Thank you, Ubisoft. Before getting into the pros and cons of Sam Fisher’s latest outing, it’s only fitting to open a Splinter Cell Blacklist review with gratitude. Sam Fisher is back, and I couldn’t be happier. Blacklist is likely the last Splinter Cell game to appear on a current-gen console, and it sends the franchise out on an undeniable high note. Conviction was a solid game in 2010, but it tried hard to appeal to action-oriented gamers, losing much of what makes Splinter Cell unique. With Blacklist, Ubisoft has gone back to its roots, a bold move and equally bold statement of “this is what Sam Fisher’s all about.”
The first Splinter Cell did stealth better than Metal Gear, a slow-paced masterpiece that absolutely warranted the now-storied series. Market pressures eventually got the better of Ubisoft, causing Splinter Cell to feel like Ghost Recon, which felt like Rainbow Six. The Tom Clancy’s games all just felt the same, and in all honesty, I started to lose interest. The past two years have seen Ubisoft in a Renaissance of sorts, giving the publisher more liberty to experiment. One of those experiments was a reversion to what made Splinter Cell magical in the first place. And the resulting stealth elements in Splinter Cell Blacklist are to be lauded and warned against at the same time.
First, the lauding. If you’re looking for a break from the frantic, twitchy shooting that dominates retail nowadays, this is your game. Methodical, strategic and unforgiving, Splinter Cell Blacklist is a breath of fresh air for thinking gamers everywhere. The campaign once again follows Sam Fisher, this time as he travels the world trying to thwart a terrorist group that promises weekly attacks until the United States withdraws its troops from every overseas post. The story is your typical espionage thriller, which though at times by-the-numbers, is a nice change of pace.
Technically the game gives you freedom of playing styles, from guns blazing to nigh-invisible stealth, but because Sam has limited ammo, Blacklist still compels you to be as stealthy as possible. This is particularly challenging in the daylight levels, but unlike Conviction, you’ll never feel even-matched with mercenaries. Play Blacklist like Gears of War or Call of Duty, and you won’t make it past the first level, even on Normal. Maintain your focus, plan each attack, and embrace stealth and diversion rather than shirk them, and you’ll find yourself on a path to success.
Diversion is particularly important, perhaps more than in any Splinter Cell game before, because the enemy AI is impeccable. Gone are the days of predictable patrol routes; these guards roam almost as randomly as a real-life player might – minus the spastic jumping. The AI actually contributes in a big way to Splinter Cell Blacklist being so unforgiving. Once a single guard spots you, you’ll be flanked by several more in no time flat, and they’ll even run from different areas of the map to help their comrade. It never feels cheap, but it’s definitely smart enough to warn gamers who normally like action-packed games to think twice before auto-piloting to the checkout line with Splinter Cell Blacklist.
In addition to the single-player stealth making a comeback in Blacklist, the multiplayer Spies vs. Mercs mode also makes a triumphant return. Few if any multiplayer games require the same level of cooperation as Spies vs. Mercs. An elite team of Spies with unique tools and abilities tries to complete specific objectives against an equally capable but differently equipped team of Mercs. With different parts of each map open to the different player types, the game never really plays the same twice, and that’s before even accounting for playing against (or with) different players.
Splinter Cell Blacklist has a few warts, including a financial reward system that favors stealth over run-and-gun even though there’s supposedly gameplay freedom, and its guards can at times be controller-spiking hard. But as an entire package, there hasn’t been a better Splinter Cell game yet. Splinter Cell Blacklist delivers in a big way, an appropriate franchise capstone to this console generation.
Platform reviewed: Xbox 360