Splinter Cell Blacklist is the best Splinter Cell game yet and possibly one of the best action adventure stealth game ever made.
Sam Fisher is back and is more badass than ever! Splinter Cell Blacklist is the latest installation of the beloved Splinter Cell series. It picks up directly after the events in SC: Conviction, which by the way was fantastic even though some elements sucked like the shooting mechanic and the black and white shadow system, it had an amazing story.
The game begins with Sam Fisher and his old friend Victor Coste who are about to depart from Andersen AFB in Guam when an unknown enemy force destroys the entire base. Assisted by hacker specialist Charlie Cole, Sam and Vic manage to escape, although Vic is injured badly after protecting Sam from a grenade. Soon after, a terrorist group calling itself "The Engineers" assumes responsibility for the attack and announce that it was the first of a deadly countdown of escalating attacks (called "The Blacklist") on United States assets, declaring that they will halt the attacks only after the U.S. government accomplish the demand of calling back all American troops deployed abroad.
In response to this new threat, the President of USA, after shutting down the corrupt Third Echelon, assigns Sam, Grim, Briggs and Charlie to the newly formed CTU Fourth Echelon with Sam Fisher as its chief. Their task is simple, find and stop The Engineers from executing The Blacklist. The fate of the United States and the world is at stake, but that's not fueling Sam. His dear friend Vic, as I said, was injured very badly while saving Sam, so he makes tracking and bringing down the terrorists personal. Sam is pissed and when he is pissed that's not a good sign for the bad guys.
The Engineers are like nothing Sam has faced before. They have unlimited resources, double agents in every possible agency, sleeper cells all over the world, hackers, countless members, but most importantly is that they know what, where and how to attack. Their tactic is to cripple USA capabilities, they target airports, fuel reserves, military compounds etc. to accomplish the demand of calling back all of the USA troops deployed abroad. So in the surface, it looks like they are fighting for a "good" cause, but that's not the truth. *SPOILER ALERT* As we learn later, their purpose is something entirely different, they want to get all of US military secrets leaving it practically defenseless. And they would totally achieve that if it wasn't for Sam and his team.
Tracking down and stopping the Blacklist is a globe trotting adventure. Sam and his team will travel all around the world to some fantastic locations in London, America, Iran, Switzerland, Cuba etc. inside their mobile HQ, a big plane code named "Paladin". Equipped with state of the art technologies, this is their base of operations. Helping or better, joining Sam are Charlie Cole, a funny hacker and inventor of cool gadgets, Isaac Briggs, an ex-CIA badass agent which becomes Sam's right hand throughout the game and Anna 'Grim' Grímsdóttir which returns from Conviction. Also joining his team in a "strange" way is the also returning Andriy Kobin, the weapons dealer that "killed" Sam's daughter in Conviction. Now in the past Splinter Cell games, Sam has always been a "lone wolf job comes always first" type and for the first hours in Blacklist he still remains the same, but later he starts to understand the value of having a fantastic team to help and back him up. The evolution of his relationships with the other crew members is very well done, it's so well done and well written that by the end he becomes friend with the guy who supposedly killed his daughter. And by the end of the game we see a new Sam, still a badass and "job always comes first guy", but kinda more human.
Now the missions are just fantastic. I could talk about them, but I don't wanna spoil anything for you. Everything you do during these missions is believable and it all makes sense since some of the things in the game already have happened in real life. You are part of a ghost agency that only the President and a small number of high ranking officials know about, so you can expect to do some pretty badass stuff. Sure people might b*tch about that the story might not be that original since Terrorists and CTUs have been used for like forever in video games and that this is only a 24 "story on steroids", but how is presented here and the twists and turns along the way, make it probably one of the best I have ever seen and played. Another thing I would like to say is that when you think about all of the stuff that happen in the game and imagine if the same exact things would happen today, it's kinda scary. The guys over at Ubisoft have crafted possibly one of the greatest terrorist plan ever laying basically laying the groundwork and I just hope that real life terrorists haven't played the game.
