The Surprising Splinter Cell: Blacklist

Why Sam Fisher's latest adventure is a far more interesting game than early demos might suggest.

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I thought I had Splinter Cell: Blacklist pegged. Watching last year's E3 demo, I saw a new-look Sam Fisher who appeared far more agile and bloodthirsty than ever before. Dashing up buildings, planting knives in people's throats without hesitation--it was as though Ubisoft had dropped Sam Fisher into an Assassin's Creed game and forgot to change the title.

OK, so maybe I was wrong.

Having spent a couple of hours playing the game at a Ubisoft event last week, it's clear that last year's E3 demo might not have painted the most accurate picture of what this Splinter Cell reboot is all about. Blacklist is a much broader game, one that draws influences from Assassin's Creed and doesn't stop there. At various points during the demo, I was reminded of Mass Effect, Metal Gear Solid, and--bear with me here--XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

The story is that Sam Fisher has become the leader of Fourth Echelon, a newly formed government organization with a focus on clandestine operations. It's a nice little promotion, but one that comes with some serious responsibility.

In taking the reins of Fourth Echelon, Sam has assembled his own small intelligence team. It's a unit that operates not in an office park in Langley, Virginia, but in a flying spy plane. Said spy plane is called the Paladin, and it essentially functions as the mission hub. On a basic level, it's where you peruse intel reports before launching the next ground operation. You can see which missions are available, what they entail, and what sort of threat to your existence they pose. That sort of thing.

But there's more to the Paladin than simply launching the next mission. For one, you can walk around the plane and start up conversations with your team. There's Grim, the redhead who shares a complicated history with Sam; Briggs, the guy who tags along with Sam on missions to act as ground support; and Charlie, the tech whiz who doubles as comic relief. What's impressive about the game's presentation is that you really get the sense that this is a team, complete with all the tension and occasional attempts at lightening the mood that you'd expect from such a high-stakes operation.

Taking the time to talk with your crew presents a few different options for Sam. Each member of your team will occasionally suggest a side mission that you're free to accept or turn down at your leisure. Beyond that, you can also talk to your teammates to upgrade your operation with all the cash you've earned from your latest mission.

Talking to Grim allows you to upgrade various parts of your plane, from radar technology that will improve the information displayed on your HUD during missions, to cushy holding cells that will induce your captives to inform you of black-market weapons dealers. Then there's Charlie, who will upgrade the gear you bring on your mission, such as new weapons and gadgets, as well as various outfits tailor-made for stealthy or aggressive approaches.

That whole economy of upgrades and enhancements is heavily influenced by your play style. The game tracks your style according to three classifications: ghost, panther, and assault. Ghost is the quiet, nonlethal approach that favors knocking people unconscious if a fight must occur; panther is similarly silent, but in a lethal, silenced-handgun kind of way; and the assault approach has you going in with guns blazing, setting off every alarm in the mission. Simply completing a mission in a sloppy, haphazard way will get you some cash (see: assault), but sticking to the ghost or panther play style will net you far more extra rewards and cash.

Curious to see how far I could distance myself from last year's blood-soaked E3 demo, I spent my time taking the ghost approach. It's a far more challenging route to take than the other two, but Sam has plenty of equipment to tilt the odds in his favor, from sleeping-gas grenades to a silent crossbow equipped with several different types of bolts. The latter was especially fun to use, whether I was firing an electrically charged bolt that zapped enemies to sleep or luring enemies out of my path by firing a noise-making bolt into some distant corner.

In my attempts to no-kill my way through the demo, I was a little disappointed to see that there was at least one story-driven sequence that forced me to kill people when a rescue operation went sideways. Though, to be fair, in the two missions I played (one in daytime Benghazi and the other in dark, rainy London), those moments of forced lethality made up a very tiny portion of the demo. Overall, it was reassuring to see that the stealth system in Blacklist remains open to different play styles--and being rewarded in cash to upgrade my flying spy bird for focusing on one of the more challenging approaches is a nice touch.

