I’ve been playing the Splinter Cell games since they first appeared on the PC and I found the last title subtitled Splinter Cell Conviction to be a little bit of a let-down. It seems that in order to please the mainstream ,the game had lost most of its stealth elements and had become a run-of-the-mill third person shooter.
Blacklist sees a kind of reboot for the franchise with a brand new voice actor to replace Michael Ironside, a slightly younger looking Fisher and a return to all the gadgets and gizmos that made the game such a hit in my mind in the first place.
That’s not to say it’s completely turned away from the direction the game had headed. You can still mark people as you move through the maps and then execute them with stylish one hit kills at the touch of a button. Nice!
The people you’ll be killing with style, or non-lethally dispatching of if you so decide, are working for the Engineer – a shady figure who’s prepared the Blacklist – a list of US targets that will be attacked daily if they don’t pull out troops and send them all home. Politically, the game actually rings true, especially with all the goings-on around Syria at the moment. Working for Fourth Echelon, Fisher, Grimsdottir and friends have their work cut out to travel the globe and put a stop to all this naughty nonsense.
There’s also a small RPG element to the game as you walk around your aircraft and talk to crew to upgrade equipment and upgrades to give you that extra edge. For instance you can buy sonar goggles so Sam can see through walls, access to items on the black market and different outfits and guns that will help you complete your missions whether you choose to do them stealthily, go all-out guns blazing or mix it up a bit. Each of these tactics will work towards your Ghost, Panther or Assault play style awards.
When in the field, press a button to go in or out of cover, then use the ‘jump’ button to slide from cover to cover towards an objective, staying in the shadows if you want to stay out of sight. Back is the glowing gear to let you know if you’re invisible or not, and you can always shoot out some lights to make a shadow path for you to follow. Enemy AI is pretty solid – they’ll even know if they left a door open or not and will come and investigate, mostly so you can grab hold of them and either knock them out or stab them in the neck.
It’s not all smooth running though. Animations can be a bit sticky at times, some of the facial textures make characters look like they’re on something and there’s tearing aplenty during cut scenes – still, these are just some minor visual problems in what is a very balanced experience.
For those of you who like to play with friends and enemies, you can also play some of the missions co-op as Briggs and Fisher go into battle side by side, and you can take part in the Spies vs Mercs mode which proved popular in Chaos Theory, where stealthy, agile spies in third-person view go up against Mercs in first-person view. Be prepared though, if you jump in and have never played this before, expect to be in for a frustrating time before you get the hang of it.
Splinter Cell Blacklist hits a great middle ground that’s not going to disappoint fans of the series, or people who are new to having tri-beamed goggles strapped to their head. It gets a ball-busting 9 out of 10.
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