Splinter Cell is a long and storied franchise with entries such as Chaos Theory being many a gamer’s favorite original Xbox title. Personally, Chaos Theory was what I felt was our first dip into next gen at the time. It came at the end of the original Xbox’s lifespan and as such was gorgeous and enthralling. I speak to this because the newest entry in the series, Splinter Cell: Blacklist tries to ignite the same feelings while also sticking to the gameplay tenants that were created in the previous entry Conviction. While Blacklist may shoot for the clouds of Chaos Theory and miss, it still manages to soar above any other previous entry.
The thing that I noticed first when playing Blacklist was the visuals. As Chaos theory was a bar for quality that ended the console generation on a high note Blacklist is quite the opposite. It is at the end of a console cycle but ends up looking dated with poor lip sync on the characters and some of the most abhorrent screen tearing I have ever seen. What is odd is the screen tearing really only takes place during the cut-scenes and the not the actual gameplay which is relatively smooth. Some of the characters look fish-eyed or just downright odd, but the animations are wonderful especially on Sam. Some levels do look quite nice with dynamic lighting but it is always hit and miss, with some levels looking great and others downright ugly.
Despite the lack of visual flair the presentation is quite good, the menu is all set inside a hub called the Paladin, a massive plane that houses Sam Fisher and his team. In the center of the Paladin is a giant map on a touch screen table. It is here that the player chooses missions and customizes their agent. The nifty thing is the map shows single-player, co-op and multiplayer all on one and makes the world and missions feel connected and seamless on the other hand the loading screens do their best to hamper this feeling. This seems strange since the game is split onto two discs and is not exactly on the graphically intensive side. It feels as if Ubisoft didn’t optimize the game very well or were rushed to production to beat the fall game glut.
The sound design fares better, the music fits the mood and the voice acting is generally quite good. The controversial change from Micheal Ironside as Sam to a new younger voice actor for the sake of motion capture is odd, it ends up being a detriment to Sam’s character. The new voice actor Eric Johnson does a great job and normally would be as good as a replacement as any, but seeing as Sam Fisher is an old man at this point it just makes no sense in game. Especially since Ironside is so iconic at this point largely because of his Portrayal of Sam.
The Story is the most cohesive of the Splinter Cell games, while less emotionally charged with the removal of Sams daughter (the focus of the previous two entries) from the story, it brings the series back to its previous globe trotting exploits. Unlike Chaos Theory, Pandora Tomorrow and the original Splinter Cell. The story does not get bogged down by the convoluted characters, and political babble of previous entries, centering around the titular Blacklist where a group of terrorists plan to attack the United States at predetermined times continuously until the US removes its troops from overseas. The story has a bit of a cliffhanger conclusion but ultimately has some compelling moments and wraps up nicely despite this. Ultimately it’s the singular
The campaign and co-op missions have a scoring system based on going entirely non-lethal, a mix of stealth and lethal or all out assault. These are used to score the player based on their actions and give them points; which in turn can be used to buy gadgets and customize Sam. The options range from new sneaking suits, gadgets and guns all the way to the color of the tri-lens goggles. Little touches like this help keep the player invested and working toward the next big payment.
The gameplay is where Blacklist shines, containing all the advancements from Conviction and all the gadgetry and stealth that were so integral to Chaos Theory. What results is the best of both worlds. A game that has the smooth, fast, predatory movements of Conviction mixed with using tear gas, mini-rotors, sticky cams and classic gadgets splinter cell had become famous for. The missions are so well designed and contain so many branching paths that they beg to be replayed and the classic terrorist hunt style co-op maps are as great as ever. On top of this there are co-op only linear missions and a full multiplayer suite. This game is packed with content and all of it is of the utmost quality.
Multiplayer, which brings the storied return of spies versus mercs will have many fans squirming in their seats with joy. Pitting teams of spies in 3rd person and mercs in 1st person against each other makes for intense multiplayer battles. Couple that with a huge breadth of customization options and leveling up and it makes for a multiplayer experience to last for months after the completion of the lengthy campaign.
There is so much to talk about in terms of content and all of it is great which makes Blacklist feel like the true return of Splinter Cell. It caters to fans new and old whether you are a chaos theory purist or a Conviction nut. While it may not reach the high bar that Chaos theory set; it still manages to be the best Splinter Cell of this console cycle.
-No Micheal Ironside