Sam Fisher has slowly been aging. Since his first stint on the original Xbox, he’s been through countless changes: emotional, physical, psychological and gameplay-wise. What once was a series that took pride in being a purely stealth affair has now become a perfect mix of action and espionage, bringing out the best of both worlds.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist
Developed and published by Ubisoft
Available on the PC, PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii U. Reviewed on the Wii U.
*Review copy provided by Ubisoft.
With Splinter Cell: Blacklist, everything has been quasi-rebooted. Everything that has happened in the series’ canon is still intact, and yet, Sam Fisher is somehow still younger. That doesn’t mean the game is reverting to the old-school pure stealth antics though, as this is Sam Fisher’s finest adventure yet.
In Blacklist, a group of terrorists known as “The Engineers” are planning a series of attacks known as the eponymous Blacklist. Unknown and able to strike at any moment’s notice, Sam Fisher and his team of specialists must find the terrorists and stop them before it’s too late.
As is typical with Tom Clancy games, the story in Blacklist is thrilling and well-developed, featuring a cast of characters that are more than stereotypical cardboard cutouts. Even Sam, with his renewed youth, vigor and replaced voice actor, is a cool character and much more open to new ideas this time around, all coming from a colorful cast of characters. If anything, Blacklist is like the A-Team, but with Fisher doing most of the hard work.
Gameplay is very similar to 2011’s Conviction, but with a bigger focus on stealth. Players still play as Sam from a third person perspective as he navigates wide open stages either avoiding or confronting enemies on his way to completing a wide-range of objectives. You also get to use a large variety of gadgets and firearms.
Sam Fisher is just as awesome as he was before, equally comfortable taking on armed forces via stealth or head-on assault. He can quickly zip from cover to cover with the touch of a button, take out a guard stealthily, and use the Mark and Execute feature to perform a quick succession of insanely accurate shots to enemy temples. He could also choose another route and slink around through patches of darkness, climb up pipes or scale low walls, whistle for attention and knock out guards silently one by one until there are none left, rivaling even the best ninja. It’s a matter of style really, and Backlist does a great job at giving players options.
That being said, the game has a greater focus on stealth that is reminiscent of the first Splinter Cell games. While rushing into danger is all fine and dandy, the game also rewards players who sneak around and seek alternative routes of entry. Hidden paths may help players bypass a large group of enemies, find a safer way of neutralizing them or even locate a host of collectable goodies like intel-filled laptops or briefcases that provide sensitive information and reward the player with cash. It really pays off to play both ways, and each style provides a nice amount of replay value.
Once a mission is done and the score is totaled, players get rewarded cash according to their overall performance based on stealth, aggression, efficiency and collected items. This cash then allows players to either purchases upgrades for Sam Fisher, like various pieces of his suit for defensive or offensive reasons, weapons that are deadly and others that disable, and more. Players can also purchase upgrades for the plane that doubles as Sam’s mobile base of operations, which in turn unlock more stuff, like an improved in-game radar, new tech and weaponry, among other things.
A new feature is that Sam’s partners also offer a slew of side-missions. These scenarios are usually simpler than the tasks required in main missions, like taking out all the foes in a map, or retrieving special items. Successful completion of these missions reaps benefits like additional cash and new unlocks.
Co-op gameplay is a bigger feature this time around, as special missions and side missions can be played with a friend online (or offline on PS3 and Xbox 360). This makes the experience that much sweeter, as you and a buddy can be all ninja-like and take out foes in perfect synchronization, or go in guns blazing to score some extra cash.
Speaking of multiplayer, the popular “Spies vs. Mercs” mode from Pandora Tomorrow makes a return in this installment, and it’s as great as ever. One team of players gets to play as the spies, which control just like Sam Fisher from the main campaign, while the other time plays as the Mercs, who control from a first-person perspective. If you’ve never played Spies Vs. Mercs before than it might be a tad bit disorienting at first, but it soon becomes second nature and is very addictive. The only issue I had with this mode is that the room sizes are pretty small (only 8 players max per match), but thanks to the ability to use cash to improve your characters and a couple of gameplay modes, it doesn’t feel that bad.
Sam Fisher’s return to the battlefield with Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a welcome one. The action is tight, the stealth is sneaky, and the storyline is one that’ll keep you going for one more mission. It also helps that side missions, customization, and the return of Spies Vs. Mercs will keep you busy for a good amount of time. While it’s weird that Sam has somehow found the fountain of youth and ages backwards, I’m definitively up to joining him for new adventures.
P.S. Rest in peace, Tom Clancy.
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