Splinter Cell has long been one of my favorite stealth action series, with Chaos Theory seemingly the pinnacle of design. Conviction was a decent entry into the series but it played more like an action game than a stealth game. Splinter Cell: Blacklist does a good job of returning Sam to form, offering up new ways to stealth execute your enemies while still retaining the ability to rambo through the levels should you choose. It’s this balance that makes Blacklist one of the better Splinter Cell Games in recent memory.
The story behind Blacklist is noticeably better than more recent Splinter Cell games. A group calling themselves The Engineers have launched an attack on the United States, delivering a single ultimatum. Remove troops from 153 countries around the world, or every seven days the group will initiate another attack on American soil. These attacks are to be delivered under the guise of names like American Consumption and American Freedom.
Sam Fisher, as the newly minted leader of the Fourth Eschelon must stop these attacks before they occur, which is where the game starts. Anna Grimsdottir is back despite the events in Conviction and Sam, looking more grizzled than ever, sports a new voice that just doesn’t add up to previous performances with Michael Ironside at the helm.
One of the biggest emphasis on gameplay in Blacklist is that players can control Sam Fisher how they like. There are three different categories of play in the game, called Ghost, Panther, and Assault. Ghost rewards the most points as you complete missions silently, using non-lethal takedowns and not alerting enemies of your presence. Panther is the playstyle of Conviction, hiding in the shadows to dole out executions as you progress through the levels, and Assault is little more than your standard run and gun affair.
The controls are fluid for the most part, though I found the awkward pause needed to switch between lethal and non-lethal takedowns a bit of an immersion breaker. Moving cover to cover is just as fluid was it was in Conviction, with the added ability of being able to pick up your bodies and hide them not only to gain points, but also to keep your cover through those ghost playthroughs.
Ubisoft has done a good job of providing secondary objectives in each of the story missions as well, as there are dead drops, high value targets you need to capture alive, and laptops to hack in order to reward Sam for exploring. The more information you gather about The Engineers, the more money you get in order to upgrade your arsenal.
Everything takes place on a stealth plane that Sam can upgrade to help provide ground support, more ammo drops for being in the field, and various other perks. Sam himself is upgradable down to nearly every aspect of his suit, instead of just the gun options we’ve seen in previous games. The better you do in the field the more money you’ll have to get a quieter suit, quieter takedowns, and even assistance from mini drones.
Graphics & Audio
For the most part, the world of Splinter Cell: Blacklist feels as it should. The streets of Benghazi are dusty and hostile, while the Chechen countryside is vibrant but scarred by war. The team does a good job of providing alternate routes for Sam throughout the various missions, so exploring them and taking in a little bit of eye candy hidden away and meant for studious players is always a treat.
I will forever be disappointed that Michael Ironside does not reprise his role as Sam Fisher and it definitely affects the game for me. Players who are not long time fans of the series might not notice his absence, but the lack of that gravelly voice giving orders and discussing things makes Sam feel almost artificial. If this story were written as a prequel, or featured an entirely new character instead of Sam Fisher, it would have been a better one for fans of the series to accept than completely dropping Ironside from his titular role.
Anna Grimsdottir also has a new voice actress but her contributions are slightly less problematic than the loss of Ironside, as her actress does a good job of imitating that authoritative manner in which Grimsdottir speaks. After playing several of the missions and listening to the new Grim, it was hard to distinguish between old and new. This fact just serves to highlight what a unique voice Ironside brought to the table, as every time Sam speaks he feels like an impostor.
Co-op has always been a part of the Splinter Cell series, but Conviction really shined in the fact that it offered a completely separate co-op campaign featuring a different set of agents all together. That’s not the case here, though Conviction style co-op makes its return. Each of your crew members will have side missions that can be played, but unfortunately the Wii U version does not offer these to be played in local co-op. Sam can undertake them solo and with online friends to complete them just fine, but given the fact that I’ve played them co-op on PC this is a huge disservice to the Wii U version where many will want split-screen co-op.
Spies vs. Mercs multiplayer mode is back with a bang, after being notoriously absent from the series for a while now. Blacklist captures this game mode better than ever, with the spies being limited in power but unnaturally stealthy, while the mercs play more like your standard shooter. In classic mode the gameplay is pitted between two spies and two mercs, while Blacklist mode offers up to four spies and four mercs the chance to go head to head.
Among these options are three different objectives, including extraction, which is a sort of capture the flag with spies defending intelligence while mercs try and grab it. Uplink control is a sort of king of the hill with mixed teams, you choose to be a spy or merc and help control points on the map until data transmissions are complete. Of course, the standard team deathmatch returns, with mixed teams and the only objective being to kill everyone you meet.
Overall, the multiplayer is really robust, though I did experience some problems with the game locking up randomly between matches. These lockups were few and far in between, but it did occur twice in two different settings. I’m not sure what Ubisoft can do to fix the problem or if it will be there perpetually, but it’s worth noting that I did experience this problem.
Wii U Features
Before the release of Blacklist, Ubisoft touted the Wii U release as the definitive version. This is hard to accept given the fact that local co-op is missing from the game and the load times on the Wii U version are some of the worst I’ve seen. Dying between missions presents no problem, but the initial boot between missions can take upwards of 30 seconds. It’s annoying to have to wait that long and it feels poorly optimized, given that missions on the PC version load nearly instantly for me. I’m not sure how other consoles fair in this department, but be aware of these long load times.
As for the gamepad features that the game comes with, they’re nice but they’re not essential. In fact, I spent most of my time playing the game on the GamePad in off-tv mode, which means abilities like using the GamePad as the snake cam were not available to me. I can’t say I missed them, as I valued having the game in the palm of my hand more than I did using the touch screen to tap around.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist is certainly one of the better Splinter Cell games in recent memory. It takes features of Conviction that were enjoyable and expounds on them, allowing true stealth players to get their groove on while still providing rambo options for those who want to play Sam as an angry man hellbent on revenge again. It’s a nice balance and the fact that the game rewards stealth more than the assault option is a good encouragement for doing things the right way.
The single player story and co-op missions are all pretty competent, while the spies vs. mercs online mode will have you playing the game well beyond once you finish the story. Overall I would say the gameplay is a big improvement over Conviction, though Michael Ironside’s presence will be sorely missed by long-time fans of the series.
+ Game rewards stealth gameplay and brings back numerous stealth elements
+ Story is on par with Pandora Tomorrow and drops the action hero feel
+ Co-op and multiplayer modes are super fun to play with friends
+ Controls are fluid and easy to pick up for maximum control of situations
- Series familiars will sorely miss Michael Ironside’s voice talents
- Campaign is somewhat short with only 11 missions
- Long loading times when starting missions
- Random freezes when playing Spies vs. Mercs online
Final Score: 8/10