Splinter Cell: Blacklist Xbox 360 Review
Sam Fisher returns in Splinter Cell: Blacklist the latest sequel in the Tom Clancy spy series. Ubisoft has us joining Sam once again as he thwarts another terrorist threat on America. This is only the second game I’ve played in the series. I have been aware of the series since Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. The last installment I played was Splinter Cell: Conviction which was an amazing game from the story to the mark and execute feature, both made the series appealing to me. So has Ubisoft delivered a solid follow up to Conviction?
With this sequel in the Splinter Cell series, Ubisoft Toronto tries to aim for a dark dramatic realistic story using various set pieces from terrorist compounds to government bases. The game definitely delivers the tone of being a spy gathering intel from various hotspots in the world while not being detected. This time around the game is more focused on playing the way you want by playing in three different styles. Ghost, Panther, or Assault. It’s a system that works and caters to players of all play styles. It also works well as it provides an incentive to replay missions to master each style in each mission which also gives much variety keeping the game fresh long after players finish the game.
At its core Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a stealth based game with choice. Players can choose to go loud or quiet in order to complete the missions in the game. Along with its customization system it adds another element of choosing the right equipment for the task at hand. Assaulting a base? Equip Sam with incendiaries and frags to take down heavy enemies. Want to be completely silent? Outfit Sam with sleeping gas and sticky cams to take down enemies non-lethally and to create distractions to slip by. You can mix and match to fit your style. You can upgrade Sam from his signature goggles all the way down to his boots with various enhancements to each piece of equipment. Your available arsenal feels powerful once you upgrade them to their highest potential.
In Splinter Cell: Blacklist the narrative is centered on stopping the “blacklist” which is a series of attacks on America enforced by the terrorist group, The Engineers. While you are not out sneaking throughout the world, you are on an airplane called “The Paladin” which serves as the main HQ for fourth echelon and also serves as your hub area in between missions. While on the paladin you can talk to other characters to get upgrades and select missions on the map. The mission map in the game is called the “SMI”. This is where you access every game mode in the game from the solo story missions to co-op and spies vs. mercs multiplayer. This is a very neat feature which is very easy to use so you aren’t forced to sift through a ton of menus to get right back to the action.
As far as gameplay goes, it’s rewarding. Throughout my play through of the game I found myself only using non-lethal weapons and takedowns trying to be as stealthy as possible. It’s something I never had the desire of doing before and was very rewarding seeing the bonus score come up for avoiding enemies entirely. Sam also carries over his mark and execute ability and fluid cover system from Conviction which makes the game feel comfortable as you see a grey-haired Sam Fisher scale walls effortlessly. It is also just as satisfying using sleeping gas to clear an entire room of enemies to safely move forward, or just popping the heads off each guard in each room. The choice is up to you. The missions feel a tad long ranging anywhere from 30-45 minutes each. This is a minor minor issue as the gameplay is engaging enough to make me forget how long the missions are. As you complete missions in the game you get money which is used to upgrade Sam’s equipment, the paladin, and your spy and merc characters for multiplayer. The money is all shared between each other. There is so much variety in the game that you’ll easily get 20+ hours out of the single player alone. The co-op and multiplayer spies vs. mercs mode are great additions that add longevity and excitement to complete the package.
The co-op is fun and adds even more variety to the game which already has a lot to offer. One person plays as Sam as the other plays as Sam’s partner Briggs as the two of you complete the co-op missions and character offered missions which can be done solo or co-op. I strongly suggest playing these co-op as they are more fun and intense with a friend as the two of you sneak and plot your moves to complete each mission. You can complete them solo, but it’s just not as exciting as doing them in co-op mode.
Spies vs. mercs it makes a welcome return in blacklist after making its first appearance in Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow. It offers various modes from the classic 2v2 mode where the spies have to hack terminals while the mercs have to stop them. Game modes range from 2v2 spies vs. mercs to 4v4 mixed team death match where you can play as either a spy or merc. The gameplay for the multiplayer feels a bit iffy starting out as you are match made against people who are higher levels than you and have access to better equipment so it feels a bit unbalanced at times. The best mode in the multiplayer in my opinion is the classic 2v2 mode as it is entirely skill based as there is no customization and both teams have preset classes. Overall the multiplayer is fun and intense but has some balance issues with some of the gadgets and matchmaking systems.
The graphics in the game look good but not great considering some animation problems in the distance and textures popping in are common occurrences during the game caused by the aging Unreal engine. The shadows look a little “blocky” as well, even with the HD texture packing installed (I played on Xbox 360) it made the overall experience a little better but still doesn’t blow me away compared to other games out there. The game does look polished and during the games night levels where you use night vision and sonar goggles makes the game feel more immersive as you play.
The story from the game derives its tone from TV shows like, Homeland and 24 to create a realistic, intense, drama filled story where Sam Fisher and Fourth Echelon combat a terrorist group called, “The Engineers” who threaten America with the “Blacklist” which is a series of attacks placed against the nation. They continue to threaten America with these attacks unless they pull out their military presence from the Middle East. Sam and Fourth Echelon work to gather intel on who “The Engineers” are and stopping each blacklist attack. The story starts off strong as you escaping from a crashed helicopter to sneak into a military base. From there the plot feels a bit padded towards the middle but it picks up towards the end. The ending is a little disappointing as it could’ve been a lot better in wrapping up the story instead of ending a bit abruptly. Series fans will also notice the absence of Micheal Ironside, Sam’s original voice actor. To that end the game is missing a subtle nuance that classic fans will likely not appreciate. Fisher’s new voice talent still manages to capture the spy we know and love from years past.
Overall Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a well-made addition to the franchise that has plenty to offer and much to do. It’s a game that lives up to it standards and rises above conviction in almost every aspect. The story is good but feels a bit weak as it feels padded at some points. The gameplay carries over from Conviction along with its varied styles to keep the game fresh and provide incentive to play more after the games credits. The co-op and multiplayer modes also add hours of gameplay that are intuitive and intense when you play them. The game is rewarding and punishing at the same time. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Ghost, Panther, or Assault player this game has something to offer for you to hone your skills in Ubisoft’s latest addition to the splinter cell franchise. Splinter Cell: Blacklist feels like the well-deserved and well executed return to Sam’s stealth like roots.