E3 is notorious for the grand return of beloved franchises, but one return that surprised us the most is Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Blacklist. The newest Sam Fisher game was announced before E3 2012 ever began, but spending some time with it in person has reminded us just how special the franchise is. Ironically, some of the elements that make the game “fresh” are actually long-standing features from other Ubisoft games, making Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Blacklist somewhat of an amalgam of all previous Tom Clancy games before it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because what’s but added and changed seems to be for the good. But, it’s definitely a change for the series, and it seems to really begin blurring the lines between one Clancy game to the next, making the protagonist(s) almost interchangeable.
In the game, a group of rogue nations have grown tired of the United States’ military having a presence in their respective countries. To try and expel the U.S. forces, they mastermind “The Blacklist,” a series of escalating terrorist attacks on U.S. assets. This doesn’t mean the levels take place on U.S. soil, mind you, so Splinter Cell Blacklist isn’t going the way of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 or the like, but it does means that players will be using Sam Fisher’s infamous tactical suit and goggles to infiltrate terrorist cells around the globe to protect the United States. But it doesn’t always appear that Sam’s goals are entirely altruistic, particularly when you realized that his interrogation methods now involve brutal executions and other gut-wrenching moves to extract information that will help prevent the next Blacklist attack.
Throughout Splinter Cell Blacklist, Sam and Fourth Echelon seek out their missions aboard a new Mobile Command Center housed inside a stealth aircraft. Ready to take off at a moment’s notice, Fourth Echelon is equipped with unlimited resources and cutting-edge technology including a Strategic Mission Interface that reports global events in real time. What’s interesting about this is that Sam (well, the player) is now in charge, so Sam can call in tactical orders on his own and truly help determine how the action unfolds.
Borrowing a page from the Ghost Recon games, players can control air strikes, drone attacks and other previously non-Splinter Cell functions. Sam’s loadouts, like those in the Rainbow Six series, seem much more customizable (and bullet-friendly) this time out, and he’s got a full arsenal of new gadgets as well as reinvented classic weapons. Also like Rainbow Six, Sam can slow time and “mark” the enemies he plans to attack and the order in which he will do so. The game even takes some cues from a Prince of Persia title, as good ol’ Sam can mantle up walls and cliffs to sneak around enemies or make a quick escape.
As mentioned above, the mano-a-mano aspects are much more visceral in Blacklist, to the point that Ubisoft has given the melee attacks an actual label of “Killing-in-Motion,” a label that extends to players’ ability to mark multiple enemies and execute them in one fluid motion.
Probably the coolest new feature, though, is entirely new and not borrowed from any previous Ubisoft game: voice recognition via Xbox 360 Kinect. In our demo, Sam was hanging from the ledge of a platform and needed to do away with an enemy patrolling above. By literally calling out “hey, you,” the player was able to get the enemy’s attention and cause him to get closer to the ledge to investigate. I imagine you know what happens next, since Sam Fisher’s a total badass.
Splinter Cell Blacklist is a ton of fun, even at this early stage, and I’m eager to play more. Still, I must admit that the level shown at E3 seems much more action- than stealth-oriented, which is somewhat disappointing. Yes, recent Splinter Cell games have had stronger action sequences than the original outings, but this level was unlike anything you’ve ever experienced in the Splinter Cell franchise. By borrowing multiple elements from other franchises, Ubisoft’s newest Splinter Cell seems like much more of a “mutt” than earlier entries, albeit one we’ll probably love. I just hope Ubisoft doesn’t lose sight of the special elements makes Splinter Cell its own, unique franchise, and that this level was chosen for E3 demos simply because watching Sam creep through the shadows doesn’t necessarily make for the most compelling public demo.