Splinter Cell has always been recognised as one of the best espionage games to hit the gaming world since the first installment way back in 2002, and I fully agree. We follow Sam Fisher yet again, an almost seemingly unstoppable super-spy, intent on halting the horrific attacks on American interests and vital strongholds by a new terrorist group, The Blacklist.
Not long after you start the story do you realise The Blacklist are a serious threat. Instantly, you’re thrown into the heart of a terrorist attack, with their message clear:
Bring the troops home.
They are relentless. They are merciless. They are The Blacklist. Their members devotion to the terrible cause is shown throughout the campaign, especially in Blacklist Zero. The world is wired to one man: Sadiq. This guys makes your job hell from the very start. Cunning, conniving and deceitful, he is responsible for all the atrocities committed within the game. Needless to say, Sam and the gang aren’t happy about that one bit.
For Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Sam is no longer a lone wolf, acting on his own decisions. Now, he’s in command of his own team of four. Well, five if you count in Sam’s little friend in the holding cell. Officially, you are 4th Echelon, a crack spy team commanded by the President herself to serve America. Unofficially, you’re the guys that are stopping this crazed society from destroying American civilisation. A lot to worry about, eh?
Now, for the team. Although a bit dysfunctional at the start, they grow as a family, learning to rely on each other and trusting each other’s decisions. Your base of operations is a massive prototype military stealth plane, codenamed ‘Paladin’. It’s the hub for everything in Splinter Cell: Blacklist, from Campaign and multiplayer missions to mini games such as various intel fragments scattered about the plane and a special ‘Gone Dark’ metagame located in the Strategic Mission Interface (SMI).
Your team consists of:
You don’t want to mess with her. The eyes in the sky, ‘Grim’, acts as Sam’s AWACS in the Paladin, relaying vital information throughout the campaign. She also was pretty pissed to find out you took the role as leader over her, so relations are a bit bumpy at the start. Players of the Conviction installment will know all about Grim already. Deep wounds heal slowly for Sam, who is apprehensive to accept Grim’s help at first due to his past run-in’s with her. So what does this leave us? An intriguing and funny mess about with the two at least! Grim’s missions are based on ‘In-Steal-Out’ techniques, where it’s up to you how you want to retrieve the intel in the operation. Her missions are my personal favourites.
This guy is a genius when it comes to weapons and gadgets. Most of the kit you go into the battlefield with is provided by this mastermind. Inventive, cunning and a whizz with computers, Charlie maintains your op suits and weapons. You can also buy more equipment from him as you progress through the game, creating an arsenal of destruction or a discrete killing machine. When out on the battlefield, he handles all technical barricades, distractions and hacks. Despite his key contributions, the team often pick on him for being timid amongst the brawn and having an ego the size of Mexico. Nonetheless, the team would be nothing without him, or his technological marvels. He resides mostly in the armoury, fidgeting with your new suits or weapons. His missions are based on the traditional enemy wave formations, each wave increasing in difficulty as you progress.
Briggs is the guy who has your back in every operation. A guardian angel of a sort. Long story short, he’s the guy that saves your ass half the time you get in a tight spot. Ambitious but naive at times, he falls short of Sam’s standards, constantly ridiculed and corrected by Sam. Despite saving Sam multiple times on various missions, especially London, his reputation only plummets for Sam. However, he is an asset to the team for dual operations. For multiplayer, the co-op ties in Briggs and Sam together for various missions given by Grim, Charlie, Kobin and Briggs himself. A talented shortfall as the story goes. Briggs’ missions are based on co-op only operations, varying on detection restrictions, which is a right pain if you’re partner has the stealth capabilities of a nuclear bomb.
Anybody who played Splinter Cell: Conviction will immediately recognise Kobin. A shady arms smuggler who has some history with Sam.. some very bad history. I won’t go into detail of what this guy did due to spoilers, so just be mindful. Kobin can be considered a part of the team since he helps out with the plane when things get a bit messed up. He also supplies you with missions, making you take out other arms dealers and traffickers around the world. You might think why is he doing all this, but truth be told, nobody is going to reach him inside the Paladin holding cell, where he spends nearly all of his time. It benefits him too really, since Sam is eliminating his competition at the CIA’s expense. Corporate punishment in action, eh? He knows his way around aircraft and tries his best to make amends with Sam. The rest of the team is having none of it, though I like Kobin, he has a suave air about him, especially when Sam comes to talk. Kobin’s missions are based around a clear-out strategy, where you must eliminate all hostiles in each area. All methods of neutralisation are allowed in these missions, however, if you are detected, reinforcements arrive in the formation of Heavy Troops, Dogs, Riot Shield Troops and Special Forces. Not a fun crowd to be around when they realise you’ve just killed about 15 of their friends.
So that’s the team you’re stuck with. But to be fair, it is a good one. You’ll find out soon enough in the game that you’d rather have nobody else for the job. (Even Kobin!).
Players can approach the game in three different areas of play style: Ghost, Panther or Assault
- Ghost: When playing in the ghost playstyle, it’s all about making it look like you were never there. Non-lethal attacks, undisturbed enemies and sneaking past everybody are all ghost, which yield the highest points. However, it’s often tough to stay in ghost as if anybody finds the guy you just knocked out, everybody is alerted, and you can only get panther evasion. To add salt to the wounds, the guys you just knocked out can be revived However, silent knockouts are still in the ghost category, as long as nobody see’s you doing it.
