I'm a big fan of the Splinter Cell franchise. I really am. I played and still have my copy of the first Splinter Cell game released in 2003, for the Nintendo Game Cube. Since then I played all of its sequels on the PC, with my favourite being the third entry to the series, being Chaos Theory. In early 2010 I got a copy of the highly anticipated Splinter Cell: Conviction. The game had changed completely. Aside from a new graphics engine, the game focused more on fast paced aggressive stealth, usually resulting in lethal results. Don't get me wrong, it was still fun, but it wasn't as enjoyable or as intense as previous Splinter Cell titles.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist, the sixth entry to the Splinter Cell franchise continues the fast paced stealth gameplay which can have lethal results, but thankfully it's optional. Ubisoft has listened to the fans and has given us a game returning to the roots that made Splinter Cell so great in the first place.
After the events of Splinter Cell: Conviction, Third Echelon is discovered to be a corrupt organisation and is dismantled by the American government. Sam Fisher has his name cleared and is now put in charged of the new, smaller organisation Forth Echelon. This time, Sam and his new team take on a terrorist group known as The Engineers, who are threatening America with terrorist attacks of a grand scale if America does not pull their troops back home from the countries they're stationed at. It's a typical espionage conspiracy kind of storyline, which should come as no surprise but it's well told typical espionage conspiracy kind of storyline at least. It's intense.
While containing an improved graphical engine as well as similar gameplay mechanics of Splinter Cell: Conviction, Blacklist reintroduces the stealth of the past and gives players three primary choices of play. Ghost, Panther and Assault. Ghost is for players who prefer to avoid enemies as much as possible, using non-lethal means of incapacitation, hiding bodies and leaving little to no evidence behind. Panther is essentially Conviction's method of play, using stealth to dispatch foes by lethal means. Assault is very much self explanitory, go in guns blazing.
After the completion of each mission,the player is awarded points based on how the player performed in the mission. Ghost generally receives the most points while Assault receives the least. These points are converted into money, which the player can use to upgrade all of Sam's equipment, from his weapons, to gadgets and even his outfit, his stealth suit or whatever you want to call it. In all honesty the idea of Sam spending money to upgrade his gear sounds kind of silly, but at the same time this system actually offers a lot of flexibility and essentially gives the player more choice in regards to their play style. For example, a Ghost player would prefer to spend their money on equipment to make them quieter, harder to see and invest in non-lethal weaponry and gadgets, while an Assault player will probably want to be a walking tank, capable of taking damage and dealing lethal damage.
After each mission, Sam will be onboard the Paladin, essentially a base crammed inside a jet plane bigger than Airforce One. This flying base of operations can be compared to that of the Normandy from Bioware's Mass Effect series. During this time, Sam can explore the brief areas of the Paladin, talk to other characters and find collectable items such as concept art. Using the same money acquired upon the completion of missions, the player can also upgrade the Paladin itself, which results in bonuses to Sam in-game, as well as a higher reward multiplier to get more money.
Some of Sam's comrades, such as returning Anna "Grim" Grimsdottir as well as newcomers Charlie and Briggs can provide Sam with side missions that don't interfer with the game's main storyline. These side missions upon completion reward Sam with more money but also in-game bonuses that can only be unlocked by completing these missions. It's a nice touch of variety that gives the player a little more content to play with. Missions provided by Grim and Charlie are optional of solo or multiplayer coop, however Briggs' missions are purely coop only, meaning you'll need a buddy to play with.
Apart from the Sam/Briggs coop missions, the Spies versus Mercs multiplayer returns, allowing players to duke it out in an intense game of cat and mouse. Initially, only the "classic" SvM game is available to newcomers, however as they progress further into multiplayer and level up, similar to that of most multiplayer games these days, players will unlock further gameplay types in the SvM mode. Classic mode pits players in a two versus two setting, where one side plays as the spies and the other side plays as mercenaries. Spies play in a third person manner similar to single player. While they lack real offensive power compared to the mercs, spies are able to run fast, use vent ducts, climb in a parkour fashion and generally out-move the mercs. Spies can also perform instant kill take downs in a variety of ways, such as the "death from above" or "death from below" attacks. The task of the spy is to hack all three terminals throughout the map and survive while doing so.
Mercs on the other hand play in complete contrast. Mercs play similar to that of a first person shooter. They are slow, they have much more firepower and can only see using a flash light attached to their gun. The goal of the merc is to simply eliminate the spies and stop them from successfully hacking the computer consoles. Being honest, it's a lot more fun to play as a spy, as playing as a merc feels quite generic. Strangely, the mercs are supposed to feel like the "cat" compared to the "mouse", but I find the spies are actually quite intimidating compared to the merc. In a nutshell, the spy is a lot more fun than the merc.
There isn't much to complain about this game, but there's a few things. I don't have a huge problem with this, but the new voice actor for Sam Fisher (played by Eric Johnson) sounds a little too young to be filling the shoes of the early to mid fifties veteran. He doesn't sound bad and I got used to it, but at the end of the day I would have preferred the original Michael Ironside. Do not let this downgrade your experience with the game though.
Secondly, I did have a few options with how in-game actions are performed. For example, I would be hiding at the edge of a door waiting for the heavy infantry soldier to approach me. He's close, I press the "E" key to perform an instant take down, but instead of silently dispatching my foe, Sam would decide to stand in front of his shotgun wielding enemy and... try and shut the door calmly on his face? Basically, to perform certain actions, you need to be looking at the object correctly and if you're not, stuff like that can happen which is really annoying.
I didn't have a problem with this, but I heard there were initial problems with Splinter Cell: Blacklist at launch, particularly for PC players. Thankfully though a patch was recently released to rectify this.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist keeps the graphics and speed of Splinter Cell: Conviction, but returns to its roots and allows players to be the sneaky non-lethal ninjas we would sometimes like to be. I honestly think this is how Conviction should have been made to begin with. Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory was my favourite Splinter Game but now I think it's very safe to say that Blacklist is now my top one.