Splinter Cell: Blackist will mostly please fans of Conviction, but it has more than enough of the older Splinter Cell’s charms to. It’s a defining evolution that brings the best bits of gameplay mechanics from the previous game and builds upon them. It’s also a remarkably well designed game in terms of its offerings. There is plenty to do alone or on the social front. The social offerings are way more than ‘bolted-on’ afterthoughts, ensuring this will be a Splinter Cell game that will keep you playing.
Distributor: Megarom Interactive
For fans: Conviction, James Bond, Action, Gadgets and gizmos
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Also available on: PC, Playstation 3, Wii U
If we had to give it a numerical score: 9.4/10
What I liked
- ‘Conviction’ like mechanics
- Thorough design
- Social offerings
- Spies vs. Mercs multiplayer
- Drop in drop out missions
- Audio and Visual quality
- New Sam Fisher
- Gadget customization
Not so much
- Sideways camera movement
Gameplay and Features
A global terrorist organization is holding America at ransom, promising periodic terror attacks dubbed as the Blacklist. Enter Fisher at the helm of the Fourth Echelon, countering the terrorist threat which takes him across the globe to terrorist hot-spots. This is by far the most intriguing narrative in the series, and the ‘Terrorists versus America’ theme is well suited to modern times.
Blacklist’s mechanics are an evolution on Conviction. Ubisoft have refined the visceral combat and the stealth gameplay. The ‘marking and execute’ mechanics return, pleasing as always. Payers now gain XP in various departments and upgrade Fisher’s abilities, from his stealth to combat abilities. The areas in which XP levels Fisher up are Ghost, Assault and Panther. The different areas are upgraded by XP gained favouring stealth and not attacking foes, non-lethal attacks or for using gadgets and weaponry. More so than with the previous game, players can choose to play stealthier or go at it guns blazing. The equipment you pick only amplifies this factor. The stage designs had me playing stealthy one mission, and gun-ho in the next. Not that the stages suit any particular style, it’s just I get impatient when the stage are too difficult to sneak around in. Fans of the original will love the difficulty of some of the more complex stages, if sneaking is your thing. The stages in general are the best of the series – well designed; multi- levelled and usually offer more than one route.
What first really impressed me was the game’s design. The game menu per se, is Fisher and his crew aboard a plane which serves as a command centre. The plane is kitted out with all the technology the crew needs to stay informed and plan out attacks. The plane is even upgradable in certain areas, all in aid of serving Fisher more efficiently. Fisher can walk around the plane, talk to the crew, picking up valuable information. From here players use the Strategic Mission Interface (SMI) which pulls up the Globe and marks out the various missions. Players can drop in, drop out of any missions and mission types; be it story mission, co-op or various leader board challenges. Here you can choose and launch missions and kit out Fisher with weapons and gadgets suited to the mission. The nice kicker here is that there is a monetary system now, so players can buy masses of weapon and gadget grades. This comes in nice and handy when prepping Fisher for the optimum arsenal for missions. The system works particularly well with the leaderboard Missions. Players can compete online in various missions.
The better your equipment, the better chance you have at scoring higher. The ‘spy’ theme makes this my favourite “social game” yet. I love that you can take on the missions in whichever way you want. The levels are well designed and there is so much to upgrade and purchase, so I can see myself playing through these challenges over and over, challenging the leaderboards. I know these ‘leaderboard challenges’ are nothing new, but this aspect was well designed here, and the infinite ways in which you can take on the challenges makes this one hell of an interesting component of the game.
You can choose to play the challenges or the story missions at any time. You can also either choose to play the story missions alone, with friends or by searching for players online. In the story missions, the optimum gear for the particular mission is suggested, however you can still equip in any manner you choose. I was absolutely intrigued by how much I could look forward to unlocking and upgrading.
The level’s designs in general are an improvement on Conviction. Players have the freedom to climb around, slip in and out through windows, stay hidden amongst the shadows… anything really. All this adds up to happily repeating missions. In the story missions, your partner will guide you from the control centre. She will indicate what the optimum route is, however you can still choose your own path.
I am a huge fan of the multiplayer modes, I am always looking for something a little different, and Spies vs. Mercs makes a welcome return and offers just that. For example, players can play in 2v2 game where one team must hack three terminals as the other prevents this from happening. What’s really interesting here is that Spies get the third-person view and all the abilities – what other multiplayer game lets you hang from a ledge and assassinate your victim from that position. Mercs play in a traditional first-person view and with familiar shooter controls, so they aren’t able to go into auto-cover. Teams switch roles at the interval, and the matches are even a good length. There’s also great multi-levelled stages and brilliant use of light and shadows as with the campaign, which makes the ‘spy theme’ all the more interesting – the more gadgets you’ve unlocked, the better equipped you will be. This mode makes for stunning ‘hunt or be hunted’ gameplay – one of my very favourite multiplayer games to date! The entire game is nicely integrated, so you purchase everything with currency you win in any mode, and purchase from the main HUB.
Then there’s a new offering of 4v4, a deeper mode where players can fully customise the match. Extraction reverses the roles of Spies and Mercs, Uplink Control mode is a capture and defend mode, and finally there’s a straight forward Deathmatch mode.
Sound and Visuals
You will be asked to install 3 gigs worth of HD content, and I would highly recommend this. The visuals are stunning. There’s plenty detail, depth in textures and the all important use of light was brilliantly implemented into the game. The cinematic sequences are as realistic as any, as is the smooth transition from the cinematic scenes.
Sam Fisher used to be played by three actors, who shared the stunts and voice-acting. Eric Johnson did a stellar job with becoming Sam in Conviction. Johnson did all the acting in all the areas for the part, and suitably so. Fisher is a straight-shooter, almost robotic like in his ways – all business all the time. Johnson takes on this persona effortlessly, from his dialogue to his expressions. Fisher has never been more intimidating – he is not out to win any popularity contests, he is all about the mission. The only peek into any sort of human emotion he lets you in on is when he calls his daughter over the phone. The remainder of the small cast played their parts well too, making for great dialogue within an interesting narrative.
Overall Blacklist is as bold a production as it is in gameplay design. It is clear that Ubisoft put their all into it, and the end result is simply stunning.
The Splinter Cell series for me really came into its own with Conviction. I generally like a little bit of action with my stealth. Blacklist, being an evolution of that, is an absolute treat. I even now know the real pleasures of going about things in an absolute stealthy way. The more I upgraded and unlocked, the sneakier I became. So I would say there’s something here for any Splinter Cell fan. The brilliant and thorough design in every department just makes Blacklist all the more compelling… And best of all, it offers genuine reasons to keep playing past the campaign.
Splinter Cell Blacklist is easily my favourite spy affairs yet. Simply brilliant!
Read about our ratings here.