- Panther: When you’re playing panther, you don’t want anybody to live. Lethal but silent takedowns using your knife or silenced pistol are what’s used. Flashbangs and breach charges to get you past the enemy quick and efficiently. Most players opt for the panther style, since it’s quick and easy. Escaping the area while the guards are searching for you counts towards your panther score.
- Assault: Now this style of play isn’t the road most traveled. Going in guns blazing, decimating everyone and making as much noise and hassle as possible counts towards your assault score. All out combat, frag grenades, bombs, unsuppressed weapons and staying in open fire is the art of the assault playstyle. This style has it’s disadvantages obviously, mainly the fact that once you realise you’re not immortal, it may not have been a good idea to alert all those armoured enemies to where you are. For Splinter Cell, the concept of a ‘One Man Army’ is left to the clandestine soldiers.
Choosing any of these playstyles yields points to go towards that particular style meter. Fully maxing out a certain playstyle meter will turn the subsequent badge golden, and give extra points. The most effective way to achieve a maxed meter is to only play in that playstyle, which can be tough when certain parts of missions demand a certain strategy to progress.
The AI in the game is smart enough, running patrols to wheedle you out of your hiding spot. That’s if you’re detected though. While incognito, the AI waddles about casually, suspecting nothing. However, one little spook can set them all off, and it’s hell to pay if they find you. They sweep the corridors, check their corners and use teamwork via the radio. Finally, a challenge, right?
Wrong. I found the game was a bit.. too easy.. even on Realistic difficulty. It was easy to spot a gap in their patrols or a secret passageway to avoid them altogether. Their moves were predictable, and it’s sometimes a p***take to slip away from combat. Personally, I believe the only things providing a challenge when dealing with the enemy is often mixed enemy classes and doggy-day-care. Damn those dogs.. the bane of any mission.
All’s not lost, however. Cutting edge graphics and an amazing storyline more than make up for the enemies lack of diversity. Traveling to different parts of the globe to stop The Blacklist is exciting enough, throwing in personal ties to different characters, including your daughter, who sits at home watching the carnage unfold outside, is also invigorating. The dynamics of each mission and their special locations are favourites of mine, especially the many hidden plot twisters in the game (here’s looking at you Charlie!). The image to the right was taken in Mirawa, Iran during a mission. I preferred this mission to any other, especially the heart racing moment at the end. I won’t go into detail about it, save the spoilers for when you folks buy the game and experience it’s epicness for yourselves!
Now, it wouldn’t be a review if I didn’t mention this gem: Multiplayer.
And with it comes a surprise that any fan of Splinter Cell who played Double Agent will instantly recognise. Spies vs. Mercs (SvM) returns in Blacklist, and man is it good! For the first two days of playing it, I was nowhere to be found by any of my friends. I was stuck inside, addicted to this epic game mode. It really is that good. There are two types of SvM; Classic and Blacklist modes. They differ greatly, but hold the same concept: as the Spy, you must capture and uphold 3 terminals located on the map. As the Merc, it’s your job to halt these spies stealing the highly sensitive data. As we go into detail, the differences between the two modes are highlighted.
Classic mode is my personal favourite. A 2v2 game where, using the basic tools at your disposal, you must complete the objective. Each side only has one pre-set class. The Spies have night vision, and are armed with a non-lethal shock crossbow, a sticky camera and a couple of flashbangs and smoke grenades. The Mercs have a Kalashnikov with a flashlight, a few grenades, mines and a motion sensor. This stuff alone will not win you the game. Far from it actually, you’ll need to put sense into practice and skill to either avoid or find your enemies. You are both hunter and hunted in SvM, so keep your wits about you.
With the newest installment comes a new form of SvM; Blacklist mode. It’s basically a step up from classic mode, adding new technology, gadgets and weapons for both sides. Now a 4v4 game, Blacklist mode allows the player to customize their own Spy and Merc classes. Spies now have guns to defend themselves and more advanced gear such as sonar, thermal and the all too known invisibility suit, which cloaks you from your enemies for a few seconds. Mercs have a different arsenal of weapons now, ranging from shotguns to assault rifles, and can now use special gadgets themselves, including the explosive tri-rotor. It’s much harder to stay hidden in this mode, as it’s more focused on quick-step battles and thinking on your toes when things go wrong fast.
Then there’s Team Deathmatch. In this, you can use the classes you customized for SvM: Blacklist, although skill isn’t needed in this game mode. At least, not much. Both Spy and Merc can be used in this game mode for either side, and it’s basically a run in, kill everything type of mode. No hanging off ledges to elude your purser here. In, Boom, Out. As fast paced as it is, you still need to keep your wits about you to make sure there no sneaky Spy hanging above you or a cheeky Merc who ran past and put a mine down. Very fun overall, even better with friends!
So, another Splinter Cell, another fine work of art. I personally believe this series, especially Blacklist, is one of the top stealth games of all time, combining espionage, action, a clandestine war and a badass spy. What’s not to love? Blacklist has certainly impressed me, has it done the same for you? Drop us a comment below on your thoughts for the latest installment of Splinter Cell.