In a world were everyone’s eyes have turned to the next generation of video game consoles, it’s a relief that Ubisoft is carrying the torch for current-gen systems. Now as much as I wouldn’t mind a buttery smooth, super high-res version of Splinter Cell: Blacklist to play on my shiny new Xbox One/PlayStation 4 (although the PC version looks amazing), I cannot deny how good this game looks and feels on a 7 year old game machine!
I recently had a chance to sit down with a feature complete; near-final version of the game at the Ubisoft offices and the element that stands out after 3 hours of single player game play is ‘flow’. Splinter Cell: Blacklist brings you in hot, on the ground in a fiery wasteland that used to be an air force base in an effort to survive and in the process, ascertain what the hell is going on. I won’t go into story beats here, but the pacing of the action and the diversity of what is expected of you is exactly what you are looking for as a Splinter Cell fan.
Soon after this introductory level, you are introduced to your mobile command center and your new best friend, a giant cargo plane codenamed ‘The Paladin”. The Paladin is the hub for not only the single player campaign, but the multiplayer and co-op missions as well. Weapon customization, in-game upgrades to Sam’s gear and optional conversations you can have with the people on your team, to help flush out the story, are just a bit of what you can expect. Some of the upgrades went a little too far for my tastes though, for instance, I am not sure if I want the radar that shows me which direction a terrorist is facing, also, I don’t think I want a vision mode where I can see through walls, thankfully, the game has no objections to you passing on these upgrades. Mind you, these are not bad upgrades, but this is not the way I personally want to play my Splinter Cell games. This brings me to the best part about SC: B, the ability to play as you see fit. In the 4 expansive levels played, I never got the message “you will not be able to start this mission unless you equip the Roomba with a mine on it.” (or a drone, as they call it in the game).
The freedom to choose how I want to play, as a viable option, is one the strongest differentiators between this SC: Blacklist and prior Splinter Cell games. These basic ideas are reflected in the core of the game design by awarding you for the way you want to play, gaining in game money for killing or evading the enemy in one of three styles: Ghost (undetected), Panther (headshots in the brainpan with a silencer), and Assault (shooting everyone in the crotch while screaming). Overall, I found that the game difficulty was on the reasonable side and became a bit easier if I invested more money into the cheekier upgrades. The beauty of this is that they have created a game that is not so hard to but of the casual player, yet deep enough to allow advanced players to challenge themselves with reverting to cheap difficulty options the lower the player’s heath or buff up the enemy superficially.
I also had a chance to check out the Splinter Cell: Blacklist competitive multiplayer. Full disclosure, I never played the original version of ‘Spies versus Mercs’ multiplayer mode, so I found my avatar in a pool of blood more often than not. After a bit however, I started to get the swing of it. As a spy, you play much like the single player campaign, in where you choose a custom load out and traverse the environment as you normally would, with the added objective of arming a bomb. The opposing faction, referred to as the ‘Mercs’, defends the bomb where player control is first person perspective ONLY! Loadouts can still be chosen with items such as motion trackers and EMP grenades, which give away the position of the sneaky spies. The Merc controls felt a little rough; in one way it was helpful that there is a selectable ‘Call of Duty’ style button layout, yet playing it with that option brought to light some of the unrefined aiming and movement controls. It’s too soon to give it a thumbs down though, as this is not the final code of the game.
It is easy for me to start sounding like a shill for SC: Blacklist because I love Splinter Cell, yet it is that heart that would be broken if this title was not living up to my lofty expectations, so take this positive preview as a good sign. Did I mention you can change the color of Sam’s green lights to one of 7 colors? That was the straw that made this a day-one purchase for me!