Apart from the main missions, there are also co-op missions. There are four types of co-op missions and some of them can be played solo, but the fun is while playing with another player. Conviction had co-op missions that served as a prequel to the main story, but I remember not liking them that much. That's not the case in Blacklist. Each set of side missions are divided between four different characters, with each mission representing its own unique playstyle, so put it in simple words there are survival missions where you have to survive at least 5 waves of enemies, eliminate all threats without raising alarms, hack three devices without being spotted and the single player like missions which can be only played in co-op. Talking to these particular characters on the Paladin unlocks these missions that Sam and Briggs can go on. As I said, some can be completed alone, but the fun is working with another player over split-screen or online. I really liked these missions, since they tie in the main story line and give more insight about what is happening around the world as the Blacklist happens.
Running in the background of Splinter Cell Blacklist is a system, like lets say Autolog from Need For Speed, called ShadowNet that keeps track of everything you do in the game.You can see your stats, compare how you stand among your friends or globally. Every day and every week, new challenges are added like: Get X number of kills with this weapon or Kill X number of enemies using only grenades. Completing these challenges give you extra cash, which you can use to unlock new things or upgrade the Paladin. Also you can challenge your friends like: Complete this level under this time or without killing anyone. It's a great system, it's really well implemented into the game and it makes things interesting for the time being.
Multiplayer as in Spies Vs Mercs return in Blacklist and it's really interesting, but I am not gonna say good. Now I played around 10 hours of it and I liked it cause it is a fresh and unique experience. You can play 2v2 or 4v4, spies vs four mercenaries. The spies play and control pretty much like Sam and his gadgets at their disposal. The mercs in the other hand, play in first person perspective. They are slow, they have different grenades, different abilities and increased health. It's not balanced because the disbalance or the asymmetric nature is the main hook of the mode, but it didn't hook me. I mean the mercs are slow, equiped with poweful weapons and have increased health, but they can be instakilled from a spy?! As I said it's very interesting and I know people that have put already hundreds of hours into it, but I am not one of those guys. It's fun to play with a couple of friends, while talking ingame VOIP or in Skype, but I think (and I can totally be wrong) Spies Vs Mercs is not the main reason why you should buy this game.
Now let's talk about gameplay. If you played Conviction or any Splinter Cell game in the past, you will feel right a home with Blacklist, third person action-adventure stealth game, but this time around there are a few new things. The first thing I want to mention are the RPG like elements found in Blacklist. Much like in Mass Effect 2 and 3, Sam can move inside the Paladin between missions, talking to the team, to his daughter on the phone, customize his gear, find collectibles in the form of Recon Data and accept missions. Completing missions and challenges earn you money which you can spend on customizing Sam and the Paladin itself. But the customization is not only for aesthetic, but it has a deep system with stats and all of the things you might find in RPG games. Each weapon can be customized and depending on what you choose, you will get different stats on it. The armor or the suit Sam wears during missions can also be customized. Depending on your play-style, a correct type of suit can be the difference between life and death. Also you can choose what to carry as in gadgets and different grenades.
Sam is pretty much Batman without a cape and cowl who can kill or incapacitate everyone and everything that stands in it's way. You choose how to play. The levels are done in a spectacular way and they offer you many different ways or routes to complete your objective. This plus the incredible customization of gear make Splinter Cell Blacklist, I don't know if this is the correct term, a sandbox, meaning that you can do whatever you want how you want inside the boundaries of the level. After each mission is completed, you are scored in three different categories: Ghost, Panther and Assault. If you completed a mission without being seen and without touching an enemy, you will earn points on Ghost. If you killed or incapacitated everyone you met in your way without being seen, you will earn points on Panther. And if you went all Rambo, killing everyone using ARs, shotguns and grenades while the alarms were ringing like crazy, you will earn points in Assault. My first time I played more on the Panther style, killing or KO everyone without being seen and god, it was amazing! Most of the time I used a pistol which I full decked out, but I also used many of the new toys in Sam's arsenal. The tri-rotor is a small portable UAV, which you can fly and tag, shock or kill enemies by detonating it. New toys like shock or deadly mines, breach charges, sticky EMPs, incendiary grenades, a stun gun, the new type of googles and the incredible crossbow with four types of ammunition made Blacklist a joy to play.
