Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist
 
 

There seems to be a trend in game development lately to make everything more action oriented and cinematic. We’ve seen it with Resident Evil, we’ve seen it with MMORPGs like Tera and Neverwinter, we’ve even seen it with rhythm games like Harmoknight (ok, maybe not the cinematic part, but still). Understandably, long time fans of a series (or genre) get upset when this AAA streamlining comes at the expense of the subtleties that drew them in to begin with.

The Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell series fell into a similar predicament with 2010’s Splinter Cell: Conviction. It was well received by critics - NZGamer.com gave it an impressive 9.1/10 - but it polarised fans. Some liked the improved gunplay and Uncharted inspired set-pieces, while others lamented the paring back of the stealth elements and gadgetry that were the hallmark of the series.

 
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Enter Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist. This new entry basically takes everything that worked in Conviction, gets rid of what didn’t, and brings back the sneakiness and gadgetry that fans missed. The result is a game where action and stealth support and complement each other perfectly, giving you an unprecedented range of options to deal with any given situation.

In Blacklist, our greying hero Sam Fisher once again has to stop a terrorist threat - this time, a shadowy group calling themselves the Engineers. The terrorists are demanding that the United States bring an end to their international military interests and withdraw all troops posted overseas, with scheduled weekly attacks as long as the US Government fails to comply. It’s a fairly standard espionage thriller plot; you’ll probably already know if you like this sort of story, and Blacklist doesn’t set out to change your mind either way. That’s not to say it’s bad by any means. It’s interesting, serves the gameplay well, and it’s refreshing to see strong female characters in this sort of story - just don’t expect anything life changing.

The mantra behind Blacklist seems to be “let the player play how they want”. The slick cover shooter controls from Conviction are back, as well as the gadgets and use of shadows from Fisher’s earlier adventures, allowing you to approach each mission as you choose: guns blazing, using distractions to gain the upper hand, or eluding enemies altogether.

Having said that, the game occasionally turns its back on this flexibility with levels that force you to play a certain way. A few parts of the game will force you to play stealthily by giving you a ‘Game Over’ screen if you get spotted, while others inexplicably turn the game into a generic first person shooter for a brief period. There doesn’t seem to be any real reason for this kind of pigeon-holing, and it flies in the face of everything that otherwise makes the game so damn good. Fortunately, levels like these are few.

The broad range of tricks up your sleeve allow for some very creative solutions to problems, especially once you start combining different playstyles. Struggling to get past a swarm of guards near the goal? Loudly take out some foes in a different part of the map, making your presence known, then use your stealth skills to slink away. Now you’re free to waltz to the goal while the guards are off looking for you where you were last seen.

Which brings me to another area in which Blacklist excels - enemy AI. At first, they look more or less like your regular stealth game enemies, meticulously patrolling their designated routes, occasionally stopping to investigate a disturbance. Once they get wise to your presence however, they show their true intelligence, working together to storm your perceived location, and coordinating search efforts once they realise you’ve buggered off from behind the box they were shooting at.

Enemies don’t ever seem to forget about you and go back to patrolling like they do in other games. Instead they focus on hunting you down, making for some incredibly dynamic scenarios. Getting spotted has real consequences because guards become somewhat unpredictable, but the game also gives you a big enough toolset to get out of any sticky situation.

Level design is arguably one of the most important elements of a stealth game, where your environment is often your best weapon, and sure enough, Blacklist nails this too. Objectives are linear, but your options from getting from one to the next are anything but. Each level has a myriad of paths to get where you’re going, each with its own quirks and challenges. The level design reminds me a lot of the first two Tenchu games; if you haven’t played them, just know that this is pretty high praise. On top of that, the globetrotting nature of the story allows for sneaking around some incredibly diverse locales, from Government facilities to remote mountain villages, and everything in between.

The levels are beautifully realised, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself exploring every corner of some maps just to see everything there is to see. You’ll be well rewarded for doing so, with the attention to detail creating some stunning views, but you’ll also run into a few flaws that you might not otherwise find - namely, invisible walls. A lot of games have figured out ways around this by now, so it’s sad to see a game that is otherwise so stunning falling back on this. It’s not a big deal by any means, but they do have a tendency to snap you out the immersion that the rest of the game does such a good job of creating.

Fans of the Spies vs. Mercs multiplayer mode that was missing from Conviction will be glad to hear that it’s back in all its glory, and now has a four vs four mode as well as the classic two vs two, as well as a bunch of new maps. If multiplayer modes are your thing, there are many hours of fun to be had here, and the mode is well supported by things like daily challenges. You also have a large number of co-op missions which can be played either online or with two-player split-screen.

Unlike a lot of games, the singleplayer and multiplayer missions are all accessed from the same mission select map, which makes switching between modes seamless. If you want to take a quick break from Spies vs. Mercs to try get a new high score on one of the single-player missions, it’s as easy as just selecting a different mission after a match. Of course, you can do this in other games too, but the way Blacklist has everything readily available on one screen makes a strong case for abandoning the idea of a separate multiplayer mode, at least for games like this.

Blacklist’s presentation and graphics are pretty impressive throughout, pretty much what you’d expect this late in a console generation. The user interface is clean and intuitive, environment designs are stunning, and unsurprisingly, the dynamic lighting effects are top notch. I did find some of the texturing on character faces to look a bit odd - it might be a bit of an uncanny valley thing - but nothing that really distracts from the game. Some were concerned about Michael Ironsides no longer voicing Fisher, but Eric Johnson does a fine job, and the quality of voice acting overall is excellent.

