Review :: Splinter Cell: Blacklist

Out Of The Shadows

Written by Dave Molinski

Published Friday, 13 September 2013 01:52

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Splinter Cell: Conviction’s action-oriented gameplay left hardcore fans questioning the new direction that Ubisoft was choosing for Sam Fisher. However, there were also gamers, including newcomers to the franchise, who greatly enjoyed what Conviction had to offer. Ubisoft Toronto took this information and decided to create a new Splinter Cell title that would not only cater to gamers of both play styles, but also design in-depth environments that would ultimately give each player the ability to choose how to experience the game. Splinter Cell: Blacklist was the result, and the choices you make will be your most powerful tool.

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As is common among many Tom Clancy novels, the game’s plot features political intrigue, intense militaristic events, a compelling villain, and a threat to society. Splinter Cell: Blacklist focuses on a terrorist group called The Engineers, who have compiled a list of strategic locations that will be targeted every seven days unless their demands of removing American soldiers from foreign nations are met. This Blacklist, as it is to be named, poses an immense threat to the American nation, resulting in the departure of Sam Fisher and Fourth Echelon to thwart their plans. Being granted the Fifth Freedom by the President, Sam would defend the laws by breaking them, save lives by taking them, and ensure America’s safety by taking the fight to The Engineers.

The visual presentation is superb as you cross the globe following the crumbs that The Engineers have laid out. Detailed environments stand out whether you are concealed amidst the shadows of enclosed corridors or scaling buildings during a torrential thunderstorm. Ubisoft Toronto excelled at implementing various smaller gameplay aspects that, upon the level’s completion, bring about a captivating experience, solely pertaining to environmental design. If only for a moment, you can enjoy the departure from static environments as you maneuver through the crowded markets of Benghazi or progress under the night’s sky en route to uncover an Engineer cell within an abandoned mill. Boats travel through the harbour, planes navigate the stormy skies, and lightning and moonlight add an additional element of suspense to the atmosphere that is present. For a franchise that focuses on stealth gameplay, lighting plays an integral role, and Ubisoft Toronto perfects the differentiation of lighting within each environment to maximize the variation of play styles offered. The ability to manipulate lighting with weapons and gadgets also aids in providing safe passage through areas to flank enemy positions. This cinematic display is constant throughout, held intact by several aspects that also incorporate a well-defined soundtrack to enhance the tense and overly chaotic moments that are bound to occur. You will also notice that Michael Ironside is no longer present, having been replaced by Eric Johnson to voice Sam Fisher. It will take a short period to adapt, but Eric does an excellent job at continuing the legacy of Sam.

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Splinter Cell: Blacklist offers a vast amount of content that ultimately succeeds in defining you as a gamer. The three play styles to choose from are Ghost (non-lethal stealth), Panther (lethal stealth), and Assault. These options present a stylistic approach to combat within Blacklist, giving you control throughout every mission. Your arsenal of weaponry will also determine your desired play style, which also presents numerous variations of dispatching enemies that interfere with objectives. The realization of how fluid the controls are will occur immediately as you move from corner to corner, stalking each enemy that presents an obstacle. Concealing Sam among the shadows or behind obstacles waiting for an enemy to pass by always offers a sense of excitement. Exploring other play styles and blending them together will lead to a firmer appreciation of the variety that is available.

Even though there are three play styles, Splinter Cell will always remain a stealth experience, which is also indirectly hinted at throughout its entirety. The result of being spotted will rarely fair in your favour on the harder difficulties, leaving out any thought of open combat. Bypassing enemies will allot the highest score, but it is hard to resist leaving them unharmed. Certain areas will also allude to how to properly approach the situation, believing you are making a choice, while the choice has actually been made for you.

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Each mission contains numerous routes for you to take as you complete an objective, giving you variety and increasing replayability. Your initial thought process will force you to take the best possible approach, but each additional playthrough will warrant exploration, which will also reward you. The level design is structured in such a way to utilize the arsenal of weapons that are available. For example, vantage points can be sought out with a sniper rifle to kill from a distance for those who wish to refrain from up-close encounters.

The Mark and Execute feature from Conviction returns to provide an easier method of reducing enemy numbers. Its inclusion does lower the difficulty of congested areas, but carrying out an execution in motion when surrounded does provide some fantastic visuals. It is also important to note the realistic improvements as you are unable to fire through obstructions and must be within an appropriate distance. There is also the inclusion of short-lived sequences, such as providing sniper cover for Sam, that are more of an annoyance than a welcoming change of pace as it is supposed to provide.

One complaint with Blacklist pertains to how the choices you make do nothing to alter the narrative in any way. For example, you are confronted with a few individuals throughout the story where you are given the option to kill or save their lives. Your choice will not make a difference. These scenes are most likely the leftovers from the interrogation torture sequences that were taken out due to their extremely violent tone. Choices that will impact the overall plot would be a welcoming addition in any future Splinter Cell release.

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Every environment, coupled with a diverse range of options and gadgets, creates an enjoyable experience each time you are deployed to the field. The initial list of weaponry, attire, and gadgets available are basic, but countless options will quickly become unlocked after the completion of missions. An economy system is the driving factor behind the extensive amount of customizable features that are found within Blacklist. This amount of customization is normally reserved for online play, but Ubisoft Toronto wished to expand the possibilities of combat not only through the various play styles, but also by incorporating a deadly arsenal of unlockables within the single-player campaign.

