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Review

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist Review

  • First Released
  • Reviewed:
  • PS3
  • X360

Do it loudly. Do it silently. But for God's sake, do it.

Sam Fisher is different nowadays. His gruff voice has smoothed, and he's not always keen to stick to the shadows. Sam isn't worse for the wear, but he isn't always the man you remember. Nor, for that matter, is Splinter Cell.

Just as Splinter Cell: Conviction represented a metamorphosis for the stealth series, so too does Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist. Blacklist nudges Sam further into action-hero territory; where Conviction's story was personal, Blacklist's narrative is about what Sam does, not who he is. As in its predecessor, your mission goals appear as text projected into the environment, but that text no longer reflects Sam's state of mind. Blacklist is all business, and the Tom Clancy-inspired, jargon-heavy dialogue of its early hours reflects as much.

The boilerplate story focuses on a group of terrorists seeking to annihilate a series of targets in the United States, though the overfamiliarity of the setup is frequently trumped by tense story beats that rival those of any good political thriller. A confrontation between Sam and a colleague signals an overall increase in narrative tension, and the real-world locales you sneak through communicate the high stakes by the very nature of their political importance. Returning operations manager Anna Grimsdottir rattles off technospeak at a faster clip, resident hacker Charlie Cole gets even more annoyingly precocious and hyper, and the secretive Fourth Echelon team grows more and more desperate as the finale draws near. This isn't a story about Sam, but rather, a story about surreptitious warfare. Information is power.

Perhaps it's appropriate, then, that Sam Fisher's presence isn't as commanding as it's been in the past, in part due to the replacement of longtime Fisher actor Michael Ironside. New actor Eric Johnson does a creditable job as Sam, though he doesn't possess Ironside's gravel-throated urgency. Nevertheless, the entire cast effectively communicates Fourth Echelon's calm-under-fire efficiency, as does Blacklist in general. Snazzy digital displays and computer terminals fill out the group's airborne headquarters, the Paladin, and each mission begins with the camera rotating into position above the base's main map before zooming into it. It's a fitting transition into a gadget-filled escapade across a dreary rain-drenched rooftop, or through a heavily guarded trainyard.

The best missions are those cloaked in darkness.

You need to get used to Sam's new digs; everything you do in Blacklist is performed there, from upgrading your gear to initiating multiplayer. Rather than accessing menus, you explore the aircraft and speak to your comrades, making the Paladin as much your interface as it is Sam's. The entire scheme feels unnecessarily convoluted and disjointed at first, and the game doesn't do a very good job of introducing you to its structure, though curiosity (and a bit of trial and error) should get you up to speed. But the player-as-Sam logic soon clicks into place, giving even the stand-alone cooperative missions context within Blacklist's fiction, rather than treating them as distinct and unrelated tasks.

If you played Conviction, you'll know at least some of the drill: as Sam, you slide in and out of cover, sticking to darkness and skillfully taking down opponents in various satisfying ways, or just avoiding them entirely as you make your way toward your high-priority target. The cover system is as rewardingly smooth as it was before, making you feel like a slippery agent of death as you dash into position, often with the press of a single button. In fact, Sam is more acrobatic in this go-around, getting a few chances to climb up cliffs as if he's taken lessons from Assassin's Creed's Altair. Blacklist is as eager to reintroduce older Splinter Cell mechanics as it is to showcase new ones, however. Sam is back to his nonlethal pre-Conviction methods--that is, if you want him to be. You can knock out targets with your fists or a stun gun if you're so inclined, or put them to sleep by tossing a sleep-inducing grenade, though you can't complete Blacklist's campaign without getting your hands a little dirty. You can pick up bodies and dump them elsewhere, too, which might also make you think that Blacklist is a return to the series' roots.

However, Blacklist doesn't feel much like Chaos Theory and its ilk, even when it's giving you the tools to be the silent type. Actually, it often urges you to be silent, instantly failing the mission if you're caught, or pitting you against heavily armored guards that are best dispatched from the shadows or circumvented entirely. But if you aspire to action-hero heights, look no further than the invigorating mark-and-execute feature, which lets you tag enemies and then execute them in a slow-motion flourish with a tap of a button. Now you can pull off such maneuvers on the run, taking down enemies with close-quarters kills (or perhaps dealing a headshot) and firing a bullet into a few other nearby skulls, or even snapping a neck or two if your targets are a hair's width from you.

