Published on September 16th, 2013 | by Scot Mackay0
Review: Splinter Cell: Blacklist
Behind his sunglasses, I could tell he was checking me over for any signs of a threat. He didn’t expect anyone to be around whilst he made the drop. I had caught him with the package and he knew that he would be the focal point of my rage if it wasn’t perfect. Being a veteran in this situation, I calmly inspected the package, looking for any signs of tampering, anything… that could be a trap. This was an exchange in the open, nothing covert. Sometimes it’s easier to make a switch in public rather than in the shadows of some back alley loading bay.
Happy that everything was in order I could feel him tense as he reached towards me. He needed something from me to complete his mission and there was no way he could let me walk away without it. Unarmed and realising I had no choice, I had to comply. The government had ways to make people pay and I couldn’t risk it.
I signed his little machine and he left, leaving me with the package…
…and that is how Splinter Cell: Blacklist arrived at my house.
Now I shall be totally honest here, Splinter Cell has a fantastic back catalogue of games that is a testament to its perseverance as a stealth/action/hard as feck type of game but I have honestly never completed one of them. Nope, not one. I have tried but at the first sign of an enemy guard I tend to scream “Yippee-ki-yay motherf*cker!” and attack in a shower of bullets, grenades and anything else I can get my hands on. Now this may not be the best idea as my life expectancy decreases rapidly and soon I am left with Mr Fisher showing how effective the American health system is.
As a great man once said, “No one makes me bleed my own blood”. So I decided that I would have to mature for the duration of Splinter Cell: Blacklist and treat it with the respect it deserves, nay, the respect it demands.
Let’s kick off with the hardware. On opening the case I am faced with two discs. I’d initially hoped that Ubisoft would have taken the decision to split multi-player and single player over the two discs as there is nothing I hate more than MP interfering with the SP campaign. In this case though, Ubisoft have decided to have the MP/SP combined on disc one with an HD texture mapper on the second disc. If you prefer to jump into the game without installing the second disc then its pretty much the same as trying to run a marathon by dressing up as Paula Radcliffe. I installed it and although it took around about ten minutes to fully install, I took solace in the fact that I would only need to do this once to get the best looking experience I could. Besides you could use the time to make some cheese on toast because once you start playing, you are in for the long haul.
Coming from the espionage riddled mind of Tom Clancy, it’s safe to say that a military conspiracy of some sort is coming. With plot twists and more U-turns than an Xbox One PR director, the plot thickens and ramps up the tension at each stage of your progression. If you have played any game with Tom’s name on it before, then you know what to expect.
Once you have set your difficulty, had a quick look at the controls (of which there are many) and slipped on your sexy skin tight stealth suit, you enter Sam Fisher’s world of backstabbing espionage like a baby deer taking its first steps into the sights of a professional hunter. After a series of beautifully choreographed cut scenes showing a squad of soldiers fighting their way into a highly guarded server room, it becomes apparent that there are some hard hitting elements taking centre stage. With the commanding officer on his knees, he looks defiantly into the eyes of his attackers and calmly headbutts a .50 calibre round courtesy of the squad leader, who then calmly continues on with his mission with all the efficiency of a Terminator. It’s easy to grasp that these guys mean business and through the course of their mission you learn that they are The Engineers, a band of terrorists who have decided to attack the USA with increasingly lethal attacks. With the timer counting down… the stage has been set.
Sam Fisher and his newly formed team, called Fourth Echelon, mobilise and start hitting terrorist hotspots around the world. Now if you were expecting these guys to be travelling with RyanAir, you would be sadly mistaken. These guys are travelling in style in the “Paladin”, a highly customised cargo plane filled with more technology than all of the Gadget Show’s competitions combined and carrying more fire-power than Rambo’s sock drawer. With a wealth of information streaming directly to the Strategic Mission Interface (SMI), you have the world at your finger tips. It will take you sometime to explore all of the options given to you at any point, including customising Sam’s gear from mission selection to CO-OP options and more. Another choice is to go for a wander round your flying Batcave and chat to the members of your team. If you think something similar to Mass Effect and walking about the Normandy, its exactly the same feeling. Your team come in fairly standard guises such as the joking computer nerd, the hard-ass boss woman and the slightly boring team mate who takes his orders like a three year old taking a telling off. Even though the characters are generically created, they are saved by great scripting and well performed voice acting which pushes the cut-scenes from the realm of gaming to live TV. Now enough about these guys, let’s get to the action.
