Despite being an old-school Splinter Cell fan I actually quite enjoyed the series branching out into a more action oriented environment in Conviction. But despite the exciting action and enjoyable gameplay it inevitably left me craving for stealthy takedowns and gadgets. Although looking cool, Sam Fisher just doesn’t look right unless he’s skulking around in corners darker than the void of space weighing up elaborate and inventive ways to incapacitate his unsuspecting foes.
Luckily the quantity of gadgets for you to acquire in Blacklist puts Q branch to shame. There are so many options for you in your nice shadowed corner that at times it can be a little difficult to tell which is the ‘best’ option to take down your target. Grenades alone consist of flashbangs, tear gas, sleeping gas, frag, incendiary and smoke. Once you’ve upgraded your ops suit you will be able to take all 6 of these on a mission if you want. Or you might want to go for something a little more subtle and all the classics, like sticky cameras, are equally as viable. On top of this there is good old fashioned whacking people on the back of the head or jabbing them in the throat with a knife.
The whole point of Blacklist is choice. What becomes obvious is that there is no ‘best’ approach, it’s simply the approach you prefer. Being a purist, I of course went for a stealthy approach but that doesn’t mean that every now and again I don’t just want to let loose and use a combination of darkness and fiery death to terrorise my enemies.
The only thing I found somewhat frustrating about the amount of options Blacklist presents you with is one type of enemy. There are many helmeted enemies in Blacklist which are not a problem, the only difference really is that you can’t headshot them. But there is an armour plated super guard that sports both a helmet and a gas mask. The only effective ways to take them out is either to frag their armour off and then deal with the now standard guard as you wish, insta-kill them with an incendiary grenade or sneak up behind (or above) them and perform a take down.
For anyone wishing to even be vaguely stealthy clearly frags and incendiaries are out of the question which leaves only the ‘old fashioned’ methods available. I’ve got no problem with this but Blacklist offers so much choice and freedom that it seems totally contradictory to increasingly use an enemy that disables most of those choices. The game would be far too easy and boring if there where no challenging enemies but towards the end of the game the super-guard becomes almost as common as standard guards. Or at least they are placed to all but disable your gadget use.
And speaking of gadgets, there’s one that puts all others to shame – the crossbow. Once upgraded it carries distraction bolts, EMP’s, sleeping gas and shock charges all in one slot. Then once your ops suit is upgraded you can carry 12 of each one. It’s great fun to use and allows for some hefty ranged shots if you can arch your shots well but being able to take down at least 24 targets quickly and silently with only one gadget slot is unbalanced. My favourite gadgets are the sleeping gas grenade and the sticky cameras but even having 3 grenades, that usually take at least 2 guards down, can only cope with 6 guards. That is assuming there are no super-guards present because it makes no odds what gadgets you have at all if there are. I would’ve like just one gadget that can take them down, even if it was one use a level, just to help in those tricky scenarios.
Upgrades are plentiful providing a good sense of progression to proceedings. In Conviction there where limited choices you could make regarding your load out but that is no longer the case. You can even alter the cammo patterns on your suit and the colour of the lights on your goggles. The rate at which you earn money for upgrades is good and allowed me to buy everything I wanted in my first playthrough; with enough extra to make a few bad decisions and a couple of aesthetic upgrades.
The narrative holds closer to Splinter Cell’s of old with you working for the newly formed 4th Echelon. Your new ‘secret’ organization grants Sam et al. free reign to do what needs to be done. Most of the missions are launched from 4th Echelon’s flying base, the Paladin, so usually missions will be planned then executed. Very few missions just happen so you feel much more like you work for a shady above-the-law organization.
The voice acting is convincing despite the at times dubious lip-syncing. The whole voice cast really sell the espionage and deceit of Blacklist and are only let down by occasionally dodgy graphics. Of course for the first time ever Michael Ironside is no longer playing the part of Sam Fisher. Instead Eric Johnson takes on the role and actually does a good job of filling Michael Ironside’s rather big boots. Sam is definitely a much more accessible character in Blacklist. He has an increased personalisation which actually gives the impossible decisions he faces all the more impact.
I enjoyed the plot and the reunited characters under the new 4th Echelon banner. It’s not a particularly complicated plot but it gets the job done. However, the conclusion is disappointingly short and anticlimactic. The final ‘battle’ where you take down the big bag terrorist is bar far the easiest on the game taking only a few short, dull, minutes – if that.
Splinter Cell Blacklist manages to return to its roots just enough to please old-school Splinter Cell fans like myself. Luckily it also maintains the franchise’s cool new features and offers choice to allow players freedom to enjoy the game as they wish. Some may miss Sam Fisher’s incredibly gruff voice but I found his new actor refreshing and convincing.
There’s a decent, if a little generic, terrorist themed plot that fits nicely around the new 4th Echelon and its crew. The conclusion was disappointing but what Blacklist loses in the plot it makes up for in gameplay. I would definitely recommend playing on ‘Realistic’ for a first playthrough but hard-core Splinter Cell fans shouldn’t be disappointed by ‘Perfectionist’ if a greater challenge is desired. Despite some great titles, Blacklist is the first time since Chaos Theory the series has really been heading in the right direction, whilst still catering to both diehard Splinter Cell fans and newbies alike.
Sadly a few slight technical issues and occasional frame rate drops so bad I needed to restart the game (for some reason) can take you out of the experience. At times entire areas and levels see you unable to use anything but your bare hands. While important to stop the game becoming repetitive and easy, at times it can be frustrating. But hey, it wouldn’t be Splinter Cell without a little frustration right?
Reviewed on PS3