But it was my choice as I could have accomplished the missions in any style, as I said the routes and ways to get the Ghost or Assault medals are there, but since it was my first time, I decided to go for the middle way. I just started my second playthrough to get the Ghost medals and as tough as it is even at medium difficulty, it's so satisfying and interesting. And I cannot wait to try to get the Assault medal...AK 47 FOR THE WIN BABY!!!
Apart from the customization and the new gadgets, Blacklist also has some new mechanics. "Mark and Execute" skill is improved where you can execute it while you are running to stab another enemy in the neck with the amazing karambit knife. Also somewhere in the middle, the gameplay switches from third person to first person and although I liked it, it felt under developed. Another thing that changed and I highly appraise the devs for doing it, is that the annoying black and white shadow system is gone and taking its place is a light on Sam's back which turns on every time you are in shadows. The shooting mechanic is greatly improved from Conviction, mainly because this time around they used the latest Unreal Engine. The weapons feel really nice and the bullet impact is satisfying. The overall feel of the game is improved, the controls are spot on, Sam moves and feels faster and the whole climbing and traversing is great. The thing I didn't really like is the cover system. You have to push a button to get into cover, but you can easily get out of it by just moving your analog stick. Now this might now sound like a problem, but when there are ten guards ahead and after you killed nine without anyone noticing and you are spotted by the last one cause of the cover system, it sucks.
Also another thing that I didn't like or better say, I felt it was missing were the Interrogation Sequences. In Conviction these were probably one of the best things you could do, I mean smashing someones head into a toilet to extract information was f*cking satisfying. But for no apparent reason, these sequences are not present in Blacklist. Why? I don't know why. Instead they introduced these so-called morale choices where you choose to either kill or spare someone. It didn't really affected the game or the story, only the score you got in the end. If they would bring the interrogation back in a DLC, I know that many people would be very satisfied.
Presentation wise, Splinter Cell Blacklist fares really good. The menu UI is easy to understand and use. The customization of your gear, suit and weapons is deep, but it's easy to use since the game tells which is better or worse. Graphically it looks, I am going to say good. The environments, character models, lighting effects, explosions look good, but not as sharp and crisp as it should look. Everything has this blur effect and also some of the textures look really bad, 2008 bad. The frame rate is steady most of the time, but it suffers a little during some levels. Also I encountered some annoying glitches, for example: while I was exploring the Paladin, I went up some stairs and everything went invisible, the only thing I could see was Sam flying through the clouds. In the sound department it fares really good. The music during some of the missions is explosive and it really makes you wanna go into a killing spree. The sound effects are fantastic and the voice over is extremely well done. Now I understand that many people were butthurt when Ubisoft announced that Michael Ironside would not come back to voice Sam and I kinda agree with them, but the new guy does a fantastic job as Sam. Maybe he would have been perfect if the story of Blacklist was a prequel to everything with a younger Sam Fisher, but still I really liked him.
So to put it all together, Splinter Cell Blacklist is the best Splinter Cell game and possibly one of the best action adventure stealth game ever made. The story is absolutely fantastic, with twists and turns in the plot that will keep you on the edge of your seats. You choose how you play and you can cater your character as it suits best your play style. There is a lot of content to and the whole story, co-op included, will clock around 20 or so hours to complete and the replay value is very high. But if Spies vs Mercs clicks with you, the lasting appeal might increase drastically. Fan or no fan, hardcore or casual player, pick Splinter Cell Blacklist up, it's a must!
Thanks for reading!
Splinter Cell Blacklist was reviewed on a PS3 using a promo copy provided by Ubisoft. Splinter Cell Blacklist is now available for PC, PS3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo WiiU.