Something is going down, so the US Government can only call on one man! Sam Fisher is back and doing his stealth thing all over again in the sixth Splinter Cell game.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a direct sequel to Conviction and having shut down Third Echelon, for being a little bit corrupt, it is decided to open a new counter terrorist unit with a highly original top secret name… Forth Echelon. It is all a bit 24 really. Silly, but whatever, it works just enough to keep you invested.
This time though, operations aren’t managed from the ground, oh no, that makes it too easy to be corrupted. So the answer? Place the entire team in a massive airplane, complete with state of the art technology and its own holding cells. Again when you think about it, it is a little bit dumb, but it is another chance for some more 24 and Jack Bauer… Sorry more Splinter Cell and Sam Fisher.
It is a plot that at first glance comes across as well written and clever, but when you look at it, it really is a little nonsensical and far fetched. However you know what? That’s fine, it is an action game and the story can’t be too serious and mustn’t worry about the odd continuity error. It has returning characters, the chances of yet more double crosses and twists. It drives the game forward and that is what is important.
So what of the gameplay? Well, it is more of the same as you would have seen in Conviction, with a few little mechanics added in. You are given a briefing before each mission and it is then up to you how you handle it. You can go complete stealth and avoid all combat, or go all guns blazing, or mix the two. Things like this are always promised, but then seem to be geared to sticking to one way over the other. Aimed at making a decision based on what achievement you are after in the long run. Blacklist though works and does let you mix it up.
What impressed most was the enemy AI. During one mission we were trying to be as stealth as possible, but did make a mistake and the enemy was on Sam completely. Even if they lost site of him, they would still be searching, any enemy that was patrolling another part of the area would then descend on Sam’s last know position and not let up. Which is a huge improvement on games gone by where the enemy are alert for a certain time then return to position, forgetting completely that someone was picking off their buddies one by one.
Splinter Cell games have always done stealth well though, from the very first game right through to this latest offering. Hiding bodies is a must and deciding on killing or non lethal methods also count. Knock someone out, rather than kill them and they can potentially be recovered by their allies. It still not perfect, but it does work and like movies and TV shows in the same genre, you need to suspend a little bit of belief, otherwise you get bogged down in the little things.
There are a few ideas borrowed from other Ubisoft games. Don’t worry, we’re not talking about an invasion of Rabbids or anything like that. The press a button to stick to cover and then move is very much out of Ghost Recon, especially in a couple of levels, you’d be forgiven for thinking Sam had teamed up with the Ghost team. However still feels very much like Splinter Cell and these little bits actually help the flow of the game and remove what could be some frustration, making sure you stay hidden as best as possible.
It isn’t a game that is trying to hold your hand the entire time, but it is essentially a linear game, but with many multiple paths and approaches to each level. It gets the balance just right between fun challenge and being an out right experiment in frustration. That is to be commended and it shouldn’t annoy fans of the original games too much, whilst at the same time, it doesn’t alienate potential new fans. Something Square failed to get right Hitman Absolution, for example.
There is though, a treat for fans of the older Splinter Cell games, especially those who loved the multiplayer of Pandora Tomorrow. Spies vs Mercs has made a glorious return. It retains a lot of the charm of the original mode and is simply a joy to play. The ultimate game of cat and mouse. It has both a nod to Pandora Tomorrow with 2v2 mode, but also adds a 4v4 mode. The maps that we played all worked well and the balance felt just right depending on the class you were playing as.
Overall Blacklist is a sublime entry into the Splinter Cell series, it takes the fun but flawed gameplay of Conviction and polishes it a little. It’s not the greatest game ever made, but that doesn’t matter. You enjoy your latest adventure with Sam Fisher and that is all that matters at the end of the day.