Stealth Evolved

When Splinter Cell Conviction launched back in 2010 it was both embraced for taking the franchise in an exciting new action orientated direction but was also simultaneously shunned and critiqued for shying away from the core stealth gameplay that the original trilogy had so successfully pioneered and trademarked . With Splinter Cell Blacklist Ubisoft is attempting to deliver series fans the very best of both worlds by supporting a diverse array of varied play styles orientated around both traditional stealth heavy and action centric approaches. So should Sam Fisher’s latest exploits be at the top of your wish list?

Taking place after the events of the previous title, the latest iteration wastes no time thrusting you into the midst of a cunning terror plot code named the “Blacklist”, involving a series of systematic attacks targeted at punishing the United States by a terrorist organization dubbing themselves “The Engineers’ . In a bid to save millions of lives and the very fate of America itself the President enlists the assistance of the newly formed Fourth Echelon, led by Sam Fisher and comprising of a series of engaging and relatable characters including series veteran Anna Grimsdottir. Not only does the narrative provide an excellent platform to propel the game’s evolved and refined gameplay mechanics, but it also does a stellar job of making the player genuinely immersed in the story as they become subject to the trials, tribulations and raw emotions Fourth Echelon face as they scramble to foil the plot of their persistent and vindictive enemy.

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Stealth has always been Fisher’s most valuable ally and when Ubisoft changed things up with Conviction long time fans had a hard time embracing the franchises new direction while others praised it as the best title in the series. The solution was to create an experience that allowed the player to entirely dictate how they wish to carry out their encounters regardless of their personal play style and that is exactly what has been achieved here. Through the implementation of a very deep and intricate scoring system, players are rewarded for dispatching enemies using their desired method of infiltration whether it be lethal or non-lethal, full assault or complete evasion. The level of depth this adds to an already successful formula is truly remarkable as this not only lends itself heavily towards replayablity, but also affords the player the opportunity to evaluate every situation in order to maximize their score line as they traverse a series of vibrant and greatly varied environments. You will never be short of options in Blacklist as exploration grants a plethora of possible opportunities and methods of infiltration to ensure no two playthroughs are ever the same. Linearity has always been a limitation of previous titles and although these segments of linear gameplay are still present, they are more than offset by the open world feel emitted by the games impressive level design.

“an experience that allowed the player to entirely dictate how they wish to carry out their encounters regardless of their personal play style”

Upon the conclusion of every mission you are greeted by a final score screen detailing how many points you managed to score in each of the game’s three respective scoring categories Ghost, Panther, and Assault based upon your respective actions. More importantly however is the currency the player is granted and able to spend in the game’s surprisingly deep and satisfying customization system. Player’s can expect to be able to craft their own custom loadouts to accompany their play style with a vast variety of weapons and attachments at their disposal as well as a surprising amount of cosmetic flexibility right down to the colour of Sam’s iconic goggles. Customization isn’t limited to just the protagonist himself however as players are able to splurge their cash on the most impressive new addition the Paladin.

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Not only does the Paladin, a fully equipped militarized gunship, serve as Fourth Echelon’s base of operations in the single player campaign it serves as the hub for the entire new Splinter Cell experience. Through the Paladin’s main computer the SMI (Strategic Mission Interface) the player is given complete control to not only launch the game’s story missions, but also to launch a series of side missions offered to Sam by members of the Fourth Echelon team. These additional missions not only afford the player the opportunity to earn additional currency to spend on upgrades but also offer vastly differently gameplay experiences whether it be in the form of conducting a wave defense mission on a designated map, or extracting valuable Intel from exotic locations around the globe, all of which are available in co-op. Not only does the player have access to all of this additional content, Sam is also able to fully move around the Paladin and interact with the team between operations which only reinforces the games already open ended approach.

Offering a definitive single player experience has always been at the core of Splinter Cell and with gaming constantly trending towards online multiplayer, Blacklist is offering more content than ever. Not only does the game feature a fully fleshed out and lengthy Cooperative offering, Splinter Cell returns to the domain of competitive multiplayer with the rebirth of fan favorite game mode Spies vs Mercs. These additional offerings ensure that players will be occupied long after the credits roll on the game’s single player portion.

With the gaming industry on the brink of a new generation of consoles, gamers are expecting more and more in terms of presentation. Recent entries in the franchise have frequently been the target of criticism for its dated visuals and although the title is running on the outdated Unreal 2.5 Engine Blacklist manages to deliver in a big way on the PC platform delivering an unprecedented level of visual fidelity for a Splinter Cell title. PC enthusiasts can expect access to a broad variety of cutting edge features including numerous texture, ambient occlusion and anti-aliasing options as well as fully supporting DirectX 11 resulting in a much smoother and resource efficient offering across a wide range of varying low to high end hardware configurations.

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In perhaps one of the most radical changes in the franchise’s history, for the first time ever Sam Fisher is not voiced by iconic movie personality Michael Ironside. The development team took a huge gamble in this regard as series veterans have become accustomed to Ironside’s gritty and unmistakable voice being a core pillar in the construction of Fisher’s personality. Fans can rest easy however as newcomer Eric Johnson has proved he is above and beyond reproach. Johnson does a fantastic job of delivering an incredibly convincing and intriguing voice acting performance as Fisher enters a new chapter in his saga.

“Johnson does a fantastic job of delivering an incredibly convincing and intriguing voice acting performance as Fisher”

As a complete package the latest entry in the long coveted and established stealth franchise, Blacklist manages to cement itself as the most definitive and impressive to date. With a veritable smorgasbord of interesting content whether it be solo co-op or multiplayer, there is truly a staggering amount of content to be enjoyed here. Ubisoft has truly delivered on its promises to make the title the series fans have always wanted, and for those who may be on the fence about whether or not they should buy into the franchises latest offering or simply have never experienced a Splinter Cell title before, do not hesitate to dive into one of the most impressive offerings of the year.

Developer: Ubisoft Toronto (Ubisoft Hong Kong – Wii U Version)
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC & Wii U