Ladies and Gentlemen...Sam Fisher is Back. Splinter Cell: Blacklist (August 20, 2103) picks up some time after the events in Conviction. Sam Fisher is back at work, in the employ of the good ol’ USA, and currently on assignment at Andersen AFB in Guam.
A group of tech-savvy terrorists, known only as The Engineers, launches a series of attacks, known as The Blacklist, on American interests, and Andersen AFB is first on the list. Fisher’s helicopter goes down during the attack and his BFF, Vic, receives grievous injuries from a suicide grenadier.
The President personally orders Fisher to stop the remaining attacks on The Blacklist, which The Engineers have graciously posted on YouTube with a countdown timer for each attack. Sam is soon grudgingly reunited with his old handler, Anna Grimsdottir, along with a growing cast of helpful helpers, like the ex-CIA operative, Isaac Briggs, and Sam’s technophile pet nerd, whose name I have already forgotten. Tough shit, nerd boy...get yourself a more memorable name next time!
Since Fisher is no longer doing his one man avenging the system thing, he actually has the advantage of a base of operations in this game: a flying technological marvel known as Paladin One. It’s basically an upgradeable plane with a lot of computers and communication equipment.
It’s Kind of Like Mass Effect
Several aspects of Blacklist reminded me of Mass Effect. First and foremost, Sam Fisher does not sound like himself. Michael Ironside, for whatever reason, does not, for the first time ever, voice Sam Fisher in a Splinter Cell game. Sam sounds more like Commander Shepard than Sam Fisher. This was confusing for the first few levels, as I wasn’t entirely sure if Sam was talking or listening to someone on his communicator. The second “borrowed” piece of Mass Effect is the whole group dynamic aboard the Paladin. Sam has to walk around the plane and talk to his teammates to gain upgrades, information, and extra missions. While a little chit chat on the side is a nice touch, it really has no value in a single-player game with such a linear storyline. Remember the corny part of Mass Effect where the game would ask if the player was ready for the mission? Yeah, Blacklist stole that too...which is goofy because every mission has to be completed, in order, to advance the game, and unnecessary because you can go back to any mission that you have already played, at which point you will be asked if you are ready...again.
It’s Kind of Like Hitman
Ubisoft has provided little daily bonuses if players are willing to complete challenges, like perform 5 headshots with a loud (unsilenced) weapon, etc. Players are rewarded monetarily for completing missions and side-missions, like recovering data from an Engineer laptop or stealing a dead drop. This money is used to upgrade the Paladin, as well as gear, weapons, and gadgets. Black market weapons are also available for purchase. This is all well and good, but is a bit of a departure from previous games, where you already had the best gear and didn’t have to buy it all over again. Another striking Hitman similarity is the presentation of the SP leaderboards, which are like the leaderboards in Hitman: Absolution. Sam also now stashes bodies in convenient containers. Sound familiar?
It’s Still Splinter Cell
Despite Sam’s nod of affection to other popular games, Blacklist is all about sneaking around and taking out bad guys one at a time. The mission objectives are often projected onto objects, like they were in Conviction. Most Splinter Cell vets will recognize Sam’s bag of tricks: sticky shocker, sticky cam, noisemakers, and assortment of silenced weapons. The newest addition is the tri-rotor. Think of it as an armed remote control helicopter. Sam’s goggles have night vision, sonar vision, and footprint tracking (which I never used). Players are awarded extra cash for discovering new pathways, so exploration is encouraged.
The game grades players using three different play styles: ghost, panther, and assault.
Ghost typically rewards players better than the other two, but is more difficult to score. Ghost grades players on remaining undetected and utilization of non-lethal gadgets. Panther rewards for stealth kills and hiding bodies. Assault style rewards those who forget that they are playing a stealth game.
Spies vs Mercs is a 4 vs 4 affair, featuring sneaky guys in 3rd person vs armed and armored mercs in 1st person. As experience is gained, different modes are opened up, with different objectives for each team. Co-op plays like a horde or zombie mode, with Briggs and Fisher standing their ground against waves of baddies that increase in difficulty each wave. Nothing new to see here.
It’s a Splinter Cell game, alright, but some stuff is missing. First, there’s the voice. I like commander Shepard, but he’s no Sam Fisher. Michael Ironside is Sam Fisher. The second issue is that the improvisational combat options and interrogation techniques from the last game are simply not there. Another thing that is conspicuously absent is Fisher’s rationale behind his ohh-rah attitude.
Why is he so gung-ho about finishing “the job” for the same people who have completely fucked him over during the last two games? The immersion from the previous games just isn’t there, and as well written and well acted as the story is, and it’s actually very good, it just doesn’t measure up to the previous couple of games, falling way short of the bar set by Conviction.
While it felt good to slip back into the goggles and stealth suit, Blacklist falls short of what I expect from a Splinter Cell experience. It’s definitely a must-have for fans of the series, but everyone else should wait for the price to drop.