Splinter Cell: Blacklist Review

Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a servant of two masters. The first master is the ever-expanding action genre dominated by Call of Duty and Battlefield. The other master is the dying stealth genre; where Splinter Cell once ruled the land along with Metal Gear Solid and Hitman. Ubisoft is able to please both of its masters fairly adequately, however it’s a master of neither. Somewhere in Blacklist there’s a decent stealth game, however it is dogged by a mediocre action game and a forgettable story.

Sam Fisher returns in Blacklist with his old pair of green goggles and an unfortunate case of throat cancer.

Six months after the events of the last game, Sam Fisher is once more dragged into a terrorist plot against the United States. He is recruited by the President to lead a newly created team called Fourth Echelon. This is all in response to a terrorist group called “The Engineers” who have promised to attack America unless the White House withdraws all of its troops from overseas. The Blacklist refers to the series of attacks that will occur if the Engineers’ demands aren’t met. The premise is recycled from an assortment of generic action movies and just as inspired. The plot has little to offer, there’s next to nothing at stake for the player. It’s just as emotionless as Ubisoft’s own Assassin’s Creed franchise. With the exception of a weapon dealers named Kobin, who makes for excellent comic relief, the characters are forgettable.

Sam Fisher returns, this time voiced by an entirely different person. Newcomer Eric Johnson steps into the role for veteran Michael Ironside. Ironside has left large shoes to fill but unfortunately they are mostly unfilled in Blacklist. While Johnson’s acting abilities aren’t in question, his performance is nowhere near as memorable as the gruff disposition of Ironside. At times, Fisher seems like a completely different character; this goes far beyond the new voice. The candid, sarcastic demeanor of Fisher is mostly replaced with a generic, edgy heroism. It certainly doesn’t help that Fisher, a man in his mid-fifties, climbs up walls, across pipes and hangs from ledges like a man in his early twenties.

In terms of gameplay, Blacklist feels much like its predecessor, Splinter Cell: Conviction. Many features such as the cover system, the sonar goggles, and the ability to mark and execute guards return.  The best additions to Blacklist however, are the same things that its predecessor threw away. The player can now hide bodies, lure guards, take them down non-lethally or even avoid them all-together. It’s possible, and recommended, to play the entire game without killing a single guard. The game can be played in one of three styles and the player’s score is categorized depending on their actions throughout the level. The ghost playstyle rewards players for leaving enemies undisturbed or taking down enemies non-lethally, the panther style awards points for stealth kills and finally the assault style encourages players to ditch stealth entirely and go for a “guns-blazing” approach.

The single-player story takes the player all around the world from Iraq, to London, to Chicago. It also leaves next to no impact.

Blacklist is surprisingly accommodating to a stealth playstyle, a welcome change compared to the action-driven gameplay of Conviction. With little hesitation, the ghost playstyle is by far the most enjoyable way to play Blacklist. There’s a great amount of tension to each level and a genuine sense of accomplishment to completing a level without ever been seen. It’s shame that Blacklist shoehorns in action segments that seem directly lifted from Call of Duty. There are multiple instances where the player controls a UAV, firing down on enemies below and even a brief first-person shooter segment in one level. The result here is about as successful as the much-reviled Iraq mission from Conviction.

All of the single player missions are launched from the Paladin, a large cargo plane that serves as a mobile command center. From here the player can talk to team members, review their stats, and upgrade their gear. There are also plenty of side missions offered by each of the team members. Grim’s missions in particular, which require a dedicated stealth approach, are among the best in the entire game. Ultimately, they’re a sign of what Blacklist could have been.

Blacklist is a mix of good news and bad news. It’s almost a metaphor for the current state of the stealth genre. The market may be dominated by action games, but Blacklist is a good sign that stealth games can survive in a dying market. It has plenty of tense moments and serves as an interesting mix of past and present Splinter Cell games. Unfortunately, Blacklist tries to do everything at once, and is much worse off for it. Unfortunately the stealth game the Ubisoft keeps wanting to make is still hiding in the shadows.

Final Score: 3/5

Version Played: PS3
Note: For the purpose of this review, I did not play the multiplayer portion of Blacklist. Accordingly it is not a factor in the final score.
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About Sam Hale

Autistic, young adult and lots on my mind.

Posted on September 19, 2013, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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