When Sam gets angry, he calls you by your full name. Also, he executes you.

Pulling off a succession of kills in this manner is a blast, but it isn't required, and the nature of Blacklist's ever-varying level design and mission requirements makes it an infrequent pleasure. Blacklist's best levels are highly structured, intricate melanges of ventilation shafts, rooftops, cover-adorned streets, and interior cubicles that allow you to shimmy and slink around, paying careful attention to each guard's behavior and putting your array of devices to the test.

One such device is a drone that you remotely pilot, marking terrorists and taking them down with a dart. Other gadgets are familiar ones: sticky cameras, remote noisemakers, and so forth. The most interesting situations encourage experimentation, giving you a reason to try out your gadgets and guns, testing the limits of the AI, which often (but not always) displays real smarts. A patrolling guard might remark on how a previously closed door is now open and come to investigate, or quickly pirouette as he passes a darkened cubbyhole that could serve as a predator's prime hiding spot. Keeping a vulnerable Sam out of harm's way in these scenarios is enjoyably tense, though some missions are easy to accomplish on medium difficulty. On harder difficulty levels, most missions are arduous and gripping, and two episodes--one in which you must work under a time limit, and one in which you tail an unlikely ally--crank up the drama even further.

Not every scenario produces such intensity, however, and missions progress erratically whenever they're bent to fit riveting narrative events. Top-down sniping sequences dull the sheen, as does one mission that has you taking down a series of gunners while their attention is fully diverted. In one sequence, a group of intruders may fail to enter a room when they are meant to, the thrill of crashing through a window turning into a bizarre ambush resulting from a breaking script. The final showdown fizzles as well, falling back on an action-game cliche instead of giving Sam (and the player) the triumph he deserves. When Blacklist imposes restrictions or new rules, it loses momentum and focus; it's when you are given full use of your toolbox, and a carefully constructed playground, that it soars.

These guards may not patrol the same routes the next time you play this mission.

In spite of its similarities to Conviction, Blacklist pulls away from its predecessor in notable ways. The screen no longer washes out when Sam is hidden; instead, the lights on his suit indicate when you are safely cloaked in darkness. There are no more interactive interrogations, either, nor are there any noteworthy environmental kills in the way of Conviction's chandelier assassination. Thankfully, Blacklist retains the previous game's excellent cooperative play, bringing two players together and allowing them to take down waves of enemies, collect information without raising an alarm, and act as each other's guardian angel when the mission feels all but hopeless.

It's with other players that Blacklist comes into its own, centered as its cooperative maps are on careful and intelligent progression rather than scripted action-movie events. Some co-op tasks have you collecting data without grabbing the attention of the sentries that walk the hallways, the snipers that aim their laser sights in your direction, and the dogs that sniff out your hiding spot. There are opportunities to revel in your own cleverness, such as when your buddy peeks under a door and clicks his tongue, grabbing the hound's attention so that you can sneak in a different doorway and make your way to the rooftop helipad above. Your heart pounds when you hear the warble that indicates a guard is onto you, and then exults when you avoid alerting him--or breaks when the mission is aborted.

Your foes don't follow the same patterns each time you play a mission, so it's rewarding to return to cooperative maps time and time again; you can even play many of them on your own if you'd rather. Communication is key when playing with others, whether you seek to avoid raising an alert, or are out to take down progressively more challenging waves of inquisitive gunners. Your earnings are also key, seeing as how you purchase upgrades (a minimap, quieter boots) and gizmos (proximity mines, suppressed submachine guns) with funds you earn by playing the game. Your progress is persistent across all modes, so no matter how you play, you're earning moola.

For a member of a top-secret team, Sam sure can make an explosive entrance.

That moola is also spent on enhancements and weapons for Splinter Cell: Blacklist's excellent competitive modes. Pandora Tomorrow introduced the beloved Spies vs. Mercs mode, which pitted a team of two slinking spies against a team of two gunners that play in a first-person perspective. As Pandora Tomorrow/Chaos Theory fans might tell you, there's nothing quite like this asymmetric competition, and Blacklist gives you a classic version of the mode in which persistent upgrades are ignored and you rely only on your wits--and your knowledge of the map.

