Splinter Cell Blacklist Spies vs Mercs preview: Agents vs Predators

The release of Conviction (forgive the pun) splintered the Splinter Cell fanbase. While many enjoyed its fast-paced approach to stealth, series purists missed a more deliberate way of playing. It appears Ubisoft's mission statement with Blacklist is to offer the best of both worlds: appeal to Conviction converts while appeasing the most dedicated, hardcore fans.

Adapting Splinter Cell's competitive multiplayer into something that both camps could enjoy seems intrinsically impossible. So, what's Ubisoft's solution? Offer entirely different multiplayer experiences for each type of player, of course.


Spies vs. Mercs is back, after its curious absence in Conviction. Ubisoft Montreal has created a brand new version of SvM for Blacklist. But, they've thrown in a "Classic" mode as well, for players who might not be so keen on the many changes made to this iteration of the mode.

"Classic" mode will pit two spies against two mercs, as they try to attack and defend various points on the map. Mercs must scour the environment, flashlight in hand, as they try to hunt down the elusive spies. With its very deliberate pace and moodily-lit atmospheric environments, the classic SvM feels like a classic horror film. As a merc, you'll listen for footsteps and constantly check your corners (and any suspicious vents above, of course).

Playing through "classic" really highlights how different modern Splinter Cell games are over their predecessors. Even as a spy, your movement is far slower. Players accustomed to Conviction will find that their spies are nowhere as agile. Running recklessly through the environment will get you spotted by a merc, and with no lethal weapons at your disposal, you will be killed pretty quickly. "Classic" really does live up to its name, and series veterans will undoubtedly be pleased by how familiar it all is.

However, that's not to discount the new "Blacklist" version of SvM. The core concept remains the same: attack and defend various points on the map. But the execution could not be any more different. In this modern interpretation of SvM, matches have been expanded to 4v4. Spies are far more agile, able to run through the environment more like a character from Assassin's Creed. Mercs can also run far more quickly, which should feel more familiar to Call of Duty players.

While these tweaks will already drastically change the SvM experience, Ubisoft has added a new customization system that adds an interesting new twist to the experience. Every player can create custom loadouts with an assortment of gadgets. Spies can acquire radars that highlight enemies on the HUD. They can pick up cloaking devices, or a variety of grenades. Mercs have their own tools, like a EMP that disables all of the spies' tools, or proximity mines, or a remote-controlled UAV that can fly and self-destruct (killing any pesky spies that may be hiding in a hard-to-reach corner of the map).

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What makes the Blacklist variant of SvM so compelling is how it forces teams to not only cooperate, but constantly shift their approach. If spies are cloaking, mercs will want to launch with a loadout that can deactivate their gadgets. Then, the spies will want to respawn with a different ability that can counter that--and so on and so on. Even teams that are highly coordinated will find it difficult to win if they don't constantly adapt their strategies to those of their foes.

Interestingly, both versions of SvM use the same maps. But, you'd be hard-pressed to believe that while playing. Although the architecture remains the same, the lighting is completely different. Blacklist maps tend to be a lot brighter, but "Classic" really emphasizes the shadows, and the need to use (and take out) light sources in the environment. And because the way you move is so different in both modes, the way you approach each level feels drastically different.

Both SvM variants are terrific fun for unique reasons. Ubisoft's experiment to appease both new and longtime fans alike seems to have paid off. At the end of the day, I recall asking a few colleagues I played with about their experience with the franchise. Apparently, those that loved Conviction (like I did) wiped the floor in Blacklist SvM. However, the more grizzled vets handily won Classic. Those kinds of results are undoubtedly exactly what Ubisoft wanted for Blacklist.