Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist Review





Splinter Cell is one of the most prominent games in the entire stealth genre, with the only other major competitor being the renowned Metal Gear Solid series. While the initial few Splinter Cell games embodied stealth in its purest form—players were often penalised for even being spotted by enemies, let alone confronting them—the later games, starting from Double Agent, took a rather unfortunate turn to focus more on combat. Ubisoft had promised that despite this trend, Blacklist would have plenty of options for stealing around enemies rather than just shooting them in the face. Is this the case? Let’s find out.


Blacklist has a Normandy-esque home base to explore

Splinter Cell: Blacklist revolves around a terrorist organisation that calls itself The Engineers and has only one demand: the US should withdraw all of its soldiers who are abroad. If these demands aren’t met, the Engineers promise to slowly destroy America by attacking certain areas. Said areas are hinted at with cryptic names such as “American Consumption” and “American Freedom”. In short, the plot’s quite bad. Most of the game takes place outside the US, but we’re treated to the same America-saves-the-day jingoism that’s become so common in modern military shooters these days. Despite the characters constantly throwing around names, army commands and confidential information, it’s quite a dumb plot.

Calling the writing shoddy would be an understatement. Most of the characters, if not all, are quite two-dimensional and there isn’t much depth to them. We all know that the nerd is going to be one of the best hackers on the planet, Grim is definitely the hardass control centre and Briggs is obviously the token black guy who accompanies you to the field now and then. Protagonist Sam Fisher appears to be quite fleshed out, but even that can be attributed to the fact that we’ve seen him around for seven games before this. Apart from the fact that he has a daughter whom he talks to occasionally, he still feels like the usual generic, badass guy.

The story is so bad that despite their rather inept attempts at employing typical terrorist tactics—which often leads to just one or two guys taking them down—the Engineers feel way more sympathetic than Sam & Co. do. Maybe it’s because the plot was mostly meant to tug on the heartstrings of the decidedly American demographic, but their demand of pulling out US soldiers from foreign soil doesn’t really sound too unreasonable to us. Think about that: a game’s bad guys (who also happen to be terrorists) come off as more sympathetic than the good guys… and this definitely wasn’t done on purpose.


Sam Fisher has more in common with Jack Bauer than Solid Snake

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Fisher
Time to cut the game some slack: the crap story in no way stopped us from actually enjoying the hell out of Blacklist. Sadly, we got an early pre-release review copy, so we couldn’t try out the co-op or multiplayer Spies vs Mercs mode. However, the campaign itself is quite fun. The levels are varied and take you all over the world, right from Iran to the US to South America. The levels themselves are quite well designed and allow a lot of room for improvisation. For example, you can either enter through the front door of a building and take down a tonne of guards, bash in through the front door and throw a smoke grenade to hide yourself, or you can find a vent to get inside the building undetected.

The stealth aspect of the gameplay makes good use of light, sound and line-of-sight. You are encouraged to go through the levels in one of three ways—completely undetected with no unnecessary kills, some silent kills or all guns blazing. If you’re going silent, you’ll use items like sticky cameras and noisemakers to keep an eye on enemies and distract them. Use your always-silenced pistol, and you’ll go more towards the middle of the bar. Go all out with a shotgun and some frag grenades, and, well, you know the story.
I attempted, and was quite successful, at going mostly undetected. That isn’t to say that I didn’t get into gunfights at all. But because of some of the design decisions, getting into gunfights seems to be discouraged. For example, you don’t seem to have enough health to take more than a couple of hits, and that’s not even considering if the bad guys have a shotgun. You’re better off just hiding and biding your time as you wait for the perfect shot.


Stealth is great… so are gunfights

Fisher has quite a few moves at his disposal, including the popular Mark & Execute, where after pulling off some kills and takedowns, he can mark and kill some enemies instantly from a vantage point, if they’re within the range of his weapon. Fisher also has takedowns for when he’s in cover, when enemies are on the other side of his cover, when enemies are standing in front of him, when he’s running up to them, when he’s stalking on a pipe above the enemy, when he… you get the idea. The game gives you all the tools you need to look badass, and how you use them is all up to you.

The focus has been on making Fisher mobile. There isn’t as much emphasis on observing enemy routes and planning forward like in Dishonored or the Metal Gear Solid series. This isn’t a bad thing, though, as you’re just supposed to keep going ahead and wing it. More often than not, you aren’t thrust into any situation that’ll take more than a minute of thinking. To facilitate the much faster gameplay, there’s a cover system that lets you switch covers at the touch of a button. This doesn’t keep you invisible, though, and you’re supposed to wait till you’re not in anyone’s line of sight.

