Splinter Cell: Blacklist is fast.
Sam Fisher has moved away from his arthritic self and looks like he’s been downing vitality yoghurts by the 8-pack. He glides through Libya, Marawa, Dallas and many more worldwide locations, with as much finesse as Ezio from Assassin’s Creed.
Plus, his balls have tightened…well, his voice is slightly higher.
I get it.
Ubisoft has allowed Fisher to shed his wrinkly skin and crooked voice to allow for a more actiony action hero.
But when it comes to SC, I’m one of the purists in need of a split jump, an in-game bit of sarcasm from the old guy and a much slower experience all-round.
This speedy platform game is too close to the mediocre Conviction and too far away from the original tetralogy. I mean, interrogating foot soldiers for useable intel later on (i.e. a door code that made the mission easier), was a signature move of the franchise. And now it’s gone.
Interrogations are carried out through cutscenes and it feels like a clunky step back every time.
But hey – at least we’ve got some Jack Bauer style takedowns to enjoy instead.
The problem is, Ubisoft, we already get our kicks from other non-stealth action shows/games. We play Splinter Cell to feel somewhat closer to real espionage.
When I’m tagging enemies and executing them all with the single press of a button (similar to Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon), I feel empowered, sure. But I also feel like some sort of exaggerated lead role in a weak Sky One thriller…Strike Back: Project Dawn.
SC: Conviction wasn’t a Splinter Cell. And just because you wear more goggles in Blacklist, it doesn’t make this game any less of a let-down.
Okay, I realise that I’m being bitter, like some re-married 40-something remembering my ex-love to be much better in bed than the new wife. So, let’s give this gal a chance and talk about her ‘other qualities’:
Blacklist has a deep level of gear customisability, and Generation Modern Warfare kind of expect this in every game now. So that’s a big fat tick.
Life was much easier when Sam had all the latest tech provided by Third Echelon as standard. But manually upgrading your goggles makes you really appreciate the enhancements in the field.
Fourth Echelon is on a tighter budget.
Interestingly, there is no main menu. Instead, the game’s singleplayer, multiplayer and co-op missions are all accessible by Sam’s playable airborne HQ – the Paladin.
You return to the Paladin between each mission and can walk around interacting with Grimsdottir & co (similar to the terrorist HQ in Double-Agent). It offers some nice downtime and does a solid job of making you feel you’re in control of the entire operation (which you are).
You earn money for the way in which you complete missions. This money can be invested into your gear, clothing or the Paladin itself. It’s an extra flavour to enjoy and some players will get more out of it than others.
I like it.
Part of this pay-your-own-way system encourages stealth during missions – which I also like. You receive cash rewards no matter how you play. For example, if you’re blazing your way through Libya but you land headshots every time – then you’ll receive credit for your display of ‘Assault’ prowess.
Similarly, you receive ‘Ghost’ credit for evading enemies and conserving ammo. The ‘Ghost’ approach is the more lucrative.
The actual gameplay itself is more Conviction than Double Agent. It’s nice to see the objectives painted on the in-game walls again, I always thought that was a clever way of making you feel like you’re setting your own objectives – rather than checking your OPSAT all the time for instructions from HQ.
The ‘execute’ feature is slick and some of the multi-kills you can pull off are beyond awesome.
But it still doesn’t feel right. Not one mission feels like a direct descendant of Shanghai in Double Agent, the bank in Chaos Theory or even the Kalinatek operation in the original SC.
Overall, Blacklist is more like the bastard child of Conviction and Syphon Filter.
There’s enough stealth and path choice in Blacklist to satisfy the purists, while keeping the neutrals happy with Hollywood-style spy moves. And it really does feel great to suit up in the leathers again (behave).
Still, I’m not in love.
Sam might have cleared up his crow’s-feet but no amount of makeup could cover the wrinkles of Blacklist on a whole. If Ubisoft continues to be uber-soft with this franchise, it will lose the hardcore fanbase and remain eclipsed by more self-secure titles.
Sam is no longer safe in the shadows. Sigh.