The lights are on
I’ve always enjoyed this series’ slow and calculated gameplay, and thought Ubisoft’s reinvention of this formula in Splinter Cell: Conviction was fantastic. After reading Ben Reeves’ Blacklist review, which praised the story, customizable loadouts, and return of Spies Vs. Mercs mode, not to mention calling it a “beefy game” that “continues Conviction’s legacy,” I was eager to suit up as Sam Fisher again. I liked the idea of it being more of the same, but with heavier focuses on individualizing weapon preferences and multiplayer.Blacklist was a day-one purchase for me. I jumped into it right after work that day, and the rest of my night was spent ducking in and out of shadows, and using the excellent mark-and-execute gun mechanic to quickly (and quietly) clear out rooms. I also thought the story got off to a strong start. I didn’t mind Sam’s new identity in missions, but he just didn’t seem like the same guy in the story breaks. I thought using Fourth Echelon’s mobile positioning to bounce between a variety of missions at any time was a nice deviation from the linear formula of old. I played Blacklist consistently for the next few days, calling upon friends for co-op assistance, but I never got a party together for Spies Vs. Mercs. I was enjoying Ubisoft Montreal’s first attempt at bringing Sam back, but the more time I invested in it, the less engaging it became. I ended up shelving it for a month. I recall rediscovering it in my collection again and telling myself “You have to finish this game. Why haven’t you finished this game?” I played it that day – again finding it to be entertaining, but equally as disenchanting. On the next day, I turned on my 360, thought about diving back into it, but decided to move on to something else. It was shelved indefinitely, and was in danger of falling into that guilt-guided category of “I want to play it, but probably never will.” I couldn’t put my finger on why Sam’s latest foray wasn’t gripping me like Conviction did.When Ben mentioned he was thinking of championing Blacklist as his Fight for the Top 50 game, I jumped at the opportunity to play it again, and hopefully figure out how I feel about it once and for all.I spent two days this week sleuthing slowly through buildings, and darkening any light sources that may cast my shadow across the world. In this time, I finally realized what wasn’t clicking with me. The level designs aren’t drawing me in. While I enjoy Sam’s intimate dispatching of enemies, most of the levels are pedestrian, and don’t hold the same level of intensity established in many of the other series installments. I rarely had a problem retreating after I got spotted, unless that brought an immediate end to my current mission. Those moments where you have to eavesdrop on a conversation between soldiers or wait for them to interact with the environment are few and far between. I like the idea of Sam traveling across the entire globe to stop this Blacklist threat from happening, but repetition hangs over most of these locations. I felt like I was working through the same routines: Take out a handful of standard soldiers who are on patrol and beware the solitary armored or canine units. The gear Sam obtains also makes these encounters much easier. By the end of my play session, I was hurling frag and incendiary grenades, and using a drone to paint out the path I needed to take.The lack of checkpoints in the side missions also drove me nuts. Many of these stages will reset a good 10 to 15 minutes of progress if one enemy happens to spot you. This next remark is a bit of a spoiler, but sections of the game also shift the view to first person for a little stealthy shooting, and also to the camera of an airplane for long-range bombardments. Dare I say it, but these elements, coupled with many of the environment designs, delivers more of a Call of Duty vibe than traditional Splinter Cell.
My VoteI agree with Ben that the story is engaging, but from what I played thus far, Blacklist is a step in the wrong direction for the series. I still have to give Spies Vs. Mercs a shot, but Blacklist’s campaign isn't holding my interest. Unless Spies Vs. Mercs blows my mind, I doubt Blacklist will get a Top 50 vote from me.
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