You'd think that playing Blacklist as if it were a first-person shooter might be less intense than staying undercover, but the looming threat of a silent killer is always weighing on you. The way your flashlight partially illuminates the darkness while you walk and lowers when you sprint enhances the fear of assassination, as do ominous sound effects, such as the bleep that rings out when your Aliens-esque motion tracker detects a nearby intruder. The spies are out to hack designated terminals; the mercs must gun down the perpetrator responsible for the hack. The setup gives rise to knuckle-biting standoffs in which mercs light up the shadows, looking for a secretive spy unwilling to be gunned down while the hack progresses. When one round is over, the roles switch, and the players soon discover who's got the skills to call themselves master operatives.

Charlie is at his least annoying when his back is turned.

Blacklist offers more than classic Spies vs. Mercs, however, and several other modes allow you to equip your hard-earned upgrades and exercise your cunning with more than three other players. Two of them even let you mix spies and mercs into the same team: four-versus-four Team Deathmatch and a conquest-type three-versus-three variant called Uplink Control. Mixed teams can give rise to thrilling moments, with a merc chasing an enemy spy into an ambush, or a mine turning a careful plan into a messy explosion. Spies vs. Mercs still stands above the rest, however; watching the countdown as the hack progresses is a stressful endeavor, whether you're seeking the pesky hacker causing the trouble, or trying to get the drop on a merc packing an AK-47.

There's no doubting Splinter Cell: Blacklist's excellent production values. It's a great-looking, great-sounding game that sizzles with the high-tech ambience and language that characterize a typical Tom Clancy product. Sam's solo trek is a very good expression of Blacklist's various gameplay systems. But it's with--and against--others that the game hacks into your pleasure centers, so while Sam Fisher may not be the man you remember, Splinter Cell: Blacklist has too many sweet adventures in store for you to miss them.

The Good
Tense and exciting cooperative missions
Excellent competitive play gets the adrenaline flowing
The best missions invite you to experiment with guns and gadgets
Great high-stakes atmosphere pulls you into the core conflict
The Bad
Various campaign idiosyncrasies disrupt the flow
Sam has lost some of his edge
8
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist

About the Author

Kevin VanOrd is a lifelong RPG lover and violin player. When he isn't busy building PCs and composing symphonies, he watches American Dad reruns with his fat cat, Ollie.

Discussion

520 comments
Garnog
Garnog

While Chaos Theory was great for its time (I'm replaying it once again) I thought Blacklist was far superior in terms of gameplay, modern graphics and overall fun factor. The ability to continually upgrade gear gave me a reason to go back into the fray for reasons other than just story progression, and the often unpredictable AI kept me on my guard. Replaying missions to get a better score or to try out new gadgets and/or approaches is a rush. I didn't mind losing Ironsides as voice actor (though it would have been nice if he'd stayed) as the 'new guy' does a creditable job; besides, the game is localised throughout many other countries (like Japan) so Ironsides would not be the definitive Sam Fisher for them, wakarimasu ka? Anyway, loved it... giving it two sharpshooter thumbs up.

NTM23
NTM23

Beat it last night, and it was OK, in a good way, but there was some stuff I was left disappointed with and I found it hard to like it quite as much as the previous Splinter Cell. First off, while the controls were adequate and got the job done, I went in expecting the same thing, and it was different. Arguably, pressing L hold to aim over the shoulder is better than the now considered archaic R3 for toggle, but that still being said, I preferred how you held L to get to cover and what have you. I also felt the soundtrack to Conviction was more compelling and memorable, but again, here it was adequate as well. 


The game felt like an awkward, and not in bad way, mixture of Conviction and Pandora Tomorrow, and I think that's due to the artistic aspect; it just reminded me of Pandora Tomorrow. Anyways, yeah, I'd probably consider it just a great game, but I wasn't as compelled to play it further beyond a few missions I just did on perfection, so now I hooked the PS4 back in. It's kind of unfortunate, but it is what it is. I didn't go into all that I felt for the game, but that'll be saved for another time if that ever comes up.

