The lights are on
First of all, before I truly start this review in earnest, I would like to point out what is- to me, obvious. Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a beautiful game in many ways, graphics being one of those methods. Conviction was a gorgeous game in its own right, but that was 2010, and this is three years later, with much more advanced lighting and ambient creativity and advancements. Therefore, it is only right that Blacklist is worlds better looking than its predecessor. The fire animations and models rival even those of the world of Crysis, and it's own genuinely attractive visuals. The interfaces are seamless and take their cues from Conviction in most aspects, while branching off and diverging in new ways as well. All in all, this game is quite an advanced title, and a hybrid of the new and old Splinter Cell series in that it takes equally from Conviction in its action-packed segments and the good old stealth of Chaos Theory and Pandora Tomorrow.
Blacklist rises above its predecessors in many ways, but is not without its own minute issues as well, making it almost an everyman's game in that it can appeal to many types of players, and isn't an aloof, cold, and perfect title. An intriguing story, fast paced or slowed down action that deviates between those two extremes often, and with moderation, as well as excellent core mechanics make this a must play title for fans and newcomers alike. Although the game takes heavy cues from Conviction's already refined gameplay, it makes many old things new again and adds in many new features as well, often giving Sam an edge over his terrorist opponents. Whereas you had limited resources in the previous two titles, you'll have access to a lot more of the big guns this time around, and all the extra help you can get is welcome and appreciated seeing as you're facing one of the tallest orders we've seen yet in the series. It's essentially a doomsday clock scenario through and through, and that's pretty damn scary to be honest.
I'll do my best not to spoil what hasn't already been spilled, so here goes nothing. Essentially, the story is that a certain group of international terrorists have destroyed an American base in Guam, demanding that the United States retreat from all foreign countries, and settle bases only in their home territories. If or when the United States should fail to comply to these demands, the terrorists will unleash massive attacks upon specific interest points in the American infrastructure weekly. This is where you, as series hero, Sam Fisher, come into play. Now you are the leader of an even bigger and better counter-terrorism and espionage unit than Third Echelon, somewhat lacking in originality, having been dubbed Fourth Echelon. Your mission is seemingly simple for once: stop these terrorist at all costs. By the by, after one hell of a rollercoaster ride throughout, you'll eventually come skidding to a halt at the end of the story, wondering where the time went- and that's the best part of Blacklist: its allure and draw.
In some ways, you might easily mistake Blacklist with a more tactical version of Battlefield in some respects, and you wouldn't be far off from the point. The game manages to be a stealth-oriented action title that carries the blockbuster feel of big shooters without sacrificing story or tactical challenge, and that is easily its greatest strength. In grand old Splinter Cell fashion, you'll find yourself racing constantly around the globe, whether it be to some godforsaken locale in East Africa or a heavily guarded military base. Each mission is truly different, with completely different objectives and story progression, never recycling "used goods" so to speak. One of the stronger aspects of the gameplay is, once again, the mark and execute skill set- tailored in Conviction to the more action savvy players trying out the game. This mode ensures that you can continually break from your stealthy tenures of watching and assassinating, and utilizing your built up marks (from stealth takedowns), execute as many enemies as you have points. Obviously, there is going to be some realistic exception to this system, so as not to be too entirely overpowered or god-like in your epic killing frenzy. You of course cannot warp to locations across large expanses and take down a target, although you are quite accurate from most medium distances.
This system really makes paying attention to guards' awareness and behavioral patterns quite interesting, as whenever they slip up, or (more realistically) you do, you can always fall back ona takedown and execution for a quick escape. Again, there are a few minor hiccups here and there- for example, when you might intend to execute a mark and the controls sometimes don't comply, which I only ever experienced twice, neither time fatal thankfully. Aside from those two instances, the transitions were seamless, and even better integrated than in Conviction. As with any good stealth game, and with the associated title name of Splinter Cell- Blacklist also features a heavy array of arsenal weapons and gizmos. Fans of the first few games will note that sticky shockers (yes, sticky, shockers) are STILL around and put to great use, remotely controlled cameras return to excellent use and abuse in many situations, and several new or improved versions of older gadgets make their debut appearances and reappearances as well. Hell, they even managed to give you your own drone- yes, you heard correctly. It's essentially a UAV, and can definitely give you the tactical advantage over your enemies in a heartbeat, assuming they don't see it and instantly go on the offensive and alert their comrades. In addition to these gadgets and tactical diversions and tools, there is a heavy emphasis on upgrades and upgrading your gear to its peak condition for battle. After each mission, you'll not only unlock new items, but earn money to sink into your other slots for gear, weapons, etcetera.
And that's just the glimpse of the solo campaign for this review. That's not even talking about what's about to come next, and what is quite possibly even more enjoyable. If you ever get tired of operating alone, by all means, feel free to hook up with a partner or partners, and tackle the multiplayer/cooperative missions and Spies vs. Mercs mode(s). Cooperative missions range from semi-story related shoutouts (both on and offline) to stealthily taking down a nearly endless horde of increasingly aware enemies. It's almost closely akin to the Batman: Arkham series' Predator and Combat challenges, where one is a stealthy challenge and the other is an action-packed brawl. The only difference in this case being you don't normally use your fists, rather than let your guns do the talking. Spies vs. Mercs returns, and this time it is bigger than ever- with bigger teams, maps, and challenges. The mercenaries control like any normal first person shooter would, with many of the same mechanics, whereas the spies are stealthier, avoid most open confrontations for lack of enough armor (unlike the mercenaries who can upgrade to heavy body armor), and attempt to hack into computer terminals. It's a real mashup of most game types, combining a little bit of traditional team deathmatch and objective-based gameplay, with all of its own twists. What an excellent addition to the growing multiplayer mode that's really taken off since Double Agent.
There are many different ways to approach gameplay in Splinter Cell: Blacklist, and since Conviction, that is one of the most enjoyable facets I've come to appreciate in the series. I honestly think it plays all the right notes with only a few minor mistakes here and there to prove semi-detrimental to the overall experience. But otherwise, it is certainly a healthy addition to Ubisoft's flagship franchise. It is certainly well worth the many hours you will sink into it, whether in single player, cooperative missions, or Spies vs. Mercs multiplayer matches.
Concept: Redefine Sam Fisher as a more emphatic hero than ever before, bring out his even wilder side, and give him plenty of leeway and fire power- he'll get the job done.
Graphics: Definitely some of the best graphics I've seen all generation, especially on consoles. It ranks up there with other Ubisoft titles such as Far Cry 3 and Assassin's Creed III, as well as with the console versions of the Crysis games.
Sound: Sam's voice might be a little different, but that doesn't stop the new voice overs from being just as moving, powerful, and downright terrifying at times as before.
Playability: It may not be one giant sandbox, but there are always alternative ways to get the job done, and with the hefty arsenal at your disposal, I'd venture to say that you could play through the game three different ways and still not see the hind side of the end of the possibilities for an awesome experience.
Entertainment: Again, as with any great game, it has its ups and downs at times, although definitely more ups than the latter. Overall however, it is one high octane fueled adventure, and one I'd certainly never want to miss.
Replay Value: Very High.
Overall Score: 9.25
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