Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a third-person action-adventure video game developed by Ubisoft Toronto and published by Ubisoft. The seventh instalment of the Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell series, it is the sequel of Splinter Cell: Conviction. The game was released worldwide for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Wii U, and Xbox 360 in August 2013. In the game, players control Sam Fisher, a spymaster working for the Fourth Echelon, in a mission to stop the Engineers, a group of terrorists which is trying to coerce the United States into recalling all of its troops stationed abroad. Blacklist‘s gameplay is similar to its predecessors, with players tasked with completing objectives and defeating enemies. Blacklist marks the return of the asymmetrical multiplayer mode Spies vs. Mercs, which was introduced in Pandora Tomorrow.
The boilerplate story focuses on a group of terrorists seeking to annihilate a series of targets in the United States, though the over-familiarity of the setup is frequently trumped by tense story beats that rival those of any good political thriller. A confrontation between Sam and a colleague signals an overall increase in narrative tension and the real-world locales you sneak through to communicate the high stakes by the very nature of their political importance. Returning operations manager Anna Grimsdottir rattles off technospeak at a faster clip, resident hacker Charlie Cole gets even more annoyingly precocious and hyper, and the secretive Fourth Echelon team grows more and more desperate as the finale draws near. This isn’t a story about Sam, but rather, a story about surreptitious warfare. Information is power.
If you played Conviction, you’ll know at least some of the drill: as Sam, you slide in and out of cover, sticking to darkness and skillfully taking down opponents in various satisfying ways, or just avoiding them entirely as you make your way toward your high-priority target. The cover system is as rewardingly smooth as it was before, making you feel like a slippery agent of death as you dash into position, often with the press of a single button. In fact, Sam is more acrobatic in this go-around, getting a few chances to climb up cliffs as if he’s taken lessons from Assassin’s Creed’s Altair. Blacklist is as eager to reintroduce older Splinter Cell mechanics as it is to showcase new ones, however. Sam is back to his nonlethal pre-Conviction methods–that is, if you want him to be. You can knock out targets with your fists or a stun gun if you’re so inclined, or put them to sleep by tossing a sleep-inducing grenade, though you can’t complete Blacklist’s campaign without getting your hands a little dirty. You can pick up bodies and dump them elsewhere, too, which might also make you think that Blacklist is a return to the series’ roots.
However, Blacklist doesn’t feel much like Chaos Theory and its ilk, even when it’s giving you the tools to be the silent type. Actually, it often urges you to be silent, instantly failing the mission if you’re caught, or pitting you against heavily armoured guards that are best dispatched from the shadows or circumvented entirely. But if you aspire to action-hero heights, look no further than the invigorating mark-and-execute feature, which lets you tag enemies and then execute them in a slow-motion flourish with a tap of a button. Now you can pull off such manoeuvres on the run, taking down enemies with close-quarters kills (or perhaps dealing a headshot) and firing a bullet into a few other nearby skulls, or even snapping a neck or two if your targets are a hair’s width from you.
Blacklist offers more than classic Spies vs. Mercs, however, and several other modes allow you to equip your hard-earned upgrades and exercise your cunning with more than three other players. Two of them even let you mix spies and mercs into the same team: four-versus-four Team Deathmatch and a conquest-type three-versus-three variant called Uplink Control. Mixed teams can give rise to thrilling moments, with a merc chasing an enemy spy into an ambush, or a mine turning a careful plan into a messy explosion. Spies vs. Mercs still stands above the rest, however; watching the countdown as the hack progresses is a stressful endeavour, whether you’re seeking the pesky hacker causing the trouble, or trying to get the drop on a merc packing an AK-47.
There’s no doubting Splinter Cell: Blacklist’s excellent production values. It’s a great-looking, great-sounding game that sizzles with the high-tech ambience and language that characterize a typical Tom Clancy product. Sam’s solo trek is a very good expression of Blacklist’s various gameplay systems. But it’s with–and against–others that the game hacks into your pleasure centres, so while Sam Fisher may not be the man you remember, Splinter Cell: Blacklist has too many sweet adventures in store for you to miss them.
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