Sam Fisher and I have had a hard road together. I still remember seeing the original game and its technical prowess and being floored. Over the years though, the series has seen its ups and downs far too often. When Blacklist was announced my radar didn’t even blip. The idea of another adventure down the stealth path of frustration wasn’t all that intriguing. After spending numerous hours globetrotting around the world with the new Sam I can say that the series has never been better. Blacklist takes everything I loved about the series and refines and redefines it. This is the best Splinter Cell game I have played since Chaos Theory.
The plot of Blacklist is nothing new. The terrorists are attempting to strike various locations at certain points, and Sam and his team are on a mission to stop them before the attacks happen. What sells the story for me are the interactions between characters. Everyone feels tense when bad decisions are made, and drama is genuine throughout the campaign. Voice acting is well done, even with the omission of series vet Michael Ironside. The new Sam Fisher is angry. Angry to the point that the only thing that matters is the mission and that translates well into his character.
Sam and his team take up residence in an airborne base that serves as the game’s hub. Every campaign mission, co-op side missions and even the online Spies vs. Mercs is accessed from the in-game computer called the SMI. I loved the integration of combining everything in one area. I could walk around the plane and chat with my Fourth Echelon squad, upgrade the plane to unlock new abilities in the field and even research new weapons and upgrades. It is a cohesive system that makes playing whatever portion seamless.
Stealth returns in Blacklist, but isn’t the only game in town. Levels are scored in three tiers, with each one focusing on various aspects. Achieving Ghost is the most difficult, and frontlines the return of stealth. It is possible to take down most levels without ever being seen, and on harder difficulties is immensely challenging.
Panther is the second option and still involves stealth. This score is based on how many enemies I took down with lethal force. Sam has the option to kill or simply incapacitate, and having that option makes all the difference. Finally those who enjoyed Conviction’s more action-type approach will enjoy Assault. This means coming in, guns blazing, at least in missions that don’t require stealth. The shooting mechanics and slick aiming make this mode just as enjoyable as the others. I loved taking on some levels having Sam feel like a special agent. Taking down multiple foes at once is satisfying, regardless of how I played it out.
Everything earns points that tally up at the end. This goes into an account that is used for upgrades across the board, both multi and single player. Customizing Sam and his load outs let me pick how I wanted to tackle every level again and again. The design of every area is great, and approaching situations in various fashion never got old to me. Ubisoft did a great job at nailing what makes these types of games fun. Gadgets return and again are suited to how I chose to tackle the mission. Grabbing a crossbow with stun darts, or grenades for all out havoc was my choice. Each level has a suggested set of tools, but nothing is ever mandatory.
I cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed almost every level in Blacklist. The various locales are all well designed, not to mention gorgeous running on a high-end PC. Subtle touches such as the lightning and weather effects in London, to the glaring sun and soft physics scattered around really dragged me into each one. The lighting is typical Splinter Cell goodness with dynamic shadows, and a novel light on Sam’s back that sparks when he is hidden in the shadows.
As I mentioned, the campaign is lengthy and full of fantastic level design, but it isn’t the only facet to Sam’s adventure. Co-op missions are broken down into segments, with each one feeling modeled after the person assigning them. Charlie’s are reminiscent of traditional horde mode survival, while Grim’s focus on complete stealth runs. They are all optional, and add up to their own campaign-sized chunk of content. It is also a bonus that they can be played mostly solo, or with a teammate.
Spies vs. Mercs also makes a return, and remains one of the most innovative creations in multiplayer gaming to date. The traditional 2 vs. 2 mode is joined by the new 4 vs. 4 option for Blacklist. There are also modes this time around that allow mixing of spies and mercs onto each other’s team. It feels weird at first, but once I mastered the maps and the mechanics, it was addictive. It has been years since I had this much fun playing a co-op focused multiplayer game.
I mentioned how gorgeous Blacklist is. I was shocked the first time I booted it up. Running on a high-end PC really showcases what the team has done with this engine. Sam looks great, though his cohorts pale in comparison. It is only noticeable in contrast, but still jarring. The levels are spectacular, mixing pitch dark locales with brightly lit outdoor environments and everything in between. The frame rate was also rock solid delivering what I envision the new consoles may finally bring to these aging games. If players have options, I cannot recommend the PC version highly enough.
Blacklist may end up as my biggest surprise for 2013. A game I was entirely lukewarm on has ended up being one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had. It simply nails that fun-factor most games only attempt to pin down. I couldn’t stop playing it. The co-op missions add variety, and the scoring system made me want to try new ideas on every level. Toss in the return of the most innovative multiplayer ever created and this package is a must-own for anyone who ever enjoyed sneaking around in Sam Fisher’s shoes.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.
- Motherboard: ASUS P8Z77I Deluxe
- Liquid Cooling: Origin Frostbyte 120 Liquid Cooling
- Processor: Intel i7 3770K with Professional Origin PC Overclocking
- Memory: Corsair 8GB 1600 Mghz Vengeance
- Graphics Card: EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670