and evaluating the scenario. Can I go through that window? Which route will that heavy assault soldier take? Which is the best way to take out that sniper? Do I shoot that guy or just completely avoid him? Now you can do this across all the missions, but the different locations change this, because each environment is different. The through processes that go through your head whilst playing Blacklist won’t be found in any other game, and I like it for that. It forces you to adapt, it pushes you out of your comfort zone until you’re perched on a pipe sweating and not knowing what to do. That’s the Splinter Cell experience that’s so popular.
And it’s not just the shooting and stabbing, Blacklist also has an emotional side. You’ll see series regulars like Sarah, Vic and Grim return. But we’re also introduced to a couple of new characters, specifically Isaac Briggs, a CIA agent working for Fourth Echelon who sometimes accompanies Fisher in the field, and Charlie, a Q type character who works on the gear. The character animation is impressive (all are motion captured), the camaraderie seems real and the characters themselves are very likeable. Even the main villain, Majid Sadiq, has a Bane like quality that makes you like him. His British accent, his calm and collected head, his arrogance and his heartlessness make him a welcome bad guy, one that I won’t forget for a long time. As far as characters are concerned, A+ Ubisoft.
Blacklist also introduces, for the first time, the ability to completely customise Fisher’s gear. You can choose his pistol, his alternate and special weapons, his gadgets, his combat suit and even the colour of his goggles. Every modification you make not only affects Fishers stealth, armour and speed, but also the play style that you’re most likely to adopt in the level. This makes you feel that you ARE Sam Fisher, as opposed to previous games where you felt like the guy HELPING Sam Fisher.
The coop mission’s are almost exactly the same as the single player campaign, but provide you with extra game hours and definitely more fun. On the day this game was released me and my brother played the game for near enough 8 hours. In that time we completed 3 missions on realistic difficulty. We kept restarting checkpoints over and over again because we wanted to get it right. Sure there was anger, frustration and a little bit of swearing. But the satisfaction of finishing a level is pretty intense. Along the way you’ll see twists, turns, explosions and even a little cameo from our good friend Kestrel, a playable character in the coop campaign of Splinter Cell Conviction who was presumed dead.
Now onto the multiplayer. Spies vs Mercs is finally back, and I can honestly say that it’s better than ever. Having thoroughly enjoyed it in Splinter Cell Double Agent, and having been disappointed that it was missing in Conviction, it’s return is a welcome one. Spies vs Mercs is exactly as it sounds. Spies fight against Mercs, Mercs fight against Spies, Spies try to hack terminals, Mercs try to protect terminals. It’s that simple.
The default fan favourite game mode, which is simply called Spies vs Mercs Classic is a 2v2 game where players are giving the default class. This involves night vision goggles, a knife and gadgets for the Spy, and a HK M416, a pistol and gadgets for the Merc. The Merc is a heavy, slow, powerful soldier, whereas the Spy is a nimble, stealthy, unarmoured ghost. It’s a game of speed vs power, and usually it’s a pretty close match. Once you reach level 5, you can then go on to play game modes like Spies vs Mercs Blacklist, which allows you to completely customise your characters the same way you customise Fisher, and it’s a 4v4 game. For those of you who think you’ve mastered Call of Duty and Battlefield, I’d like to see you try to master Spies vs Mercs, I assure you it’ll feel pretty alien.
As a spy you sweat when waiting a whole 100 seconds to successfully hack a terminal, and as a Merc you sweat whenever you walk into a dark, quiet room because you know that there’s a spy waiting for you. You can’t seem him or hear him, but you know he’s definitely around. It’s tension like this, those heart stopping moments, those sighs of relief, those squeals of terror that really make the Blacklist multiplayer experience a delight.
Everything piece of gear for your characters can be bought with in game money, which you get for completing single player missions, coop missions or competing in online games. But if you are looking to buy things to use on Spies vs Mercs, you also need multiplayer tokens which you get from levelling up. I particularly love this addition, because it prevents those who master the single player and accumulate their money that way from dominating the multiplayer with the best gear. Plus there is no one piece of gear that is superior to everything else. There are always advantages and disadvantages, so you won’t find any perfect soldiers on the battlefield.
For me, Splinter Cell Blacklist is a proper Splinter Cell game. All that was wrong with Conviction has been corrected, and ultimately completing the single player campaign for this game has been in one of the most rewarding gaming experiences to date. I’ve laughed, I’ve swore, I’ve jumped for joy and I’ve thrown the controller. But the rewarding feeling of completion, the feeling that if he was real, Fisher himself would tell you you did good is incredible. Aside from the controls, which take a little time to get used to due to their randomness (pressing down the right joystick on Xbox 360 reloads your weapon), I can’t think of much that’s wrong with Blacklist. I guess the best way to finish this review would be to say well done Ubisoft, I’m looking for to the next one.