The initial look at the cost of upgrades and unlocks may seem daunting, but all you need is to incorporate some cooperative missions into the mix and the payouts will be substantial. There is a plentiful number of gadgets to utilize during combat, which players may over-rely on since you are able to replenish all items and ammunition at caches during missions. There are also many useful combinations to experiment with: shooting a heavy’s helmet off as you deploy sleeping gas and luring enemies to pools of water with noisemakers and then electrocuting them as you strike it with a sticky shocker bolt. Using the tri-rotor as reconnaissance to identify nearby targets may also come in handy. Successful results will be highly dependent upon timing and the resourcefulness of gadgets and their placement.

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The implementation of the airbase titled “Paladin” creates an environment where the entire game can be accessed. You are able to interact with your team to unlock and upgrade your loadouts, upgrade the plane, check your current progress, and deploy for missions using the S.M.I. (Strategic Mission Interface). The overall immersive experience is attributed to the replacement of the generic menu system with an automatic entry to Fourth Echelon’s mobile headquarters.

For a franchise that focuses on stealth gameplay, lighting plays an integral role, and Ubisoft Toronto perfects the differentiation of lighting within each environment to maximize the variation of play styles offered.

Anyone seeking a more difficult challenge will want to put their skills to the test in the perfectionist difficulty. Resupply caches, the Mark and Execute ability, and sonar goggles are all removed, making it a truly worthwhile stealth experience. Perfectionist requires patience as your pacing will be reduced due to a more precise strategy, but it also gives you a more in-depth look at the smaller aspects of gameplay, such as listening to enemy conversations and uncovering hidden paths. Ammunition expenditure will frequently have to be considered before each engagement if you want to be successful in mastering the play styles for each mission.

Enemy artificial intelligence has also improved from previous installments, illustrating a more cautious and yet deadly presence during missions. Alarming enemies with unhidden bodies or environment manipulation will warrant searches to determine the cause of the disturbance, which can be welcoming to easily dispatch isolated soldiers. However, they will often illustrate their tactical training by searching in pairs, making your task more difficult. They also lean over ledges and possess flashlights in darker environments to ensure they are conducting an efficient search. Sam’s distractions will also lure enemies in close to reduce their numbers. These terrorists also show their mistrust to one another as their signaling of hearing something is met with hesitation, “…it’s probably nothing,” and yet their comrade walks to their death. Enemy movement and their reactions can be predicable to a certain degree, and so studying their position and utilizing shadows to flank will normally result in success.

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The inclusion of heavily armoured infantry poses a much greater threat than the standard terrorist soldiers encountered throughout missions. Confrontations with these units head-on will result in a dispersal of ammunition. Tactical planning to flank their position or shooting the helmet to expose their weakness will be the easiest means of subduing the threat. Be wary of an extremely dangerous four-legged enemy that can sniff out your position and signal reinforcements. Traversing environments to gain a vantage point over a dog will at times prove difficult, but will save you from numerous soldiers storming towards your position upon being detected. That being said, aerial takedowns and kicking dogs still felt a bit out of place.

The inclusion of cooperative missions not only expands the gameplay featured within Blacklist, but it also operates as a means of getting Sam to familiarize himself with the other members of Fourth Echelon. Grim’s missions are stealth driven, Charlie wants you to dive into Assault, Briggs expects cooperative teamplay, and the useful captive Kobin issues tasks where Panther will be best suited. Playing solo is definitely enjoyable, but experiencing these missions with a friend or a stranger will provide some exhilarating sequences. These missions add an impressive amount of content to an already in depth experience.

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Blacklist also brought to life the return of Spies vs. Mercs, a game mode that had been sorely missed since its last inclusion in Splinter Cell: Double Agent. The agility of the spies is set against the slow and heavily armoured mercenaries who have the upper hand in weaponry. The classic mode includes teams of two, where the mercenaries must defend terminals from being hacked by spies. The Blacklist mode increases the teams to four, adding much more chaotic gameplay and a refined sense of strategy as you are able to optimize loadouts. Teamwork will no doubt produce results. Roles are reversed in Extraction where the spies must defend terminals and it is an extremely refreshing mode. Uplink Control includes capturing objective points while Team Deathmatch includes your typical fire fights. Both modes allow spies and mercs to be played on a single team, but it is far superior on the former mode.

The goal from the beginning was clear for Ubisoft Toronto: create the best Splinter Cell title in the franchise to date, which is exactly what they did. The inclusion of several play styles gives the players the ability to make decisions on how they can progress throughout the game and the diverse experience contains a vast amount of content that will keep gamers occupied for countless hours. Just like Sam, Ubisoft Toronto has arisen from the shadows and we look forward to what their future has to offer.

 


Pros

+ Endless amount of gameplay

+ Variety of play styles

+ Captivating story

+ Spies vs. Mercs

Cons

- Lack of narrative alteration due to choices

- Some play styles within areas are predetermined

- Filler game sequences feel out of place


Final rating
9.0 / 10
Comments
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Game details
Splinter Cell: Blacklist
Release date : 2013-08-20
Platform :
Publisher : Ubisoft
Developer : Ubisoft
Gameplay : Action

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