“Nothing comes before the job. Not you, not me. Nothing.”
Sam Fisher is back, redesigned, and ready for the next generation of the Splinter Cell franchise. Following 2010’s Splinter Cell: Conviction is an improved and exciting third person shooter with a surprising amount of replay value. Blacklist is classic Splinter Cell with all the great additions Conviction brought to the table, most notably the Mark & Execute feature. Though the controls are not perfect, loadout customizability is unlike anything the franchise has ever seen. This is no RPG, but this isn’t your standard Splinter Cell game either. This is arguably the best in the franchise.
The countdown starts at 3 minutes. “The Blacklist is live,” says the man in fatigues, facing away from the viewer. Zero seconds, and Anderson Air Force Base in Guam is destroyed from the inside-out with explosives, nearly taking out Sam Fisher with it. A group calling themselves The Engineers claim that this is the first in a series of attacks, called the Blacklist. There will be another attack every seven days unless America pulls its troops back onto US soil. From where? Everywhere around the world.
Blacklist was built with the philosophy that Sam Fisher is a panther, and the player decides what kind of a panther he is. Is he a ghost that slips by unnoticed? Is he an assault specialist that hunts dogs for fun? Or is he a panther that leaves no trail or survivors? The game will reward your behavior according to your play style. This is what captivated me about the original Splinter Cell when I was younger. It empowered me, in a way, by giving me an option between dealing mercy or mayhem.
Inevitably, there are sections of missions where you simply cannot be a ghost, or it’s mandatory that you slip past an area without touching a soul. Sam Fisher is a thief of secrets, and sometimes there is no other option. I’d like to think that Ghost is the most difficult style because you’re given more tools to kill than to distract, but then again, I tend to load-out with exploding cameras and silenced assault rifles instead of sleeping gas. I play these missions like platformer-puzzles, and sometimes they’re the most thrilling missions of all.
What makes Blacklist most noticeably different from other Splinter Cell games is The Paladin, Fourth Echelon’s mobile airborne headquarters. Much like Commander Shepard and the Normandy of Mass Effect, players can freely roam the ship in between missions and talk to other characters on the ship for game upgrades, or extra side missions and challenges. Co-op and multiplayer are seamlessly woven into these conversations. Players can jump into a split-screen co-op mission, or play a quick round of Spies VS Mercs immediately after a story mission without exiting to the main menu.
Co-op is a blast, and thankfully my roommate is as big of a Splinter Cell fan as I am. Each player has the ability to Mark & Execute, and sometimes you’ll need to strategize in order to take out armored targets and snipers. Characters on the ship offer different types of co-op missions (some that you can also play as single player, like a challenge map), with emphasis on Assault or Ghost style play through. Co-op missions and challenge maps can be played in any order, letting the player conduct their hunt for the Engineers however they want to.
Although in-game graphics are beautiful, especially the many colors of sonar goggles, cutscenes are marred by distracting screen tearing. Political thrillers can be hard to follow, and Blacklist’s Aaron Sorkin-style dialogue is split between radio conversations and face-to-face talking; audio levels are sometimes unbalanced, and the climactic end of a mission feels insignificant when you realize the radio chatter in the background is actually who Anna Grimsdotter is talking to.
Interactive objects are labeled with actions that are only selectable when looking at them. This is frustrating for a stealth action third-person shooter because you’re looking at so many different things at once. Sam’s ‘Jump’ button was removed in Conviction and is still missing in Blacklist. If Ubisoft is reading this, I urge them to bring it back. When a dog sniffs you out, looking for the command to cling to a pipe more cumbersome and less thrilling than throwing yourself at a pipe. Maybe it just takes some getting used to, but it’s something that helped contribute to the Panther-like feeling older Splinter Cell titles gave off.
I tend to avoid playing these games in the daytime because so much gameplay relies on hiding in the dark. Multiplayer is even more straining when you’re playing as a mercenary who is scouring the shadows for ninjas.
Oh right! Multiplayer! Classic Spies VS Mercs is back in 2v2 form as well as a 4v4 form. There are other variations as well as good old Death Match. Load-out customization for your multiplayer characters is exactly the same as single player, and can be tweaked and tuned offline in between missions. I’m happy to say that it’s just as suspenseful as single player missions
My only gripe with multiplayer is the first-person controls because they are exactly the same as the third-person. It’s not a game killer, but I don’t understand why such a little thing couldn’t be adjusted. There are a couple of sections in single player that require you to play in first person, and it just seems unnecessary, especially since you’re forced to take command of Briggs, the co-op character.
All in all, I’m very thankful Blacklist exists. As a fan of the franchise, this is an entry I couldn’t have dreamed of. I practically worshiped the original Sam Fisher when I was younger, and I’m happy to say that Eric Johnson fits the bill of my favorite government mercenary.
The Verdict: 4.5 / 5
It’s interesting to me that Blacklist is released in the new post-Edward Snowden world. Though it began development in 2000, the original Splinter Cell was released in 2002; the US and UK had already invaded Afghanistan, and would enter Iraq a year later. These days, information leaks and spreads across the globe faster than a virus. In 2013, privacy is a valuable commodity, and Ubisoft has created an entire franchise based on that belief. The difference between fiction and reality comes down to mere pixels. The real question is, who holds the controller?