Review | Splinter Cell: Blacklist

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Sam Fisher’s world may be the stuff of fiction but it is not that far removed from reality. As the franchise has always done a good job of highlighting, the “good guys” and “bad guys” are not always clear. The world is a more complicated place with shades of gray rather than stark black and white.

That’s not especially true with Blacklist, though, which takes an approach that is closer to a Hollywood blockbuster. It even has action sequences where you will run from an explosion or onslaught of enemies. It’s somewhat atypical of the series but it works just as well.

The game begins in Guam where a terrorist organization sets off a series of detonations at a military base on the island, killing most of the people there. This group calls themselves “The Engineers”. What they want is an end to U.S. occupation overseas — and if they don’t get it, they plan on unleashing a series of attacks.

Your job as Sam Fisher is obviously to undermine their plans, capture their leaders and resolve the conflict without losing American lives. In order to do that you have some of the best equipment you could ever want.

Among your available equipment are silent pistols, EMP grenades, shocker grenades, flashbangs, and other assorted weapons/gadgets that you have found in past games. New to the game is a miniature drone that can both act as reconnaissance and incapacitate guards. Weapons can be purchased and upgraded using in-game money that you earn through completing objectives.

Obviously since Splinter Cell is mostly about stealth, the best course of action will almost always involve some form of evasion technique or silent takedown. Making a ton of noise will alert guards and may result in reinforcements being deployed. Save yourself the trouble and avoid getting detected as much as possible.

Thankfully, you have plenty of options at your disposal. Keeping to the shadows and taking out lights helps a lot. You can shimmy over ledges, lure guards with a whistle and then throw them over the edge. Sneaking up on guards from behind or above is another legitimate tactic. Be sure to hide their bodies or roaming guards will find them.

As a secondary objective you can try for a high score with different play styles. These are called ghost, panther and assault. The “Ghost” play style has you remain undetected, as the name suggests, but also you should not kill enemies. Panther has you play lethally but in a silent and efficient manner. Finally, “Assault” is all about killing and causing noise. It’s an all-out approach.

At the end of each level you get scored for each of these play styles. If you earn enough points you can be rewarded for your choices. It gives you an incentive to play again with different play styles. You can also reach for a high score on the online leaderboards. The game tells you how you rank compared to everyone else in the world.

Aside from the single-player campaign, you also have a plane that you can walk around to talk with different characters in the game between missions. This is where you buy equipment and choose which mission to play next. While the story missions are linear, you can also select some side-missions to play.

After each mission you can phone Fisher’s daughter Sarah to get an outsider’s perspective of what is going on in the United States. She frequently talks about how people are freaking out as a result of the terrorist attack in Guam. She’ll also bring up stuff that she hears on the news and ask if you are all right. It’s a neat little way to make Fisher feel like a real human being.

As far as multi-player is concerned, there is co-op and competitive multi-player. Co-op missions are both split-screen and online, which is great depending on if someone is at your house or if you want to play with either a friend or random stranger online. Spies vs. Mercs is also making its return with support for up to four players per team.

Long-time fans of the series will be disappointed to hear that the voice of Sam Fisher, Michael Ironside, has been replaced by an actor who can do both motion capture and the voice. They’ve also changed Sam’s in-game appearance likely to mark the change. The new voice is of actor Eric Johnson, who is coincidentally also from Canada. I can’t say that I like him as much, but you’ll get over it.

Graphically, Splinter Cell: Blacklist is fairly close to being fugly. It’s sad, considering the series was once considered the pinnacle of the industry in terms of visual flair. Flat textures, stiff movements (for these days) and unimpressive backgrounds are all disappointments. I’ll blame the fact that they had to develop the game for the least common denominator, Xbox 360, but it still raises the question of why they didn’t transition this to a next-gen platform. I will say that the lighting still looks fairly good.

Fans of Splinter Cell will like Blacklist not because it reinvents the franchise in a dramatic fashion but because it correctly does most of what they expect from the franchise. Mostly. The developers decided to add some action sequences and play styles allow for less stealthy gameplay. The extensive upgrading/customization system, side-missions, online co-op, and Spies vs. Mercs all add to the experience. It’s definitely worth picking up but it’s not your traditional Splinter Cell game.

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