OXCGN’s Splinter Cell Blacklist Review
Modern stealth perfected
by Nicholas Laborde
©2013 Nicholas Laborde
In my opinion, it’s the ultimate spy story and stealth game. You’ve got the character you can’t help but love, the gameplay that identifies its place within the market, the atmosphere to support the illusion, and a believable fiction that’s intoxicatingly immersive.
I fell in love with Chaos Theory many moons ago, and I believe that it was the best game of the last generation. Since that precedent was set, fans have been yearning for the one successor that’d usurp Chaos Theory, and be the true sequel to that incredible experience.
We didn’t quite get that with Double Agent or Conviction. And it’s been eight years since Chaos Theory.
From the bottom of my heart, I can assuredly say that Splinter Cell: Blacklist is the true successor to Chaos Theory, and is not only the best Splinter Cell title ever released, but quite possibly one of the greatest stealth games I’ve ever played.
The single player
Blacklist takes place in modern day, set after the events of Conviction. The opening level has Sam and longtime friend Vic (who was the narrator between Conviction‘s levels) escaping from a military compound that comes under attack from a mysterious group.
This group is later identified to be part of a terrorist organization known as the Engineers, and this was just the first step in a massive global terror plot called the Blacklist. Every seven days, they will attack something important to America on its own turf or around the world.
Each attack has a name, such as “American Consumption” or “American Fuel.”
Their demands? America must withdraw all of its troops from around the world. Perfectly plausible, of course.
Sam and co., who are now the leaders of 4th Echelon, must stop the Blacklist and save America from utter annihilation. It’s not the strongest story in the world, but it’s the trademark Clancy storyline that’s just tangible enough to draw you in and keep you interested.
The time between missions is spent in 4th Echelon’s headquarters, a giant plane called the Paladin which is equipped with the some of the most advanced tech out there. From the high-tech SMI table, players can access all single player, multiplayer, and cooperative content in the game.
Exploring the ship will lead to the discovery that it has quite the bit of character. It’s filled to the brim with little details to ground the story and give it a little more punch, my favorite of which was a phone that Sam can use to contact his daughter, Sarah, after each mission.
I’ll admit: he’s no Michael Ironside; he breathed life into Sam in various ways that are now evident in Blacklist. By no means is the new actor bad; however, he sounds the same age as Sam’s daughter, and it’s very disconcerting to hear them speaking on the phone as father and daughter when they sound nearly the same age.
It’s not a deal breaker, and I’ll admit, he did a fair job. That being said, it shows very strongly at such a personal moment that the new guy is a tad out of place at times. Additionally, he lacks Sam’s trademark brand of dark humor, which I felt was a very noticeable detriment to the character we’ve spent the past decade getting to know.
Ultimately, though, it isn’t about the story; it’s about the gameplay. And let me tell you: it’s incredible.
Easily one of the most fluid games ever made, Blacklist‘s controls are tight, seamless and feel very natural. Sam smoothly glides throughout environments, the stealth mechanics are fantastic, and environment traversal takes a few hints from Assassin’s Creed.
You could be slowly crouch walking past enemies, break into a full on sprint, jump out of a window and drop down all in one seamless motion.
But to even sprint in this game is to do it a great disservice, for it’s one of the best stealth experiences out there thanks to many factors, one of which is the AI.
I’ll put it simply: they don’t mess around. If you decide to take out a guard who separated from his patrol group, you better either dispatch the rest of the group or leave immediately, because it won’t be long before they realize he’s gone, and subsequently spread out to hunt down the assailant.
Players can choose to play Blacklist from whatever perspective that they want, and that is broken down into three fundamental options: Ghost, Panther, and Assault.
Ghost is the ultimate stealth experience, and how I recommend playing the game for the greatest gratification. Ghosts are never lethal, avoid conflict at all costs, and only take down enemies when there’s no other option.
My trusty crossbow was extremely helpful for this type of play style; the trademark sticky shockers could zap enemies into a nice little nap, while the new sleeping darts cause enemies to be knocked out by non-lethal gas.
Panthers are like ghosts but with lethal tendencies; they tend to avoid combat but are lethal in what they do, and if combat arises, they try to get away.
Assault players go against what you’d imagine a stealth game would be, with players gunning and getting into combat frequently and with very loud equipment (frag grenades, etc.).
Ultimately, Blacklist is versatile enough to suit any play style, and that’s the mark of a good game. I walked away from the campaign genuinely excited to play it again, and that, my friend, is how you know it did something right.
You can expect to get a solid twelve to fourteen hours out of Blacklist‘s meaty campaign.
Sixteen total missions are available; each of the four main characters on the Paladin offers four missions, and three characters’ missions can be played both solo or cooperatively. The real bread and butter, though, lay in the missions for Isaac Briggs.
These scenarios can only be played with a partner, and were clearly designed to be enjoyed by a team who works together. I won’t spoil anything, but upon completion of the fourth and final mission, a nice nod to Conviction is given that hints at future DLC.
The other missions are more simple-minded, like eliminating X number of hostiles or defending against waves of enemies. They’re all enjoyable, but Briggs’ missions stand out the most.
Spies vs. Mercs.
It’s simple. One team, the Spies, play much like Sam Fisher and have similar goals: stay silent, accomplish the objectives, be cautious. The other team, the Mercs, are the complete opposite; put in first person, players are put in the boots of a more traditional FPS experience, and have to weed out the Spies.
Multiple modes of play exist, but the two main modes are SvM Classic and SvM Blacklist.
Classic is where I’ll be spending many hundreds of hours in the months and years to come. It pits two Spies against two Mercs, and custom loadouts are not allowed.
The Spies have to successfully hack (and defend in the process) terminals around the map. The Mercs, of course, have to prevent this from happening, with both teams trying to use their gadgets more effectively than the other.
It’s simple. It’s fluid. It’s fun.
It feels like the old days, and as a result Classic provides for intense, old-school stalking and stealing.
Blacklist mode, on the other hand, is a modern take on SvM; it can have up to eight players, and players on each team can choose to be either Spies or Mercs. I feel it can be a little unbalanced at times, especially since there aren’t spawn shields or designated spawn safe zones.
These are issues that need to be addressed, but I have no doubt that they will be.
The other modes have varying degrees of objectives and traditional deathmatch scenarios, and while they are fun in their own regard and offer something for everyone, I (and many other Splinter Cell fans) will stick to Classic.
At the end of the day, it’s got one hefty offering of social options for all kinds of players, allowing for anyone – new or old – to jump in.
This is the game we’ve been waiting for.
A credit system across all modes ensures that no action goes unrewarded, and that you’ll keep coming back with different loadouts and gear to take on every scenario in every way possible.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist is one hell of a content-laden game, and it shines because of it.
The campaign is engaging and one of the most entertaining stealth experiences I’ve ever played; the cooperative options are many and rewarding; Spies vs. Mercs is pure fan service, and is one of the most addicting multiplayer modes of all time.
No matter your predisposition on stealth or Splinter Cell, no matter how you felt after Double Agent or Conviction, no matter how you feel about a change in voice actors, Blacklist is the game for you. It garners my highest praise, and Ubisoft have permanently earned my deepest respect and admiration.