The guns respond well and make satisfying sounds when they’re fired. Even shooting a silenced pistol feels good when you take down that unsuspecting guard. Assault rifles and SMGs have realistic recoils and essentially prevent you from using the old “spray and pray” tactic.

James Bond, except not
It wouldn’t really be an espionage game if there weren’t any gadgets, would it? Fisher has a ton of toys to play with, and these range from minor annoyances to enemies in the form of sticky noisemakers to incredibly useful and awesome stuff like the EMP-equipped trirotor. Of course, the usefulness of these gadgets falls under the “your mileage may vary” category, and we hardly used more than smoke grenades and the silenced pistol. However, it isn’t too hard to imagine someone much better at stealth games using the sticky camera to judge where enemies are and laying traps for them with the taser and puddles.

There are a lot of guns, ranging from the basic pistol to more advanced weapons and even some prototypes. Besides the loadout you set up at the start of a mission, you can also pick up any weapon from enemies you may have incapacitated, and you’ll often find yourself doing so since ammunition for the guns tends to get very low.



Lots of ways to tackle any situation

Fisher & Co.
Blacklist is loaded with extra stuff to do, including the multiplayer modes. There are some co-op missions that you can find in the game, and while some of them need you to have a partner, others can be played completely solo. Since we were essentially playing a preview build, testing the multiplayer and co-op modes was out of the question. We did, however, do a couple of the missions that let us play solo. These missions have simple objectives. For example, one of the missions has you just go around, taking every enemy out. However, the major requirement is that you can’t be spotted. If anyone sees you and raises an alarm, the mission’s over. It was a fun distraction, but it would have been way better if I was playing with someone in the same room or over the interwebs.

As for multiplayer, if you’ve played older games and remember the classic Spies vs Mercs, you know the drill here. One team plays the spies (who have to sneak around certain levels), while the other team plays mercenaries. The fragile spies have to accomplish some objectives that are being guarded by the mercenaries. The difference in gameplay between the two factions makes for some tense moments. For instance, one badass spy can take down an entire team of mercenaries.

Sound of a gun
Blacklist’s sound design is great. The guns sound quite realistic and so do the explosions. Sound is a major part of any stealth game, since you essentially have to listen to make sure no one can see you. And Blacklist manages to pull this off quite well. You’ll be able to eavesdrop on both random conversations between enemies as well as the AI attempting to make sense of the trail of corpses and open doors you left behind. Music, while sparse, does play in some places, and it’s the same old orchestral tripe that’s become so common in AAA games these days. There’s nothing outstanding in the whole soundtrack, which is quite sad since other games in the genre come up with some great songs (Snake Eater, anyone?).


Both ranged and melee combat are fun

On the graphics front, Splinter Cell: Blacklist looks great. It runs on Unreal Engine 3, so expect a bit of framing on the PlayStation 3 since the console can’t seem to play games based on that engine very well. However, PC and Xbox 360 gamers should have nothing to worry about. The graphics themselves are quite beautiful. The first thing that we thought of when the intro cutscene started was: “Are we using FMVs again?” But as it turns out, no, the game does look very good.

Aesthetically, however, the game is rather lacking. Because of its ultra-realistic roots (courtesy of Tom Clancy), the game attempts photorealism over any fancy art style. Because of this, a lot of the game looks quite bland, especially in one of the early levels where you’re in the Middle East.

Is it any good? Definitely. Not only is it a stealth game, it’s a stealth game that’s actually good. It nails the fast-paced stealth gameplay it sets out to achieve. You never feel bored when running from shadow to shadow and avoiding the sights of that sniper on the roof, or when you’re setting up three targets perfectly for that Mark & Execute. Sure, the story’s utter tripe, but that shouldn’t stop you from picking this game up. If you’ve got friends, the co-op mode is twice as awesome as the single-player campaign, since the former’s missions are generally less linear than the single-player ones.


Spies vs Mercs could potentially be the greatest things ever

There are some bad things, however. Frame rates are slow at some places and the loading times are quite long. However, the consoles will presumably get a day-one patch that fixes this, while the PC version will probably be free of these issues owing to the superior hardware.

Despite its problems, Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a great stealth game. It should easily keep you busy till Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag or Watch Dogs comes along to deliver your next stealth fix.


Platform: PlayStation 3

Source: tech2



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