Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell is one of gaming’s most reliable franchises, one that’s been running since 2002 with a high level of consistency in terms of quality. Under Ubisofts tenure, the franchise has changed with the times but kept its core stealth-based antics fresh and rewarding.

The series is on familiar ground

The series is on familiar ground

Although games like the Batman: Arkham series do offer some sneaky thrills, the action heavy content means they aren’t pure stealth titles. That leaves us with the meticulous planning thrills of Hitman and the more esoteric Metal Gear Solid series; however those without a Sony console are unable to access the latter.

When 2013’s Blacklist was first shown, rumblings of discontent were heard from a number of longstanding fans. Firstly Blacklist had gone and replaced the voice of our hero Sam Fisher, a role occupied by Michael Ironside for over a decade. Ironside sounds like he’s eating a hot gravel burrito and to a certain extent was Sam Fisher, therefore replacing him with Eric Jonson; a much younger actor (who also motion captured Sams movements) was always likely to go down like a turd sandwich.

Strangely it’s a sequel but reboots many of its characters and ideas, grounding it firmly in soft-reboot Casino Royale-style territory.

The other issue was the perception that the series was moving away from its slower paced and painstaking tone into more action heavy, cover shooter territory, an idea which was understandably alarming, given that this slow-burn was the series USP. For this reason it was nigh on two years before I picked up Blacklist, after all if I wanted a cover shooter there’s lots of alternatives. Turns out many of these preconceptions were incorrect and Blacklist is another fine game in the series.

It’s probably best to deal with the elephant in the room first. Michael Ironside is missed but Eric Jonson makes a good stab at Fisher and after a while you’ll forget about it. Far more distracting is that Sam Fisher doesn’t seem to be able to look up (possibly he is part dog?); he spends most of his time glowering downwards at his giant desk-cum-computer with his hands on his hips. Thankfully no one on his team is taller than he is so he isn’t just constantly looking at peoples tits.
The story of Blacklist, which takes place roughly 6 years after the events of the last game, Conviction is in familiar ground. Strangely it’s a sequel but reboots many of its characters and ideas, grounding it firmly in soft-reboot Casino Royale-style territory.

The gameplay is superb

The gameplay is superb

Blacklist like most Clancy games, is a tale of shady mercenaries, sleazy arms dealers private armies and corrupt officials. It’s a serviceable plot which takes in number of different countries and throws in the odd controversial recall to real life, but to those who have played any of the previous games it will blend into the narrative landscape like Fisher blends into walls painted black with a triangle of green circles.

It’s really the gameplay which marks Blacklist out as it is from the cover-shoot fest which was rumoured. There are three gameplay styles on offer; Ghost (silent, not deadly), Panther (silent, deadly) and Hippo Assault (pure action). So although you can play Blacklist as a standard cover shooter, its merely an option and my feeling would be most players will like me fall between the first two, with Ghost being the most challenging as it often means avoiding contact and being even more meticulous.

The provision of the Assault play style shows Ubisoft was at least thoughtful and although there are a handful of occasions where Fisher will have to shoot his way out, overall it’s completely redundant. Why you ask? Well despite the fact that Fisher is a double-hard man-shed of the highest order, he is woefully equipped at taking even the merest ticking of bullets. Plus although the stealth works well and the combat is slick, the cover shooting is not its strongest control feature. Basically playing this style is not only a bit boring but mismatched to the content of the levels. However unlike Hitman: Absolution which got similar flak for introducing more combat into the mix, Blacklist doesn’t ostensibly force you to employ this more and more, with more imaginative level design and verticality.

The provision of the Assault play style shows Ubisoft was at least thoughtful and there are a handful of occasions where Fisher will have to shoot his way out, but overall it’s completely redundant.

You are far better spending some time getting to know how the levels are set up and taking a bit of time. By a bit of time, this can mean quite a lot of time, so get the sausage rolls in the oven. Blacklist, like most splinter Cells titles is an OCD nightmare of the highest order and should be avoided like the plague by people who have to wash their hands every time they open a door.

