Sam Fisher has long been the go-to guy for gamers' stealth needs, from his debut in the original Splinter Cell to the more dynamic and action packed Conviction. The series has progressed leaps and bounds over the years, both in the complex storylines and visually, and even the earlier games pushed the graphical capabilities of the last generation of consoles. Some fans of the series were disappointed that Conviction took the game in a slightly different direction, but now Blacklist is here to make up for that. Taking the franchise back to it's roots, Blacklist is the game that people have been waiting for since Chaos Theory. Is it any good though? Read on to find out.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist starts with a huge terrorist attack on American soil, all right under the nose of Sam Fisher. After a small tutorial mission, you are introduced to the Paladin, a huge aeroplane that acts as your home base, and more importantly the SMI. This is your intelligence database and map, allowing you to search for objectives and access the online modes. Using the SMI, you start your first proper mission, and you'll get to see firsthand how Blacklist is stealth-heavy whilst retaining some of the coolest features from Conviction, such as the mark and execute feature.
The narrative in Blacklist sees Sam Fisher and his elite crew travelling all over the world to get information, people and to prevent more terrorist attacks. The leader of the Engineers, which is the terrorist group promising more attacks against the USA, is an ex-MI6 agent, who wants all American troops deployed in a foreign land to return home. If not, somewhere will get attacked once a week. It's an incredibly tense story, and one with huge consequences, unlike Convictions fairly personal plot.
Before you start each mission, you have to pick your load out. You can purchase, customise and upgrade a massive variety of weapons, gadgets and suits, and it really lets you tailor your load out to exactly how you want to play. Different pieces of armour will have different effects on stealth, weapon handling and armour, meaning that if you don't want to be stealthy, you can run and gun without being punished. Scattered around each level are hidden laptops and USB drives (also known as Dead Drops), and they're pretty standard collectibles for a modern game. Where it gets slightly more interesting is the HVTs, or High Value Targets. These are specific enemies that have a bounty on their head, one that you earn by taking them down with a non-lethal attack, and then tying them up for the local authorities. It's a pretty cool feature but after a few levels it just seems arbitrary.
There are some great new gadgets to play with, such as the tri-rotor, the crossbow and many different optical upgrades. The tri-rotor is a small remote controlled drone, which allows you to scout ahead and even take out some enemies. The crossbow is new to Splinter Cell and is capable of firing EMP and sleeping gas, meaning its great against both man and machine. The optical goggles have been vastly improved, and now you can see much further, with less distortion. There is so much to buy and upgrade, you'll have a blast making your perfect Sam Fisher suit. The Paladin is also upgradeable, transforming your high-tech, airborne fortress into the perfect base for Fisher and co. You can spend your hard earned money on upgrades to various rooms, each which has a different effect. Sink some money into the medical bay and you'll heal faster whilst on missions, whilst the command and control centre lets you see all secondary objectives from a greater distance. It's a great way to break up the missions and a fully upgraded Paladin can offer some serious benefits.
Sam Fisher is back to doing what he does best.
Like Conviction, Blacklist has a number of online modes for you to try out, allowing you to play both competitively and cooperatively. The co-op missions are genuinely good missions, and they don't just feel like rehashes of the single player maps. Playing with a partner makes it twice as easy to get caught, but it means you're capable of pulling off some sweet moves, and disposing of enemies much faster. You can even do a dual execute, in which you both mark enemies for death, and simultaneously take them down in a flurry of silenced bullets. The cooperative missions are in some ways better than the single player ones.
If teamwork doesn't float your boat, you can always go online for some Spies vs. Mercs. There are a number of different game types all of which pit a group of spies against a group of mercenaries. The spies play just like Sam does in the single player, with all of the gadgets and night vision. The mercenaries however are played in first person mode, and don't have access to much. They're in the dark, and must defend themselves and objectives from the spies. It's a lot of fun to play, and when you're a mercenary and can't see or hear anything, but you know they're out there, it's genuinely terrifying. There are different types of Spies vs Mercs, but they're almost all based around hacking or extracting intelligence from terminals, so there isn't much difference between them. There is also a standard team deathmatch mode, with no objectives, just spy on mercenary killing.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist is taking the series back to it's stealthy roots, and hardcore fans will be incredibly happy. The graphics are superb and the storyline is dark and dramatic, and it really does feel like it could be from the Chaos Theory era. As far as action games go, this is top notch. It delivers stealth like literally no other game can, and it does it in a way to appeal to a wide array of gamers. As far as Splinter Cell games go however, it's not the best. Not to say this is a bad game, but this franchise has had some incredible games to live up to, and Blacklist just doesn't quite feel like it's nailed it.
by Louis Gardner