People can’t help but get over on one another. Some use deception to sneak around for their desires. Other are straight up bold in their pursuit. Yet none do it as professionally as everyone’s favorite, geriatric covert ops bro Sam Fisher. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Blacklist isn’t loud about its features but hey, you know what they say about OG’s.
Blacklist‘s presentation infuses inspiration from 24 and maintains a slight feel of the Bourne movies from prequel Splinter Cell Conviction. Then it throws a pinch of Mass Effect into a pretty contrived terrorist plot. The story gives you just enough reason to build focus for each mission. Yet the sense of urgency during briefings and decisions you make carry little weight in the straightforward storyline. Plus the core supporting cast of Grim, Briggs, Charlie and Sam Fisher’s daughter are serviceable at best.
Desperate attempts at suspense subside once gameplay begins and quickly overlook the contrived story. Inexperienced players can jump right in via “Rookie” and “Normal” difficulties while the game play styles exhibit its versatility. Ghost encourages quiet, undetected ops, assault promotes gun blazing and predator lies somewhere between the two. Light RPG elements like cash incentives towards gadgets, ship upgrades and weapons give more incentive to keep playing as well.
Players should anticipate plenty moments of frustration on either “Realistic” and “Perfectionist” difficulties. Hangups mostly start and end with the player. Certain mission requirements yield instant game overs which revive SC’s trial and error design. The game’s design favors stealth as well so going full assault on the aforementioned settings may lead to some hair pulling instances.
There’s something great about successfully sneaking around each level, though. The controls, aside from some tricky ledges, have Sam in rare form. He and Briggs move with such fluidity and accommodate the game’s play styles. The level design also lets players get creative with hidden routes to make things less linear as well.
Players may notice some eyebrow-raising aspects to the game which can take them right out of the experience. Sam Fisher can pick up bodies and move them out of enemies sight once again. It doesn’t feel necessary outside of “Perfectionist” since the foes generally don’t have great lines of sight at distance. This caveat lets gamers get pretty sloppy on the field: especially in night missions with ample amounts of shade.
Let’s also say your cover gets blown during the campaign, there’s no special detection objective and you make your way to pivotal checkpoints with major elevation changes or cutscenes. The guards’ search drops across the level so you can go about your business. Most checkpoints don’t have these segues so the chase often persists. Yet, when they do, the getaways lose their believability.
Some might wonder what’s wrong with a game giving you a break. Nevertheless, it’s still head scratching to make an inelegant run for an exit. Alarms even shut off in these awkward transitions although, to Blacklists credit, the game doesn’t offer many windows for mad dashes.
Also, for the hardest of hardcore SC fans, old-fashioned “ghosting,” completing objectives without even touching foes, isn’t possible on every mission. Michael Ironside doesn’t lend his iconic voice to Fisher’s character either which is sure to annoy diehards. The PC version hosts some annoying online connectivity bugs and rare texture glitches. It’s also the best looking and running version when those problems don’t appear.
Cooperative and competitive online play (not available for Wii U) extend Blacklist‘s replayability very well. Co-op missions stretch out the game’s length to about 20 hours and some missions, like Grim’s stealth-only runs, test your wits. Briggs’s side quests can’t be done alone so solo-only players get the short end there.
Spies VS Mercs mode makes a grand return with a few playlists loadout options and decent map selection. New players soon learn spies should stick to shadows and effectively use the environment and mercs’ first person controls open them up to get caught from their blindside.
There’s something telling about how Spies VS Mercs, a mode nearly a decade old, stays so fresh. The realization’s sad since most online shooters aren’t as imaginative with their competitive multiplayer offerings. The competition’s lacking imagination comes to Blacklist‘s benefit, though. Spies VS Mercs has a high learning curve, especially SvM classic, but holds hours of fun if you stick with it.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Blacklist feels like tug of war. The game holds on to the series’ past via prioritizing stealth and reintroducing Spies VS Mercs. Then it features things like automated movement, some action sequences and a Hollywood thriller setting which doesn’t always translate. You begin to feel as if it’s trying to be everything to everyone and more or less succeeds. At the same time this high wire act comes with concessions longtime fans may not appreciate.