Despite a few minor flaws here and there, Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a stellar game, especially in a market that’s saturated with with generic shooters. The melding of Conviction’s third person shooter elements and more traditional Splinter Cell gameplay are more than the sum of their parts here. No doubt about it, this is the definitive Splinter Cell experience. I’d even go as far as to say it’s the best stealth game of this console generation. Sorry, Kojima.


Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist
"This is the definitive Splinter Cell experience."
- Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist
9.2
Excellent
 
Follow Own it? Rating: R16   Difficulty: Hard   Learning Curve: 15 Min


 

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Comments Comments (16)

 
PE0PLEKN0WME NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
Posted by PE0PLEKN0WME
On Monday 26 Aug 2013 1:39 PM
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Really want to play this but with GTA, FIFA 14 and my Kids nagging for Disney Infinity... funds are limited.

Hows everyone finding it?
 
 
 
sick_wierdo
Posted by sick_wierdo
On Monday 26 Aug 2013 1:52 PM
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I really don't see how you dreamed up the idea this is better than Metal Gear Solid.
 
 
 
Coddfish NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
Posted by Coddfish
On Monday 26 Aug 2013 2:02 PM
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26 August 2013, 01:52 PM Reply to sick_wierdo
I really don't see how you dreamed up the idea this is better than Metal Gear Solid.
MGS is one of my favourite franchises of all time.

But bluntly, the story is the only thing that MGS (so far) has over Blacklist. This new Splinter Cell captures the essence of stealth action better than any MGS to date. I'm confident that MGS5 will come out on top of this, though.
 
 
 
D4nzy NZGamer.com VIP VIP Silver
Posted by D4nzy
On Monday 26 Aug 2013 2:14 PM
1
From what I have played of this game it is awesome and I recommend it!
 
 
 
rocketman12 NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
Posted by rocketman12
On Monday 26 Aug 2013 2:48 PM
1
I enjoyed all the Splinter cell games, looking forward to playing this one as well.
 
 
 
Mach1_9pants NZGamer.com VIP VIP
Posted by Mach1_9pants
On Monday 26 Aug 2013 3:44 PM
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I haven't read the review, I loathe spoilers (maybe there are none?) but I hope this is as well received on PC.
 
 
 
Winger Gee NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
Posted by Winger Gee
On Monday 26 Aug 2013 4:07 PM
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Heading for the top of my list- but will still have to wait a little while- lokks and sounds stunning. Immersivity is the catchphrase.
 
 
 
kiwiatlarge NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
Posted by kiwiatlarge
On Monday 26 Aug 2013 5:12 PM
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26 August 2013, 01:52 PM Reply to sick_wierdo
I really don't see how you dreamed up the idea this is better than Metal Gear Solid.
I will confidently say that Splinter Cell (1) was a better stealth game, and better spy game than MGS2 (which would be the equivalent MGS game at the time)..

Whether it is a better game overall or not.. possibly not.. I'd certainly say that MGS3 was superior to any of the PS2/Xbox Splinter Cell games.. (although Splinter Cell 3 was very good)
 
 
 
Deanology NZGamer.com VIP VIP Gold
Posted by Deanology
On Monday 26 Aug 2013 9:25 PM
1
Good review, makes me want to give it a go..
I shall.
 
 
 
sick_wierdo
Posted by sick_wierdo
On Wednesday 28 Aug 2013 10:10 AM
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26 August 2013, 05:12 PM Reply to kiwiatlarge
I will confidently say that Splinter Cell (1) was a better stealth game, and better spy game than MGS2 (which would be the equivalent MGS game at the time)..

Whether it is a better game overall or not.. possibly not.. I'd certainly say that MGS3 was superior to any of the PS2/Xbox Splinter Cell games.. (although Splinter Cell 3 was very good)
I was thinking more along the lines of this vs mgs4
 
 
 
phantom
Posted by phantom
On Wednesday 28 Aug 2013 10:53 AM
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28 August 2013, 10:10 AM Reply to sick_wierdo
I was thinking more along the lines of this vs mgs4
Have you played both?
 
 
 
sick_wierdo
Posted by sick_wierdo
On Wednesday 28 Aug 2013 11:37 AM
1
28 August 2013, 10:53 AM Reply to phantom
Have you played both?
Finished Blacklist last weekend and as for MGS4, played through it 4 times in fact, not something I do often unless the game absolutely amazes me. The Last of Us and GTAIV are the only games I can think of that I have played through more than twice.
 
 
 
sick_wierdo
Posted by sick_wierdo
On Wednesday 28 Aug 2013 11:44 AM
2
Just to clarify, I'm not saying Blacklist is a bad game or anything like that, far from it in fact, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I just think that MGS (4) is a much better game overall. Just my opinion, don't knock me for it!
 
 
 
thegr8link NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
Posted by thegr8link
On Wednesday 4 Sep 2013 7:55 PM
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Can anyone provide some thoughts on co-op? Keen to give this a go but want to see what people think
 
 
 
KatalystaKaos NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
Posted by KatalystaKaos
On Sunday 8 Sep 2013 6:55 PM
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4 September 2013, 07:55 PM Reply to thegr8link
Can anyone provide some thoughts on co-op? Keen to give this a go but want to see what people think
Co-op is brilliant have been playing split screen with my step-son, and its the most fun we've had co-op since Halo 2!! Online was great as well but can't beat that split screen tension & laughs!

This game is well deserving of a 9.2 am enjoying every moment and it just keeps giving with so different game modes and play style options.
 
 
 
MariaC
Posted by MariaC
On Monday 2 Dec 2013 3:45 PM
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I'm pretty sad, I've got this game on PS3 but do you think I own a PS3?! I didn't want to get the PC version because that's how I roll. Fingers crossed I will be borrowing one shortly from a friend. I got this game when it first came out, on special order blah blah. I really need to UP my game!