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FEATURED VOXPOP oblivion437 Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that.  It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece.  I strongly recommend anyone...

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Losing Michael Ironside As Sam Fisher Doesn't Hurt Splinter Cell: Blacklist

Posted on Monday, August 19 @ 12:36:51 Eastern by

I've been playing Splinter Cell: Blacklist all weekend (and our review will be up some time tomorrow to coincide with the game's release) but one thing I thought would have bothered me hasn't had any real effect. Blacklist is the first Splinter Cell game to release without the vocal stylings of Michael Ironside in the lead role, but it turns out you don't need the gravely-voiced actor to make an excellent Splinter Cell game. In fact, I'd say Sam Fisher's loss is the player's gain in the philosophy behind ditching Ironside.

Speaking of the change prior to release, Creative Director Maxime Béland told reporters that Ironside was dismissed because of the arduous process it took to completely design Sam Fisher. Ubisoft had to record Ironside's voice, then capture a physical actor who could pull off all of Fisher's stealthy and acrobatic moves, and then go one step beyond to capture another actor's facial performance in delivering each line. To do away with all this, Ubisoft decided to go with Eric Johnson, a singular actor who could do everything the studio needed to build Sam Fisher as an interactive character.

The difference between Blacklist and the last Splinter Cell game, Conviction, is palpable. Yes, the voice isn't the same, but I'll trade this one series staple for the dogged attention to gameplay on hand in Ubisoft's latest. While it might sound like Ironside became an unfortunate casualty over the course of development, the rest of Blacklist benefits from returning Sam Fisher to his roots as a globe-trotting super spy.

Instead of chasing and interrogating leads himself, Sam and company launch missions from their mobile headquarters. Players are dropped into an open level with branching pathways, intelligent guards, and tons of options at their disposal. Conviction felt more constrained and therefore less focused on player agency, but Blacklist feels totally focused on presenting players with the tools they need and just enough challenge to keep every moment tense and dangerous.

Ghost, Panther, and Assault play styles filter gameplay into three distinct styles. Slow, non-lethal Ghost play requires patience and all the right gadgets. Panther style play is fast, vicious and still undetected from moment to moment. Assault, of course, lends itself to explosives and tons of firefights, but all in all these three pillars represent everything you could ask for from a Splinter Cell game.

Yes, a story driven by terrorists with a globe-trotting agenda plays pretty heavily into Ubisoft Toronto's desire to provide level and mission variety, but it also does away with messy and constrictive story elements that would otherwise hamper developer creativity, not unlike the decision to ditch Ironside's voice. We'll have more in our full review of Splinter Cell: Blacklist, but players should know that losing Ironside, and generally cutting fat where necessary, has allowed Ubisoft Toronto to largely reinvent the Splinter Cell wheel.

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