Mission 1 Overview ( A little taster)
With the clock ticking, you set your sights on dropping into Libya to pick up an old friend, Andriy Kobin, for some Intel on The Engineers. Now if his name seems familiar to you, it’s because he was the guy that set up the apparent death of Sam’s daughter. Andriy is lucky enough to enjoy a bit of light interrogation at the hands of The Engineers, who decide to hook him up to a car battery with some metal prods and make him shine brighter than a Christmas tree fairy. Sam’s mission is to get to Andriy, rescue him and then use his own tactics to relieve Andriy of any useful information. Andriy is pretty much regretting not having his Weetabix that morning but he didn’t really figure on how bad his day was going to get.
Sam sets down in Benghazi and begins to work his way towards the CIA safe house. On the way he encounters armed troops patrolling the streets, courtyards and dilapidated buildings. Using a blend of his skills, gadgets and my incredible thumb dexterity, he navigates his way through the open planned yet linear level towards his target. Using the weapon select screen, you can swap between lethal or non-lethal take-downs. This gives the player some variance on how they play. If, like me, you want to run and gun, it is possible but you really wouldn’t be getting the most out of Blacklist and you would be denying yourself hours of tension. With the enemy eliminated/avoided and the Andriy shaped package secured, it’s time to escape. Despatching the final few enemies, you make your escape in true Tango & Cash style, by using your belts and zip lining across the street to the trademark white nondescript CIA van waiting to make sure you get out of there alive.
Clearly the single player is a tension filled extravaganza, but what about Multiplayer I hear you cry? Surely that’s where the action is? You are not wrong my friends, you are not wrong.
Please queue the epic drum roll for……… the return of Spies vs. Mercs with the added bonus of now being 4 v 4 and a range of new tactics and abilities. With the Spies being more agile than Catwoman at her weekly yoga class and the Mercs being stacked with more killer kit than a Fiat Panda on Pimp My Ride, the ultimate game of cat and mouse resumes.
Okay I, Tony, have taken over the reins for this part of the review as our man Scot only went and had a baby (well the lady he loves did) mid review like a rookie! 😉
So I have spent a couple of days with the MP and here is what I thought.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist offers online players a few decent options when it comes to online with both single and co-op play being catered for.
That being said, some of the modes are just the same modes with a twist on them, therefore making it look more than what there actually is.
A lot has been said on social networking sites about how “Spies vs. Mercs” mode is the best thing since sliced bread, but I tend to agree to only a point with that statement.
While the game offers a few game-types, most seem to want the same outcome. Spies need to hack terminals, Mercs try to stop that happening, so a cat and mouse game but with weapons of death.
It reminded me a little of the Hunter mode that Crysis 3 had, which I was a big fan of, but then of course other things came around and I soon moved on.
I half expect the same to happen to this as well, as GTA, Ghosts, BF4 and others all lurk around the corner, so how long until only the hardcore players are left?
I jumped back into the MP only because of the above reason, but when coming across people who had dug into it since passing this over to review, it certainly made it tougher for a new guy.
When you have a level 54 jumping at you like Bruce Lee in the darkness, it does kind of pull some of the fun away.
Here is a quick rundown of each game-type and my quick thoughts, but most games offer the same hack or defend a terminal be it what side you are on.
Hardcore 2 v 2: A mode not unlocked until you reach the online rank of twenty.
In this mode, it’s a bare bones version of what the SvM Blacklist offers you with 2v2 set mode, which by this I mean no customization of your player and one shot death, so all players have the same loadout. Not being available until rank 20 though will mean having to put in at least a couple of hours until it unlocks.
The same can be said for SvM Classic, which follows the same guidelines as above but not the hardcore aspect of it.
SvM Blacklist on the other hand was my go to mode, as here is where you could tinker with your loadout and play 4 v 4 as you try to either capture or defend the terminals, once again depending on which side you were on at that time.
The only downside to this mode was that guys with higher ranks tended to have the best perks, as of course they had put the time in to become a level 50+, so it does kind of make certain games a bit boring if you’re dying every couple of seconds.
Training Grounds: This is where new players will learn their assassin like skills before they set foot into the big boys’ game-types.
Here you will be able to use whatever you like, once purchased, against lower ranked players, which actually for once make it all rather fun, unlike the next mode I am about to speak about.
Extraction was the worst culprit for punishing the lower rank player, as the name of the game is to capture as many points as you can in the set amount of time you are given. In the games I played through, I was pitted against more than a few 52+ rank guys who of course once again had the better gadgets and guns than me, so made for an annoying playtime.
Certainly a mode to visit when you have your loadout just right and not the basic stuff.
The Uplink gametype was where you had to capture and hold terminals until they are done downloading, and with Team Deathmatch rounding things up, those are what are on offer to you.