Perhaps I was a bit quick to write off Splinter Cell: Blacklist as another example of Ubisoft blurring the lines between its major franchises. Sure, there's something initially jarring about just how easily Sam Fisher can dash up walls and scurry along ledges. But this isn't simply Splinter Cell meets Assassin's Creed. It's a bigger, far more interesting game than that.

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Discussion

359 comments
19sls91
19sls91

Being a long-time Splinter Cell fan, this is encouraging to me. I was planning on getting the game anyway, but am pleased to hear that I can (apparently, based on this bit of info) still play in more of a traditional SC mode. I enjoy that a lot more than just going in guns a blazing.

lonewolf315
lonewolf315

Blacklist isn't a reboot. It's a direct sequel to Conviction.

kevinaugusta
kevinaugusta

I think this splinter cell series looks great

Dark_Matter1337
Dark_Matter1337

Fingers crossed but i still wont put all my hope in it until i see more. SP is probably one of thebest tactical shooting game series up until Chaos theory. Conviction was better but im still hoping for a return to the true roots of Splinter Cell

Dredcrumb9
Dredcrumb9

Looks like Hitman absolution with Sam Fisher and more generic enemies.

Pasha_Gold
Pasha_Gold

I think, that this SP wil be the best! Waiting...

Pasha_Gold
Pasha_Gold

I think, that this SP will be the best! Waiting... 

TidsMcGee
TidsMcGee

Those of you comparing the previous games to this one should note that there were two different versions of Double Agent.

nick-nikol
nick-nikol

This is one of the most anticipated games for 2013 for most gamers who mean business .From the trailer I've seen so far it looks great.The movement of the main character is very balanced and convincing .The guns sound close to the real thing ,and their feeling doesn't look fake.I truly think its a masterpiece and stands out from other wannabe games. Definitely it's gold in my book.I hope though that it doesn't loose it's stealthy character in sacrifice of shooting .

shantd
shantd

I like the addition of an economy system and the ability to use that cash to upgrade your hub. Hopefully there will be a lot of different gear you can purchase as well. Splinter cell without gadgets is like Borderlands without guns.

JReefer1
JReefer1

The 1st three games were difficult but all the reboots although graphically impressive gameplay wise not much has changed. I'm a keep tabs on Metal Gear instead...

VelvetZ5
VelvetZ5

when this game will be launch?

RonTorque
RonTorque

Well seems that they are trying to get back to Chaos Theory style with far even more upgrades and extra content and more over a replay value to make every decision possible about the side missions.

Conviction wasn't perfect and i am hoping that Blacklist places the Splinter Cell series up again where it should belong.

itchyflop
itchyflop

good games, i miss the Xbox versions, Pandora tomorrow having a completely set of co op missions, incredible. This looks great i hope it is

splinter10
splinter10

I played and loved the first two splinter cells, but i actually thought Conviction was quite a  good game in its own right. The two player co-op was especially great. This article seems interesting however, I will defiantly befollowing this game up untill its release.

aetius_
aetius_

It will be the best game since Chaos Theory, and I promise you, one of the best games of the year. Multiplayer will be awesome, but poorly made, with connection issues, as usual. Just like Conviction and Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.

tizmond
tizmond

Oh well, it may turn out to be a decent game after all. Might make up for the fact that Michael Ironside is no longer doing the voice of Sam Fisher.

BigSowce
BigSowce

damn this series has been nothing short of disappointing since Splinter Cell Chaos Theory (Best in whole series)

Raxyman
Raxyman

"Ubisoft had dropped Sam Fisher into an Assassin's Creed game and forgot to change the title."

Said it all. SC is no longer SC, Conviction was OK, but Sam's story ENDED THERE. He clearly said in the end of Conviction that he didn't cared for his job anymore, all he wanted was a calm life with his daughter.