NTM23
NTM23

I got a PS4, and am really looking forward to what games comes out on that, and then also thinking about getting an Xbox One next month. I was so into all of that, believing that I had a hard time wanting to go back to last-gen, and I do somewhat aside from the last bits of DLC coming out for certain games, and then a few other titles coming out soon, and yet, I've wanted to play this from the get-go; I watch some of it on YouTube an hour ago, and now I'm back in. I've finished all games on PS4 that I bought, and now, before Tomb Raider comes out, I think I'll have to get this. I love Splinter Cell (though Double Agent to me is the weakest of them all), and I know I'd regret seeing another Splinter Cell game knowing I hadn't played this. I'll try to get it tomorrow.

acryion
acryion

It still quite amazes me how no reviewer mentions how unbalanced the MP is. Some routes are totally blocked from the get-go if the others know the maps well, not many lights can be turned off and on some maps they can easily spam the spawn point, without the spawn point changing.


Also, no quit button.

iskaroth
iskaroth

The best Splinter Cell game and one of the best stealth games ever, too bad it didnt sell too well.

LtReviews
LtReviews

I was pleasantly surprised by this game.


I have no issue with the series allowing players to go for a more aggressive approach than traditional stealth- what was important to me is I didn't have to do that as well. Even better, my stealthy play style is rewarded with more points than those others. 


The game had a nice mix of allowing you to play how you want, but reminding you that the highest degree of achievement is to leave a level without the enemies ever realizing you where there in the first place.


I do miss Ironsides, but the new guy grew on me eventually. It only struck me as odd that he sounded much too young for Sam's age.

inferno7654
inferno7654

old players are chained to old SC, new players to the new one.

Old Sc are the soul of the series, the new one goes ahead with the technology.

Both players (old and new) should have elastic mind, not a fossil instead :-)

The new one should give a chance to the old productions and fell the original spirit of the series, the new one, should appreciate all the new changes and more dinamic game time.

inferno7654
inferno7654

Played all Splinter Cell Games, the late best is "Convinction", not "Chaos Theory".

However, time goes... and also the games changes.

In my humble opinion, this is the best SC ever... big, nice, bad and awesome. Multiplayer is gorgeus. :-)

SC:Blacklist is a MUST for SC games' fans.

harcsh
harcsh

SC: Conviction da best! Let's see how this one deals, royal flush or BJ.

tobagganski
tobagganski

I don't have too much experience with recent previous Splinter Cell games, but I remember it on PS2 and it was great. This is, however, on it's own, a phenomenal game and I'm loving it, no matter previous titles. People like to compare games with previous ones in the series. I do not. I would give it a 8.5 on my personal list. This game is gorgeous (on PC anyways) and the sound is great. Really sucks you in to the world of modern specialized forces. My favorite gadget is the camera with sleeping gas so far. Stupid terrorists.

suko1983
suko1983

Chaos Theory (10/10) is still the best Splinter Cell. This one is looking more like a COD than a stealth game. Anyway it's a 8/10 for me too.

toyo75
toyo75

Thank you for the novels and the games Mr. Clancy.

You were taken away too soon.

MAGIC-KINECT
MAGIC-KINECT

I picked up Blacklist a couple of weeks ago. 1st time to play any of the Splinter Cell games. Great game, love it. Beat the normal mode in 2 days though. Then did the 4e missions which were kinda cool too. Now I'm bored with it. I heard a LOT about how "great" Chaos Theory is. Bought that today. Ummmmmm...I realize the game is from 2005, maybe it was great then????? I played it for a half hour and I hate it. Blacklist is much better game in so many ways. I'll give CT another try, but not impressed with it at all. I hope some more DLC comes for Blacklist SOON! Sigh.

TomJimJack
TomJimJack

Splinter Cell has always been top notch game in tactics and pure stealth! Differently from Metal Gear that lost it's credibility as stealth franchise Splinter Cell is proud of its roots and this brought the great combination of all previous elements completed with a unique online experience. 

Well earned 8.5 for me! 