Overall I would say while the MP does offer something away from your basic shooter, the lack of any sort of skill monitor in lobbies will tarnish your time with the game.
I hate being shot in shooters, but you learn to deal with it, but when it’s because a guy has a better gun/gadget, it can become kind of annoying.
People will turn off if being new to the game they are not given a fighting chance at even learning what the game can offer, and I can only see this harming the online side of things for its lifespan. No new players coming in will mean once the big ranks get bored, online will die a slow death.
If you do happen to find a game of players in your skillset though you will have fun, but the modes where you’re given a set class should be where you go to begin with.
The game also offers co-op which on the other side of the coin was fantastic fun with a buddy online.
It’s like bitesized chunks of the campaign mode where you are given a task that you must complete, and when doing so must escape.
I can see myself spending more time on this mode with hopefully more content coming for it in the future.
If you use the HD texture mapper (and why wouldn’t you?) that accompanies Blacklist, you will certainly notice the difference in overall quality throughout the course of the game. By using the texture mapper, it does exactly what it says on the tin and gives just that extra shine to every bullet ridden surface through each level and vastly improves the look of each and every character. Now I’m not saying it’s an essential thing to do but if you are like me and you shelled out the money for the expansion pack for the Nintendo 64 back in the day when it was released, then do yourself a favour and use that ten minute install time to remind yourself, it’s worth the wait. Besides, even though the Ubisoft guys have really put in the work and pushed the Unreal Engine as far as they could, why would you not want the option to put your copy of Blacklist on steroids?
Each level has its own unique style, which varies from location to location. Whether it’s the mixture of broken tiled rooftops or dilapidated buildings which ooze beauty even when they have fallen into disrepair in the lovely holiday resort of Benghazi, or the rust filled atmosphere, cramped with oil coated machinery in an abandoned mill on the outskirts of London. The level of detail is simply astounding and even though we may be seeing the next generation soon, it’s clear that there is a lot of life left in the Xbox 360 yet as long as the effort is put in to find it.
Blacklist offers so much in variance giving the player the chance to replay completed missions under different situations and settings to give that extra added replay value. This also helps work on your stealth and assassination skills and personally I found it the most useful way to get a grip of the complex controls. I also found that by taking my time to truly explore the many options that Sam actually has to dispatch/avoid his enemies, you find yourself noticing environmental advantages within future levels. For example, it wasn’t until the third mission before I realised I could rip off Spiderman’s kiss in the rain scene by dangling from overhead pipes by my legs and take out guards quickly and quietly. It started me thinking who would be better, Sam Fisher or Solid Snake?
When I play games to review, I look for simple things that make the game flow nicely, and with Blacklist, it has to be the great amount of control you have over Mr Fisher. Using something similar to the Gears of War one button cover system, it’s easy for you to navigate around levels jumping from cover to cover. Sam will even dive for cover just out of reach to keep out of enemy sight in a very fluid motion. With the added bonus of having more flexibility than Lara Croft at her weekly yoga class, each level has a certain amount of verticality to it from cliff faces to scaling building exteriors. With very little in the way of a HUD, unless absolutely necessary, it’s clear that Ubisoft don’t want anything getting in the way of you stepping into Sam’s shoes. In the same vein, the gentle addition of the Kinect helps add a new perspective to the gameplay whilst not stifling the experience. The added bonus of being able to physically call out to distract guards in game is a nice little tactic and quickly becomes as comfortable as if it were just another button press on the controller.
Now, in the interests of fairness, I have to address the downsides of Blacklist but this shouldn’t take too long. With Blacklist being a very well put together game, little failings which would normally not be noticeable in any other game tend to stand out. Things like bodies passing through objects such as tables or even other characters does occur but it’s not frequent enough to distract you. The only other thing I could possibly comment on is the change of direction they have taken with Sam Fisher’s character. From the beginning of the series, Sam has always been a bad ass but things tended to be very black and white. If you were a bad guy, you got taken out quickly, quietly and with utter lethality. As the series progressed, Sam showed a darker side and when pushed to his limit in SC Conviction, he became a highly trained harbinger of death flirting with the idea of justifiable madness. Now in Blacklist, he seems to have reeled in his emotions and is more focussed on the job than ever. Pushing aside personal feelings and external interference in the soul purpose of getting the job done. In this respect his attack style has varied to give the option between lethal or non-lethal, now whether this was for the benefit of the player or a conscious decision by the developers is yet to be seen with future releases.
Summary: If you are a methodical player with the patience of Florence Nightingale, the killing ability of Rambo and the intelligence of Stephen Hawkins, this is the game for you.