By Luke Lawrie
With the return of Sam Fisher in Splinter Cell: Blacklist comes yet another explosive Tom Clancy story you would expect to see attached to his name. A terrorist group known as The Engineers begin a countdown which will see them carry out a series of attacks on the United States called “The Blacklist”. This is where Sam and his counter-terrorism team the Fourth Echelon, must work together to stop these terrible acts which are about to be committed.
For those unfamiliar, Splinter Cell is primarily a third person stealth game. In recent titles, it has taken a slight turn towards an action direction to appeal to a wider audience. The good news is that Blacklist allows the player to approach the situation of the mission however they see fit. If you’re the type of person that wants to avoid confrontation with the enemies, then you’ll need to stick to the shadows and use your traversal skills to make your way around without being seen. For those that would like to see some more action in their game then you can load up on some serious firepower to shoot your way through the area. Then there is always the in between; sneaking around the mission silently taking down your enemies without them spotting you. Whichever the type of style you wish to choose, you’ll be given points that magically transform into a form of currency at the end of each mission. These points are tallied up into different categories – ghost, panther and assault, you’re then put up on a leader board which you can compare with against the rest of the world.
The currency in Blacklist is something you not only earn throughout the main campaign, but also in side missions, co-op missions and online multiplayer. This allows you to purchase a number of different items, gadgets, weapons and upgrades to be used in the various game modes. The gadgets and weapons also fit back into that category of the style of play you want to achieve. For example if you want to wear something that is stealthy and reduces the amount of noise you make, then you’ll sacrifice the amount of armour it gives you, in the end limiting the number of bullets you can take before being downed. There is a huge range of gear that you can unlock which can help throughout these missions, but the problem I found was that they seemed to be quite costly. By the time I had reached the end of the game I was only able to purchase one extra weapon for each slot and max out the upgrades for it, leaving dozens of weapons untouched that I had not even had the chance to check out.
A number of small improvements to the gameplay have been made in certain areas but nothing that particularly stands out. New additions from the last game such as mark and execute, the silhouette for your last known position, or displaying your objectives as text on the environments all make another appearance with slight changes. Functionality like the interrogation system has been completely scrapped. Probably the biggest notable change is that Michael Ironside is no longer the voice of Sam Fisher; Canadian Actor Eric Johnson steps into the role for Blacklist.
I’ll say that while I didn’t have an issue with the performance Eric gave for Sam, the most stand out problem for me was the writing of the character. Sam Fisher turns into a complete asshole during certain moments of the game, he just goes off the rail for no particular good reason. I felt absolutely no connection to his character and couldn’t care less about him due to the whiny way he was acting. There really isn’t much character progression for Sam in this game. Most of the focus is on the story and what’s happening with The Blacklist, and thankfully that plotline is actually well done and is interesting to see unfold.
The game's main hub is set on the Fourth Echelon mobile command headquarters -- a plane called the Paladin. On this aircraft you can walk around to speak to other team members, purchase upgrades, or access your missions. Apart from the main single player campaign, Blacklist offers a variety of side missions which can be completed solo or with a co-op partner. But one of the most interesting side tasks that I had a lot of fun working through was the metagame missions. Here you’re presented the mission on the global map, and handed a report that you need to decipher. Using information in that report you’ll need to figure out where on the map the next part of this hidden piece to mission is. Trying to determine where you should be looking can either be obtained by using some general knowledge brain power, or jumping onto the internet and doing some research.
Spies vs Mercs is where you’ll find your multiplayer fix; I know of a lot of gamers who are overjoyed that Ubisoft has brought it back. Choosing from two sides -- those obviously being the Spies and Mercs -- players will face off against each other and use a number of weapons and items in order to complete their given objective. The difference here between the teams is that the Mercs play in a first person perspective and are generally less versatile within the environment, but are able to soak of a bunch more bullets due to their armour. The Spies, however, can continue to climb around and it’s in their best interest to sneak behind players to pull off that one hit execution move; those Mercs never can see them coming. There is a decent selection of modes you can select from, and once again a load of unlocks and customisations for your characters. It’s fantastic to see something different from your standard death match type of multiplayer, and Spies vs Mercs is just so fun and enjoyable to play.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist refines on the past games in the series but plays it safe and doesn’t try anything drastically new. There is plenty of gameplay on offer here and their decision to bring back Spies vs Mercs provides something different to your standard multiplayer. While the story in the campaign is executed very well there is some room for improvement with the character development; I shouldn’t walk away thinking that the main protagonist is a total jerk.