At last Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist, the sixth installment of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell series, has hit the shelves. The game is a direct sequel to Splinter Cell: Conviction, which was released in 2010. With Blacklist Ubisoft has sought a compromise between these two titles, blending the features from Conviction with their new release's otherwise more traditional design, creating a game that is poised to entertain fans as much as its acclaimed predecessor.
After the events of Splinter Cell: Conviction, the President of the United States, Patricia Caldwell, shuts down the corrupt Third Echelon and creates Fourth Echelon, a new counter-terrorism and special operations unit with elite members drawn from various agencies. Fourth Echelon is led by former Third Echelon agent Sam Fisher, who receives his orders directly from the Commander in Chief herself. The plot of Blacklist revolves around an organisation composed of twelve terrorists calling themselves "The Engineers", who orchestrate a series of escalating attacks on United States assets called "The Blacklist". Fisher, along with Briggs, his new sidekick, and the rest of his Fourth Echelon team, are assigned to deal with these terrorists as quickly as possible.
Fisher's hunt takes him across the globe, from Libya, to Iran, to Britain and finally to the United States itself. However, despite these travels, Fisher's adventure is marred by very unimpressive visuals, which are muddy, twitchy, and prone to tearing, as well as bland, droning sound design. In addition, the derivative and uneventful nature of Blacklist's plot leaves the world of Fisher's story-based campaign missions feeling bare. Combine this with clichéd writing, a slow pace and uninspired spy situations and the player is left with a truly lacklustre campaign.
The selection of elimination, wave-based, and stealth-only challenge maps are far more interesting. In addition, it's the co-op that surprisingly succeeds in making the experience more engaging. Playing through missions with a partner adds dynamism, something largely absent from solo mode, as well as an extra layer of difficulty. The challenges are unified with the campaign through money.
Across every mode of play the game places an emphasis on earning money by offering the player a multitude of challenges as well as the ability to replay any mission. This money can then be used to upgrade your Sam Fisher's outfit with various gadgets and weapons, such as the remote-controlled Tri-Rotor drone or the nonlethal bow, complete with interchangeable arrows. The money is actually earned by skillfully getting through levels using Ghost, Panther, or Assault tactics. Ghost, the toughest and most rewarding option, involves sneaking through without disturbing enemies. Panther play consists of Fisher actively stalking and silently eliminating enemies one by one. Lastly Assault style means slaughtering enemies in overt, loud head-on engagements. With these three options Ubisoft has managed to produce both an accessible game and one that does not scrap what makes the Splinter Cell series fun.
This sense of fun is further enhanced by the preservation of various Fisher abilities. The "Mark and Execute" feature allows the player to select and automatically take out enemies at range. The "Last Known Position" element shows players where enemies think Sam Fisher is with the help of an outline. Blacklist also introduces a new mechanic called "Killing in Motion", which allows the player to highlight targets and take them out in quick succession while on the run.
Lastly, online multiplayer is also a highlight; Spies vs. Mercs is far superior to the campaign. Just as before, teams take turns as stealthy spies and overt mercenaries. The former attempt to complete objectives without being discovered and killed by the latter. A brilliant "Classic" mode consists of two spies pitting non-lethal weapons against slower, first-person shooting, lethal mercs, while the new "Blacklist" mode expands the idea with custom loadouts and four-on-four matches in various game types. Again the money system unifies the game, allowing players to buy gadgets and weapons for their Spy and Merc with money earned in the campaign and in challenges.
Overall, to enjoy Splinter Cell: Blacklist it is imperative to first desire co-op and multiplayer over Sam Fisher gameplay, and then to make sure to enjoy all of the games features. While the campaign may be mediocre, if you exploit the cornucopia of extra missions as well as Spies vs. Mercs action you will walk away satisfied.
for another Why We Love video game review, please see