Dezhar
Dezhar

its a nice and good choice for playing
have some goods form other games like little from mass effect, hitman and metal gear.
very nice mature gameplay but without good story
and Sam character and voice is not good but i believe its not important in this game with nice gameplay and without story.

7/10 for me and 7 means good game

blackroommate
blackroommate

i just finish it...it was awesome(8.5 /10 for me)...how sad that saint row iv has sold more than this...SR IV was good but really dont deserve such a selling.....SC BL is much better ...i have no idea why it is selling less than SR.

07wintert
07wintert

brilliant game 8.5 for me and a lot better then double agent and conviction

howie1926
howie1926

Another bad review from Kevin VanOrd....SHOCKER

daviz88
daviz88

how will i describe my blacklist experience? it is a SLICK, TRILLING, TACTICAL ESPIONAGE ACTION GAME with loads of FUN. the stealth mechanics are superb especially the way Sam slides from cover to cover always puts a smile on  my face. and those like me who dislike the ASSAULT PLAY-STYLE as it might tarnish the stealth experience shouldn't worry because quite frankly assault play style is very risky and i will only advise using it to escape out of hot spot. in addition there so many elements within the game that encourages you to use stealth such as pipes, climbing walls, shadows, drones, sticky cams and noise maker. what i really like about this game is that sneaking isn't difficult  but at the same time require you think strategically that when finish a level you feel like a BAD-ASS. the only i didn't like about the game is the texture of the characters other than that its an amazing game that does justice to the stealth genre.

push88
push88

Just bought this game for the 360 and it IS good.  However, the screen tearing present is brutal.  I've played ALL of the Splinter Cells and screen tearing has never been so prevalent as it is in Blacklist.  I'm really surprised that Kevin didn't mention it in his review.

jagcivtec
jagcivtec

2 key phrases appear several times...1-"action-hero"....2-"with the press of a button" .

That's enough for me to pass.  I'll play Chaos Theory HD again instead.

d33pak001
d33pak001

This is just an underrated gem....not only KV but many other reveiwers

big_boss1988
big_boss1988

who hired this reviewer? everything is not good enough for him! 

Dezhar
Dezhar

Still don't know I want to play this one or not...
im old class player with favorites like Hitman, Mafia, Assassin, LA Noire, Fallout, Elder scrolls and Witcher.
For me great story, open world or gray characters with gray choices (not just black and white) can be a good.
If anyone have favorites like mine and suggest me about this splinter cell it will be a great.

SKaREO
SKaREO

I was never much into Splinter Cell games before this. I gave this game a shot, and damn is it ever impressive. I can't honestly score this game under a 9.0 and still feel unbiased. Sure, I'm a hardcore competitive gamer but you know what? Once in a while a little bit of fun stealth infiltration gaming is fun. I loved the Metal Gear Solid series, and this game is definitely a worthy addition to the genre. Only downside is this intrusive DRM called Uplay. If that wasn't there I might give this a 9.5 or higher. But a 9/10 from me!

UltraredM
UltraredM

@iskaroth  Best Splinter Cell game? Not even close. Chaos Theory has that distinction, and like I said, it isn't close. Conviction was definitely the lowest point of the series, but Blacklist is solid.

acryion
acryion

@iskaroth What do you mean sell. The game is technically still new. Myself and a friend just bought it, because we know the game has been patched and optimized since launch. And it has been.


Surely there are more people like us.

acryion
acryion

@koraykorac And really, even the "worst" in the Splinter Cell series is a freakin' good game.

iskaroth
iskaroth

@koraykorac Bullshit, its better than any previous SC game and yes i did play original SC as well as Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory.

Blashbuck
Blashbuck

@koraykorac 

worse than conviction...? really?

I'm sorry, i'm having trouble picturing you playing double agent or chaos theory or pandora tomorrow or the original if you're saying that this is worse at being a splinter cell game than conviction...

constantterror
constantterror

@MAGIC-KINECT Splinter Cell 1 and Splinter Cell Ct were the best ones hands down you just didn't exp them on day one and are prbly used to all the hand holding games of today no offense its not your fault that games devs are holding peoples hands today more than what they did back in the day.Games back in the day were more hardcore and actually rewarded you for playing them with in game items not trophies or achievements.