Ubisoft. Would you PLEASE stop milking every last good franchise you have? EA tried to do that, and look how far that've got them...

Birdfeed
Birdfeed

I hope to see some more info on Spy vs Merc soon. I want it to be like chaos theory and not so much like double agent. It would be somewhat cool to have a Merc vs Merc Deathmatch since it would not be that hard to throw into the game since they have the foundation for it already setup. Just something to think about.

Hellsasin
Hellsasin

They should got a new protagonist. This dosen't feel like Sam without Ironside's acting :(

foxrock66
foxrock66

@TidsMcGee 

What does that have to do with anything?

Both versions of DA were far more classic SC than Conviction was or Blacklist seems to be

foxrock66
foxrock66

@nick-nikol 

If your standards for "gold" are nice sounding guns and "convincing" avatar movement, then you may need to rethink whether you want a game or a film

lonewolf315
lonewolf315

@JReefer1 There has yet to be a single reboot of the series. I don't think you realize what a reboot is.

Jigga_jones
Jigga_jones

@JReefer1 Well seeings as you got ur facts wrong I dont think u know what ur talking about. the first 3 games were the same as double agent gameplay wise... conviction was more action-oriented and very different than the first 4, and this one looks like a mix between conviction and the first 4 which is amazing

petez34
petez34

@VelvetZ5 When will this game be launched? 


answer- Aug.20/13 in the US

Jigga_jones
Jigga_jones

@RonTorque if you think about it, the style of conviction fit very well into the story. Sam literally did not give a fuck in that game, he wanted his daughter back and he would shoot 100's of people to get to her

foxrock66
foxrock66

@splinter10 

The co-op was the only think about Conviction that I found outstanding

Pacer8888
Pacer8888

@aetius_ I never got connection issues with eithier of those 2 games...I think its time you got a new connection.

Jigga_jones
Jigga_jones

@aetius_ conviction and ghost didnt have problems in connectivity... only problem with ghost is they simplified it too much and gave us call of duty style maps rather than the large areas ghost recon graw 2 had.

also am i the only one who liked double agent more than the first 3??

Pacer8888
Pacer8888

@Raxyman I think you failed to see the point in the Assassins Creed reference, its referring to the constant flow of moving...some people are fucking stupid these days.

Jigga_jones
Jigga_jones

@Raxyman talk shit about EA but they still have one of the best shooters out there- Battlefield, and all the battlefields are amazing

Jigga_jones
Jigga_jones

@Raxyman no he didnt, at the end of the game he literally breaks into that private military group's main office and kills everyone there to save his friend victor...sam cant stop what hes doing since its all hes known his whole life

JReefer1
JReefer1

@Jigga_jones All I said was that I don't have time for both Splinter Cell and Metal Gear...but that has changed b/c now I'm a find the time !

aetius_
aetius_

@Pacer8888 @aetius_

 @Jigga_jones @aetius_


we'll you were one of the lucky ones. just check the official forums guys. flooded with connection problems. I could play the online only when I put my router in DMZ mode. even though I ported all ports. and I have mp problems only with ubisoft games, conviction and gr. how's that? 

my connection is fine

Jigga_jones
Jigga_jones

@twisted_outlaw @petez34 @VelvetZ5 look guys we have a "real fan" here complaining that the game stopped being splinter cell... stfu have u seen the gameplay, all it is is a faster splinter cell, so rather than waiting 5 seconds for sam's animation to climb a pole or something, he does it in 2... u can still play very stealthily just without waiting as long. i even played conviction in the stealthiest way possible, only having to kill the guys that the game forced you to kill.

JJB03
JJB03

@Jigga_jones @aetius_ @Pacer8888 I enjoyed Double agent just as much as the first three, and I can't seem to pick a favorite out of the four, I enjoyed conviction very much too and liked the change of tone and pace but in terms of classic SC double agent is probably in the top two of the four classic SC