What A Splinter Cell Devotee Wants From The Remake
I've been waiting eight years, Ubisoft. Please, you can get this right.
On December 15, Ubisoft officially confirmed it was working on a new--well, sort of new--Splinter Cell game. Rather than greenlight a sequel to Splinter Cell Blacklist, the company is moving forward on a remake of the first Splinter Cell, rebuilt in its own Snowdrop engine at Ubisoft Toronto. Aside from a pledge to stick to the core gameplay principles of the original such as thoughtful, methodical stealth, and to not go to an open-world model, Ubisoft has shared very little about what the game will be like. In fact, given how early the game appears to be in development, the developer is likely still figuring that part out. But as a longtime fan, I have a few wishes in mind for the Splinter Cell remake because this series is all that matters to me anymore and I need a win right now.
Bring back Michael Ironside
The most obvious suggestion of all, let's just get it out of the way first: Michael Ironside has to voice Sam Fisher in the Splinter Cell remake. Even if it weren't a remake of the original game, this point would stand, as his signature low vocals and sarcastic charm are what made Sam Fisher such a compelling character. They were absent in Blacklist as Ubisoft Toronto went to a full motion-capture setup and Ironside battled cancer, and the latter point was probably more responsible for the recasting than the motion-capture technology. Ironside recovered and has returned for two special events in Ghost Recon games, so it would be a fantastic treat to hear him again in a full release. Will we? I don't know, because Ubisoft wouldn't tell me when I asked--and I obviously asked.
Alongside Ironside, however, there are a few other voice actors who made their roles iconic. Don Jordan and Claudia Besso were major parts of what made the games work, as well, playing Irving Lambert and Anna Grímsóttir for every game in the series up through Conviction, with the exception of Pandora Tomorrow. Besso was recast in Blacklist, and though her replacement did an admirable job, the original's sly wit was what made her so believable during in-mission conversations.
Don't completely ignore what came later
The first three Splinter Cell games were pretty strict stealth games--and pure stealth ones at that. If you tripped an alarm, it usually meant your game was over. The philosophy still makes sense in 2021, but the way it's implemented could be different. Chaos Theory, for instance, adopted a gradual alarm system that didn't end in a failure but instead made things much more difficult--enemies would wear more armor and would generally make Sam's life hell.
Does implementing later innovations mean Ubisoft has to completely change the game? Not at all, and the developers don't necessarily have to include something like the Mark & Execute system, either, but there is certainly still room for modern touches. The cover system from the last two games, their more-fluid aiming mechanics, and even the in-universe text during missions would all fit nicely. Given that the new game will run in the Snowdrop engine, which has used some of those elements before in The Division, this is a definite possibility.
Hack the planet and pick those locks
The hacking feature wasn't actually included in the series until Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, but it was one of the best parts of the game and was sorely missed in both Conviction and Blacklist. Using several lines of green, Matrix-like code, Sam had to carefully identify strings of numbers as they briefly stood still in order to lock them in place and crack his targeted system. It was simple, but it offered just enough challenge to make hacking feel more rewarding than just holding down a button and waiting a few seconds.
The same goes for lockpicking. It was no longer a minigame in Conviction or Blacklist, despite it being a really neat and clever way to get through sealed doors. Using the analog sticks and haptic feedback, you could tell when you correctly positioned the pin, and it gave you a little sense of accomplishment from opening doors that the streamlined games lacked.
Spies vs. Mercs
The competitive multiplayer game mode wasn't part of the series when Splinter Cell first launched, but Spies vs. Mercs is an integral part of Splinter Cell as we know it today. Going forward, only Conviction lacked the mode, which pairs first-person mercenaries with heavy weaponry against spies armed with minimal weaponry but a whole bunch of sneaky gadgets.
If Ubisoft is hoping to revive the series and interest a new generation, then including this mode as a retroactive addition to the first game is a great way to do it. Yes, the mercenaries can win fairly often with brute force, as the mode has to be balanced, but learning how stealth and misdirection are just as effective is key to understanding Splinter Cell's essence.
Don't "late-stage Ubisoft" it
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Given that Ubisoft Toronto has already pledged not to make the Splinter Cell remake an open-world game, we don't have to worry about Ubisoft's later tropes influencing its level design, but the Ubisoft of 2021 is not the same company that made the first game in 2002. Microtransactions are prevalent in nearly every game it releases, and it's even experimenting with NFTs in Ghost Recon Breakpoint now. It goes without saying, but we need NVGs (night-vision goggles), not NFTs.
Especially when they amount to skipping difficult content by paying real money, microtransactions sully a game's design. It creates distrust between the player--who would otherwise believe only their own efforts and skills would be tested--and the game itself, which might be artificially limiting progress in order to drive players toward shelling out extra cash. If Ubisoft really wants to evoke the spirit of the original Splinter Cell in this remake, tell Michael Transaction to stay home. Charge $70 if you must, but don't invite him.