Scathen
Scathen

@MAGIC-KINECT IMO, Chaos Theory is a masterpiece of the genre. The main reason I think you're not enjoying it is that the gameplay of Splinter Cells: Conviction and Blacklist are paced a LOT faster than the Splinter Cell of old. CT is more grounded in reality where you have to watch the slightest sound or flicker of light to make it through undetected. It's a lot more thrilling because I actually feel like a human who uses real techniques and skills to navigate past enemies rather than the action hero route (not that the latter isn't fun at times). I strongly encourage you to give CT another chance. It's more about patience and puzzle-solving rather than run-and-gun. It's also got a pretty awesome storyline to boot.

TomJimJack
TomJimJack

@Dezhar Good for you that tried it out in your own without paying attention to VanOrd's horde!

daviz88
daviz88

you will be missing out

Stebsis
Stebsis

@jagcivtec Because you don't like to press buttons to play a video game?

max-hit
max-hit

@big_boss1988Kevin is a greatly skilled Video game reviewer and he has been doing his job for so many years. His reviews are right to the point and professional. He's one of the best Video game critics around.

max-hit
max-hit

@Dezhar You can finish the missions loud and lethal or stealth and non-lethal but the game sometimes forces you to walk in a linear and COD-like path. The story is laughable and has been done in almost every other similar game. I'd say wait for a noticeable discount on steam.

dabomb790
dabomb790

@SKaREO@SKaREO Totally agree. The game is super awesome. I think this is the most fun I've had since the apex of the series', Chaos Theory. There are so many different routes to take in terms of action and stealth. You have a lot to choose from in each mission. I'll certainly give this game no lower than a 9.0. Certainly one of the highlights of the franchise. Very awesome.

jagcivtec
jagcivtec

@Stebsis Please understand the context.  In reference to the article, it points out how you can practically clear a room "with the press of a button".   See that's like a disguised QTE.  I personally enjoy pressing combinations of buttons and getting challenged by my opponents.  This makes way too easy.  Not my style.

acryion
acryion

@max-hit @Dezhar I bought it from the store for around 15 euros. Better than any recent or near-future Steam deal.

Dezhar
Dezhar

@max-hit 

umm NICE and small review tnx bud'

I liked TCSC 1 & 2, these are like the Hitman but with modern tools and I don't like last ones bcs a more actions.
Im waiting for Rome II, Watch dogs, maybe Outlast, maybe and if GTA V wants come for pc... and im not rich :)
then i will leave this one for now.
tnx again.

Garnog
Garnog

@jagcivtec @Stebsis  You can also clear out a room with a gas grenade, unless there is a heavy or two in there with them. Also, execute doesn't work on aforementioned heavies, so all you will do is p|ss them off and and up fighting reinforcements. Not so easy after all.

Stebsis
Stebsis

@jagcivtec @Stebsis Then pick perfectionist difficulty, I did that and there is no option to clear a room with a press of a button, that quick fire thing is disabled and so is ability to see enemies through walls and all that stupid stuff. This is really hard and satisfying stealth game and not easy by any means, when you hide enemies patrol the area and some will look to places they previously didn't, and if they know you're there they'll search, and if they don't find you, they might widen the search area, they don't always have set pattern they go through. And if you restart from checkpoint the enemies might switch places sometimes so same tactic won't always work every time. Stuff like cameras and tri-rotor do not make this easier, they just give you more options to approach situations but sneaking past enemies without touching them, which gives the most points, is hard as hell. If you want you can get this as challenging as you want without forcibly having to limit yourself, the game itself has option to disable all that stuff you don't want in your stealth game.

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist More Info

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  • First Released
    • PC
    • PS3
    • + 2 more
    • Wii U
    • Xbox 360
    Splinter Cell: Blacklist has you step into the role of the elite agent Sam Fisher to hunt down the rogue elements behind the Blacklist, a countdown of terrorist attacks on the U.S. and her interests.
    8.1
    Average User RatingOut of 921 User Ratings
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    Developed by:
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    Published by:
    Ubisoft, Square Enix
    Genres:
    Action, 3D, Open-World, Adventure
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
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    Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Strong Language