Splinter Cell: Blacklist (Available on PC, PlayStation 3, Wii U, and Xbox 360)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1 to 8
Developer: Ubisoft Toronto
Release Date: August 20th, 2013
Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Blacklist M for mature because of blood and gore, drug references, intense violence, and strong language. You take on the roll of Sam Fisher as he makes his way through a series of covert ops, taking out countless enemies along the way. While you can spare anyone you come in contact with, you can also shoot them in the head, lob grenades at them, etc. So naturally this isn’t a game you’re going to want to play with children in the house, let alone let them have a go.
Plays Like: If you played through Splinter Cell: Conviction before, think of Blacklist as an extension of that game. Ubisoft’s goal was to give players as much freedom as possible in terms of dealing with each enemy encounter. Do you stealthily take down everyone, or do you go in Rambo style? Regardless of how you decide to play, there are a wide assortment of gadgets and weapons to aid you.
Review Basis: Ubisoft sent us a review copy of the PlayStation 3 version. I completed the single player campaign on Normal, and tried a couple of the co-op missions, plus the competitive multiplayer modes.
It’s all about choice…sort of. Many Splinter Cell fans were put off by the action-heavy Splinter Cell: Conviction. I wasn’t one of them. I actually loved Conviction because it felt like I could use stealth when I wanted to, or use a combination of stealth and action, which is what I always prefer. Blacklist puts much more of an emphasis back on using stealth, although also tries to cater to Conviction fans at the same time. For the most part they succeed, but only when they allow players to choose for themselves how they want to play. Often the game chooses for you, and forces you into different situations. One time the game will give you a failed mission screen if you happen to be spotted once, and the next you’re tasked with surviving an incoming onslaught. Thankfully when the game does open up and allows you the freedom to do as you please, everything falls into place. The choices you make will ultimately dictate how you upgrade your weapons, and which gadgets you bring along with you during each mission. I just wish this freedom was available throughout the entire game.
+ Mark and execute system returns, and is just as awesome as ever. You can highlight several enemies at once and execute them all with the press of a button. When used in combination with melee attacks or a ranged shot, the results can look rather spectacular. As usual you have to do a stealth take-down in order to use the system, which prevents overpowering the player.
+ Tons of new and old gadgets, some catered to killing, others to becoming a ghost. Most of Blacklist‘s new features are directly aimed at making it through each mission without ever being seen. The drone is of particular usefulness. You can mark and stun several enemies with the drone, or simply use it as an EMP bomb, or better yet as a means to see who might be just ahead.
+ Nice mission variety. You don’t only play as Sam in this wild ride. No, there are actually times where you take on the role of another operative in first-person, then there are times where you’re in control of satellite controlled weapons, and a few other really unique scenarios. I don’t want to spoil it all, but the game does a wonderful job of keeping things fresh.
+ New hub system is really unique, and fun to use. Instead of navigating through a series of menus in order to access the single player campaign, co-op missions, and competitive multiplayer, the entire game’s menu system has been retrofitted into the Paladin’s (Fourth Echelon’s mobile base of operations) main map. Here players can select exactly what they want to do next.
+ The Paladin also acts as an upgrade system. Players can talk to Grim or Charlie in order to upgrade the plane, and therefore Sam’s core abilities (such as being able to heal faster while in combat), and Sam’s weapon load-out (which also allows Sam to upgrade his core weapons and gadgets).
+ Superb co-op mission from Conviction return, and are just as excellent as before. These specialty missions can be completed solo, or with a buddy, but they’re so much better with a friend. They range from taking out waves of enemies to securing intel without raising a single alarm. Regardless of which co-op mission you tackle, communication is key or these missions are all but impossible.
+ Competitive multiplayer is also a blast. The famous spies versus mercs mode is back, and challenges two spies to take out two mercenaries. The spies play out in third person, while the mercenaries play in first-person. This adds a fantastic element of cat and mouse to the mode because the mercs are always fearful of assassination, while the spies are constantly scared of being spotted. Other competitive modes includes team deathmatch, and a conquest mode. These are interesting, but the spies vs. mercs mode takes the cake.
+ No matter which gameplay mode you happen to play, you earn cash for doing so. This money can then be used in the various upgrades mentioned above. Everything you do in one mode transfers forward to the next, which is why the new hub system feels intuitive, because it makes sense in the context of the game.
+ Players earn money in the campaign based on how they play the various missions. Did you kill every guard you saw, or did you take them out stealthily? These choices have a direct result in your financial reward at the end of each mission.
+ The audio is completely top notch. The musical score is fantastic, and fits the pacing of the story perfectly. When the story gets desperate, you can count on the music to set the mood. When it picks up, the music’s right there. Voice acting is Hollywood level, and helps pull you into the narrative.
+/- While I found the campaign’s storyline to be interesting, it feels tired. Essentially it boils down to a group of terrorists demand the U.S. remove all its troops from foreign soil or else a major attack will befall America every few days. Haven’t we played this scenario before? You might love it, but I found it to be ‘alright’ at best.
+/- Sam Fisher’s voice no longer belongs to Micheal Ironside. New lead man, Eric Johnson does the character justice, but simply doesn’t have the same chiseled and raspy voice, and as such the character just doesn’t feel the same. Instead Sam comes off as angry even when the scene doesn’t depict that. When he talks to his daughter, the dialogue often feels out of place or forced.
+/- Graphics are stylized after Conviction, although I found them to be far less polished. This might just be my memory playing tricks on me, but overall I found there were a lot of cutscenes that were jittery, and the look of the character models didn’t appear as high res as in Sam’s previous outing. Level design is spectacular for the most part, and the environmental effects are equally impressive.
– While I really enjoyed the new menu system, some might complain that it can take longer to get into the game as a result. The initial load time in particular feels like it lasts an eternity because the game has to load in the Paladin instead of a simple menu system.
– While it’s great having the choice of being able to take down everyone in my path, Sam feels extremely weak compared to everyone he faces off with. Why is it that guards can take six shots to the chest, but he can only take two? More often than not when I was spotted it meant instant death.
I suck as stealth games like this. Not sure why, but I do. When a mission requires I secure three different assets, and doesn’t have an auto save feature after securing the first, or second one, I get super frustrated. There’s nothing like seeing the final computer terminal, only to get shot in the face and have to redo the entire 30 minute level all over again. Grr!
Splinter Cell: Blacklist tries to bring the series back to its roots, while at the same time keeping fans of Conviction. The end result is a game that occasionally feels like it’s having an identity crisis. When it opens up and allows the player to decide how they want to play the game, it soars. I just wish the entire experience was as such. The co-op and multiplayer component as great fun, and as a whole this is certainly a game you should check out if you enjoy the series or action games in general. Just be aware that often times your freedom is limited, which is funny because that’s a big part of the story.
Final Score: 8.5/10