Splinter Cell: Blacklist review: shadow play

Sam Fisher makes his triumphant return in Splinter Cell: Blacklist, a thrilling espionage adventure that encourages choice in play styles and successfully weaves all aspects of the game (campaign, co-op, multiplayer) into one neat interface.

Although Blacklist is the latest in the storied Splinter Cell franchise, it's Ubisoft Toronto's first game. New blood attempts to reinvigorate the franchise with new gameplay ideas and a dynamite multiplayer mode. Perhaps the defining trait of Blacklist is choice. Players can complete missions as they see fit, through maximum sneakiness or through James Bond-style action heroics. Specifically, players have the option to go ghost (full stealth), panther (lethal stealth), or assault (no stealth). While players are given the option to go Rambo, the abundance of shadows and rich in-game rewards make stealth an enticing option. In similar games, choice typically results in binary styles of play, forcing players to commit exclusively to either full-stealth or full-action. However, Blacklist does a remarkable job in making players feel like they can be flexible. Unlike previous games, getting spotted by guards isn't the worst thing in the world--and allows players to switch styles on the fly. However, in trying to satisfy everyone's particular gaming taste, Ubisoft Toronto does ask each type of player to occasionally branch out of their comfort zone. For instance, one stage will result in a mission failure anytime the player is spotted or anytime he kills any guards in the area, completely taking the assault option off the table. Likewise, stealth aficionados may be taken a bit aback by sequences in which they control the UAV and rain down missiles and machine gun fire on ground-based targets. These sequences are few and far-between and feel like a natural part of the story, rather than a jarring distraction. Every agent is as good as his tools and Sam Fisher comes with a load of weaponry and tools that add neat ways to play. In addition to rifles, ops suit additions, and goggles upgrades, Sam can also equip gadgets that make sneaking around or taking down terrorists a breeze. For example, my old friend, the Tri-Rotor drone, did more than bring back Ghost Recon: Future Soldier memories. It served as an effective way to neutralize guards from a safe area. The main difference here is that ammo is much more limited this time around and shock darts have little-to-no-effect on armored foes. Other gadgets, like sticky cameras with knockout gas and EMPs that wipe out lights and electronics, all have their uses and are fun to play with. While gadgets are fun to use, combat mechanics can be finicky, especially when things go awry. There were several instances when I was spotted in a corner by an approaching enemy, so my instinct would be to sprint his way and take him down. Unfortunately, the sprint button wouldn't override the cover button and I'd more often than not wind up a sitting duck, especially since the sprint button almost never overrides the crouching function. The Mark and Execute system is fully functional and allows players to mark their targets and execute them at a moment's notice, though the latter feature is disabled for Perfectionist difficulty. However, it becomes painfully difficult to mark targets in the middle of a firefight, leaving you wide open to attack. Likewise, trying to switch weapons during a gunfight can be excruciating, since Sam will often times pick up a guard's corpse, instead of his fallen rifle. These issues often result in premature death and can be frustrating after the same thing happens repeatedly.

Teamwork remains essential in co-op, regardless of the task

The notion of choice also extends into the narrative. Sam accesses all available missions, including co-op and multiplayer, from the Strategic Mission Interface. The end result is a seamless experience across all modes. However, choices made in the story feel a bit throwaway, with many choices failing to affect the overall narrative in any meaningful way. There are also times when you'll make one choice, only to have the other choice get forced on you, anyway. Co-op and the competitive Spies vs. Mercs mode round out the package. Co-op is exactly what it sounds like, offering players a similar choose-how-you-play experience as the single-player campaign. Multiplayer will start players off in classic 2v2 Spies vs Mercs, in which two spies must hack into terminals, while two mercs that are armed to the teeth will try and stop them. Hiding in the shadows takes on a new twist when trying to avoid human players and the spy's takedown makes reaching hacking terminals pretty easy. That's a good thing, because once terminals are hacked, the game turns into an awesome game of hide-and-seek, as the mercs use their flashlights to frantically try to take down the hacker and stop the transfer. It's chaotic and it's a blast. After leveling up to five, the other playlists open up, including the Blacklist variant of SvM. This version expands the mode to 4v4 and adds in customizable classes. The other 4v4 modes offer variants on the original version of SvM, including a mode that reverses roles (Extraction) and a Domination-type mode (Uplink) that has both factions struggling for terminals. The larger game modes take away some of the more intricate partner-based strategies, but are still enjoyable in themselves. It was a long wait for Blacklist, but Sam Fisher's latest adventure was worth waiting for. It's stealth action at its finest and it's made better through the various ways in which it can be played. Longtime fans of Splinter Cell may have been concerned about Blacklist after the action-packed Conviction. However, Ubisoft Toronto's flexible approach succeeds in catering to both fans new and old. A strong co-op mode and the addition of both classic and a fully modernized Spies vs. Mercs makes Blacklist worthy of holding the Splinter Cell name. [7]
This review is based on early retail Xbox 360 code provided by the publisher. Splinter Cell: Blacklist will be available at retail on PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U. It will also be available digitally on PlayStation Network and PC on August 20th for $59.99. The game is rated M.
Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
  • reply
    August 19, 2013 12:00 PM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Splinter Cell: Blacklist review: shadow play.

    Sam Fisher makes his triumphant return in Splinter Cell: Blacklist, a thrilling espionage adventure that encourages choice in play styles and successfully weaves all aspects of the game (campaign, co-op, multiplayer) into one neat interface.

    • reply
      August 19, 2013 12:17 PM


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        August 19, 2013 1:32 PM

        I've played it. Gameplay is identical conviction, don't bother. Stealth is more difficult to do than just shooting it out even on perfectionist.

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        August 19, 2013 11:53 PM

        Why? There's no reason to HATE those games. They're quite good. Sure, they don't come close to the excellent Chaos Theory, but they're good.

        Regarding Blacklist: As far as I know stealth is much more applicable than in Conviction. It's probably easier to shoot your way through, but when you're like me, you just don't do it and sneak. :)

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      August 19, 2013 12:55 PM

      what is the score

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      August 19, 2013 1:04 PM

      How long is the single player campaign give or take?

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        August 19, 2013 1:56 PM

        Single-player campaign lasted me about 8-10 hours. You can definitely prolong the experience, though, if you try and tackle some of the co-op missions solo.

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          August 20, 2013 7:34 AM

          Did you play it mostly stealth or Rambo? Mixed it up a lot? Just curious if Rambo style would get you through quicker, which I don't like playing as heh.

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