Splinter Cell Blacklist video review – The best game in the series so far?

Ubisoft has listened to fans, tweaked the gameplay and brought back the well loved multiplayer in Splinter Cell Blacklist, however, after Conviction’s action orientated stealth gameplay,  how does Blacklist readdress the balance. Tale a look at our Splinter Cell Blacklist video review for the full lowdown.

Text Review:

Today we’re taking a look at Ubisoft’s stealth action game Splinter Cell Blacklist which is available for consoles and PC platforms. From the offset, it has to be said that there’s a much more personal story here and detailed character building as the game throws players into the tight and seemingly well oiled 4th Echelon. Lead hero Sam Fisher is back, still grey haired but somewhat slicker than before. We get to see a more organized and commanding agent who not only can work his magic in the field, but makes for a menacing and believable commander as well.  Rather than present a boring menu, players can select various options from the main hub aircraft The Paladin. It’s here where Sam can interact with the other 4th Echelon team members, partake in optional side missions and play, or replay completed sections of the campaign. It’s a slick and meaningful presentation and certainly sets the style of the game.

Looking at the gameplay and it’s obvious Ubisoft are chasing the all inclusive option but allowing players to adopt one of three play styles, or mix them up if need be. Action gamers can choose from a wide selection of customizable weapons and when the gunfights begin – ignoring stealth –  and there’s a comprehensive shooter on offer, although it’s quite easy to be shot down in a few hits if simply charging at the enemy ignoring cover and any tactics.

Stealth gamers are given two main play styles which weave their way into the game’s design quite comfortably. For purists, they can utilize a ghost approach, where the onus lies on ignoring enemies and sneaking around to compete objectives – this feels more akin to the older games in the series, but matches today’s faster paced gaming with more up tempo gameplay.

Stealth gamers can also spend time working through levels knocking out or killing every enemy from the shadows without raising the alarm and what’s neat about this is how the game tracks your every interaction and awards points based on the style used – with Ghost perhaps being the most challenging. After missions are completed, a handy breakdown of score is awarded and then converted into cash, which can then be used to purchase new weapons and upgrade gear. Much like Ubisoft’s earlier PEC system in previous Tom Clancy games, the principle is the same here and carries across all modes of play.

Looking at the gameplay mechanics and it’s clear these are ripped directly from the previous game and adjusted to provide a little more AI behaviors. Players can lure, distract and lay traps, and even when stealth is lost, there’s some neat options to escape back into the shadows and move on. The gameplay is accomplished, although there are still some oddities with the AI not spotting Sam in elevated positions, and falling foul of corner take downs en mass – but generally, provide formidable opponents.

The game’s levels are well tuned to accommodate players who wish to explore a little, offering secret routes, and multiple ways to sneak through. Secondary objects add a bit more meat to the levels, and an incentive to replay once beaten which is welcome. The campaign is very much open ground and enticing to play over and over which was sorely missed in the previous game.

The Splinter Cell Blacklist story takes gamers across the globe versus a ruthless terrorist threat, and whilst the game feels less covert in its mission objectives than the original games, the concept is still there and paves the way  for a variety of play style mash-ups including various nods at previous missions in the series. One moment, you’re sneaking around as Sam in the daylight, and the next, shooting vehicles from a drone, or even playing as Agent Briggs in first person mode. The game constantly mixes in various gameplay elements to keep things fresh, leaving gamers on the pinnacle of exciting gameplay throughout and showing off how bad ass Sam Fisher is, despite his age and changed looks. None of it could be described as a less impacting than the rest which is pretty hard to accomplish with today’s fickle gamers and given the length of the 12 story missions.

If there’s to be any criticism leveled at the single player campaign is the fact that for more accomplished gamers, the game is not as hard as it could be, given the amount of tools available to get the job done. Players will have to set their own restriction such as not using weapons to take out lights, turning off the radar and perhaps restarting missions if discovered. It’s a shame an added optional mode of game over if discovered wasn’t included across all missions – although this is partially addressed in the 4th Echelon side missions. Sam’s movements also feels a little too weighty at times, making slow precise actions a real pain, there are several crouch speeds, but the slowest doesn’t mimic real movement very well which can get players discovered on occasion.

Graphically, Blacklist look highly polished, with some excellent light and shadow effects,  realistic animations and mostly decent textures throughout . Coupled with some varied locales, gives rise to a pleasant mixture of organic and industrial flavours, making for a visually pleasing game.  There are some issues with screen tearing, at times, but hopefully this can be remedied via an update. Some of the character models, also look a little off, especially charlie, whose eyes are quite menacing!

Audio is of a high quality with a soundtrack drenched in adaptive music, and sound effects that are constantly impressive. There are some repeated phrases from the enemy, although in general, the amount of dialogue is good. Even inconsequential conversations can be quite detailed. It’s the performance of the main cast that shines though, and in the absence of Michael Ironside for the first time, the new Sam Fisher voiced by Eric Johnson offers a likeable alternative.  Team mates, Briggs, Grim and Charlie are all well performed, and with a far greater emphasis on presenting a blockbuster story this time through a more precise script and the performances really are excellent.

The single player campaign stretches across 12 missions which can be replayed at any time from the paladin, there are also 4th Echelon side missions and a mini meta game to boost earnings to mess around with. The former, replacing the more open ended deniable ops from Conviction and offering more concise mission structures. It’s here where players can try and beat their scores, or compare with the rest of the world via leaderboards, something that stretches across all elements of the game. There’s a fair number of extra missions available, making the Blacklist package quite full of single player content.

For those connected to the wider field, the options increase further, with side missions being playable in co-op (or split screen) adding a bit more depth to how missions are tackled. Players can also jump in to the revised Spies vs Mercs mode which was absent from the previous game. The set up is very much the same as the Assassin’s Creed multiplayer which means, solo players are barred from competing other than setting up private rooms and looking at the maps. This is a huge shame, and annoyance, as not having AI bots means players can’t practice offline and  gamers without connections are excluded from quite a chunk of the game.

The Spies vs Mercs mode offers a classic and revised versions of the game to please fans of the original and to welcome newcomers and provides some tense and thrilling gameplay moments not seen in traditional multiplayer game types. There’s a number of modes to play through such as , although there could be a few more maps. Much like the single player, gamers can also upgrade their characters with all the cash earned from playing elements from the entire game. There’s also a number of persistent challenges to strive for keeping every game laden with objectives.

To conclude, Splinter Cell Blacklist offers a full package that dances with several styles to create an encompassing game that covers all bases with ease. The story is interesting, the characters well realized, and the gameplay of a high caliber as expected from game number six in the series. With single player, co-op and multiplayer, there’s enough to sink ones teeth into for quite some time, and so the question remains, is Blacklist worth a purchase, and more importantly, better than Conviction? The answer is obviously yes on both counts, making Blacklist not a massive leap forwards in terms of new features, but perhaps the most slick and accomplished game of the series to date.

Score 9/10 – Review by Robert Cram