When the Lights Go Out
I’ve always wanted to like Splinter Cell . It was that series of games I wanted to play but the fanboy in me refused to let that happen. I was a Metal Gear fan and always had to scoff at the “other stealth series.” That was how the lesser, immature-minded fanboys rolled then (and today). Thankfully, I’m an adult now, and I don’t usually go off on fan-driven rages about one series or another… usually .
I was able to check out Splinter Cell: Conviction not long ago and sort of felt cheated with the stealth in the game. It was very heavy on the action, and I feared this latest installment would be going down a similar path. Thankfully, this is not the case. If anything, the stealth is some of the strongest I have felt in a game in quite some time. Without getting too far ahead of myself in the review, I would probably also say that Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a game that you need to experience.
There’s a sense of realistic terror and urgency throughout the game, and the sense doesn’t let up. A group of people calling themselves the Engineers attack American soil, and then they threaten to do so again. So it is up to Sam and the Fourth Echelon to track them down and take them out. Sam will have to put aside his feeling on more than one instance to complete his mission. Without giving a lot away, I can say that he and Grimm do a lot of brooding as they traverse one of the simplest mission maps I’ve experienced in a while.
The map is called the SMI and it is at the center of the giant Paladin airplane, the game’s base of operations. Here you can access your upcoming missions that are a part of the story narrative. You can also select a few sidequest missions. These, in general, belong to Grimm, Charlie, and new-guy Isaac Briggs. These missions mostly can be handled in solo or co-op; some, however, have to be in co-op. You can do this either online or though split-screen action. While not something you have to do, it does add a bit of freshness when you need or want to take a break from the narrative.
The narrative itself is very meaty in its own right. I found myself pleasantly surprised by how packed the single-player action is: from the customization at the start of every mission to the up-to-you attitude the campaign takes. Literally, while playing the game, you will find a myriad of different ways to approach a situation, and the game itself will react to your decision. For example, if you want to go balls-to-the-wall, you select in your customization the loudest equipment you have and then follow that up with your strongest armor. Going in like a shadow requires you to plan accordingly with smoke, sound distractions, and a stealth suit that meets the requirements of stealth action. Hell, you can even customize everything on your stealth suit: gloves, shoes, goggles, and even the color of your lights. This level of customization before each mission is very rewarding and adds the “play it your way” mentality to the game. This is something that I find incredibly satisfying.
However, this mentality feels a little less approachable as you increase the difficulty level of the game. You will even find the Rookie difficulty to be incredibly frustrating and disheartening, so imagine throwing the game onto the Perfectionist difficulty. Some missions on higher difficulties might cause you to break the controllers in your house out of frustration. The overly generous saving system does alleviate some of this, but not enough, at times, to give the punishing task a pass on cruel and unusual punishment.
While the single-player/co-op mission are quite rewarding in their own right; the multiplayer also adds to the overall package of the already packed title. You have modes like Team Deathmatch and other various co-op missions you can embark on, but you also have Extraction–a capture-the-flag type of gameplay where you are stealing information–and Uplink Control–where you have to fight to control certain uplink sites and download the data. These modes are fun and engaging, but the mode most will be happy about returning is Spies vs. Mercs. It returns in two different versions, Classic and Blacklist. Classic is how you remember it, while Blacklist changes things up a bit. Blacklist gives the player the option of deep customization. Allowing upgrades, classes, different gadgets, and various other things really brings the fresher take on the classic multiplayer game to a different level of fun. In fact, the level of attention put into the multiplayer ensures it is not some tacked-on gameplay mechanic, and this, in itself, helps Splinter Cell: Blacklist stand out.
Graphically, Splinter Cell: Blacklist is super clean to look at. There are occasionally some small issues during the cutscenes, but nothing distracting. The textures in the game are spot-on and the lighting effects play a huge factor in the game and are executed with great precision. The environments also “breathe,” and this is something many sandbox games have been doing lately. Conviction’s world felt alive and open, even if you had a linear path, but in Blacklist , I felt the world was more refined. This is definitely something that helps authenticate the world of Sam Fisher and the fears the game instills upon the player.
Regrettably, the voice acting of Sam Fisher has changed. Michael Ironside doesn’t provide his legendary voice to Sam Fisher, which is somewhat disheartening, but at the same time, new fellow Eric Johnson does a fantastic job carrying the torch. After a few missions, Johnson’s Fisher transcends the complaints about the absence of Ironside. The rest of the performances are all handled incredibly well. There’s a sense of believability from the script and the emoting voice-over work in the demanding story arc.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist has a lot to talk about in the game. I hate to give spoilers in my reviews because it is important that the player is able to enjoy the experience the same way I did. I will say this, however, Splinter Cell: Blacklist has become one of my personal favorite titles this year. The story is engaging, the characters have a sense of depth to them I enjoy, and the stealth action rivals, if not surpasses, the most recent Metal Gear entry. All in all, this is a game designed for players who bide their time before sneaking behind an enemy and sending them on to the great beyond. Of course, if you are the player that likes the balls-to-the-wall, guns-a-blazin’ action, there’s that too. It’s a win-win for everyone but the enemy.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.4 Graphics
This is a great looking game. 4.2 Control
Intuitive and very natural feeling. 4.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
New voice for Sam took a bit to get used to, but all performances were great. 4.2 Play Value
Walking a thin line between stealth and action, Splinter Cell: Blacklist does an exceptional job. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best