The option to go in guns blazing is pointless but un-intrusive

The option to go in guns blazing is pointless but un-intrusive

Taken out 9 guards faultlessly but stumbled on the 10th? Restart at checkpoint. Spotted during an elaborate trap set –up which took 10 minutes? Restart at checkpoint. There’s more time restarting at checkpoints that a moped riding East Berliner in the early 60’s.

This game has also crucially added dogs. Yes dogs…and weirdly they are the trickiest enemy as they can smell you and raise the alarm. In Splinter Cell world Dogs are actually more intelligent than the humans. The humans themselves are the usual identikit AK-47 holding idiots with no inner monologue who constantly pronounce where they are walking and where they are looking for you. “Fisher, I can see you over there!” “What’s that noise?”. These cretins wouldn’t be out of place in Scooby Doo, “Whats that Scoob ?…a man in a night vision mask lurking in the shadows!?”

The level offer High-Value Targets which have to be captured alive for money to be spent in the customisation mechanic (see later). Given that these guys are often peppered within larger groups or in easily viewable locations, sometimes it can be tricky to get them, but also rewarding.

You can always play on the fly of course; plenty of scope for reacting to situations but given Sam’s bullet aversion, once you’re spotted it’s often all over anyway, necessitating a restart. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though; if anything it makes thing more rewarding when you do clear a section with perfect precision.
The single player campaign takes around 12 hours to complete and given the aforementioned diversity in levels, it’s never less than entertaining. Even the slightly weird last boss fight is actually pretty fun, even if plays like the ending to Heat.

The other curious choice is to have kill or spare option for your combat, however to my knowledge there are absolutely no consequences for choosing either….aside from the horrified look on your mother’s face as you messily gut another terrorist.

You can always play on the fly of course; plenty of scope for reacting to situations but given Sam’s bullet aversion, once you’re spotted it’s often all over anyway, necessitating a restart. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though; if anything it makes thing more rewarding when you do clear a section with perfect precision.

Add to this a main hub on which there are side missions available as well as Co-op levels and the content accessible is good value. True some of these missions are basically Splinter Cells version of Horde, which is ridiculously tricky on your own but it is decent.

The classic Spies Vs Mercs game mode is also available but I’m afraid to say I didn’t get chance to partake so can’t comment. However add this to the other content and you can’t accuse Ubisoft of being stingy.

Customisation options are abundant.

Customisation options are abundant.

The main hub also allows access to a customisation suite, where you can spend the gamed currency on a range of weapons, outfits and gadgets. You can also set up different load-outs based on the type of level. It’s certainly a tinkerers dream and a step above anything in previous games.

In terms of graphics and sound the entire package is slickly presented. The game often looks wonderful and really sequels the most out of the last gen consoles (I know its out on WiiU but its very much a last gen game) with lovely lighting and textures.

VERDICT: PLEASURE

Splinter Cell: Blacklist is not the compromised shoot-fest disaster than many had anticipated. In actuality it’s a great addition to the series and an improvement over Conviction. It looks good, plays well and has a shed-load of content. The addition of an optional combat heavy mode is almost pointless but at least shows that the developers want to cater for a range of tastes. I wouldn’t have minded paying full price but for its current bargain bucket cost it’s certainly worth picking up.

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Ed F

I am a keen amateur gamer who has always found himself slightly behind the times. My interest in gaming piqued with jealous looks at my friends copy of Duck Hunt on the NES all the way back in the early 90’s. Since then I graduated to a Sega Mega Drive of my own, a late 90s obsession with PlayStation One and then an ill-advised GameCube phase in the early noughties. Since my relatively late introduction to the Xbox360 in early 2009, I have being playing catch up. Among my other interests are comics, movies and boring my wife to death with talk of ‘cinematic tropes’ and ‘narrative arcs’. I am currently gorging myself on the next gen whilst keeping one foot in the previous one.

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