How we got on Ubisoft's Blacklist.
Sam Fisher is back, and so is his trademark multi-vision goggles and tactical suit. He’s the silent killing machine you fell in love with over a decade ago, but he’s got new moves—he’s faster, has more advanced tech to support his mission, and is a bit more aggressive this time around.
While staying in stealth and remaining unseen or unheard is always the safest approach for Sam, if he wants to, he can swiftly eliminate enemies in a row by ‘Killing in Motion’—an evolution in Conviction’s Mark and Execute system. It’s speedier, making Sam more deadly in even the stickiest situations. And boy, do they get sticky-icky up in Splinter Cell: Blacklist, as Fisher is up against a multi-nation group of bad guys named the Engineers. The Engineers loathe the US occupancy abroad (surprise!) and organize terrorist efforts across the globe. These attacks are called the Blacklist, and Sam Fisher and his team aim to shut ‘em down.
Killing isn’t the only thing in motion. Fisher moves with much more agility and speed due to the all-new smooth flow movement system. All with one button, he can crouch, run, and climb. It certainly helps the flow of the game similar to what’s found in Assassin’s Creed, but really, I’m starting to feel like all of Ubisoft’s game mechanics are blending together. I guess that’s really just evolution of game design more than anything else.
With the franchise now in the hands of the relatively new Ubisoft Toronto, fresh ideas are balanced with stealth focus traditionally found in earlier games. Stealth is what the Splinter Cell name was built upon, so despite Fisher getting a boost in movement and more action-intense killing, you’ll have to rely on stealth for many situations or even play the entire game non-lethally. As fans of the franchise and stealth themselves, the developers have also added a Professional mode where stealth is essential to surviving the one-hit kill difficulty. Otherwise, the game has a dynamic scoring system that’ll rank you depending on one of three playstyles: Ghost (stealth), Assault (action), or Panther (skilled mix of both).
Between missions, Sam Fisher will head back to board his Paladin aircraft where he can confer with his Fourth Echelon companions and consult the SMI, or Strategic Mission Interface. whhere Sam can examine mission details, check for global blacklist disturbances, or outfit himself with different gear. Each mission calls for different tactics, so you’ll want to be wary of customizing his loadout. Some suit upgrades may help with stealth, while others will absorb more damage for a run-and-gun situation. Blacklist features the most robust upgrade options to date.
The game’s narrative is driven in part through these visits back to the SMI. During missions, Fisher’s team can still confer with him through the next step in Conviction’s Projected Text, where a full visual screen is projected onto the wall complete with his allies’ concerned faces providing intel. The SMI is also the game’s hub for single-player missions, co-op missions, and online multiplayer—though Ubisoft wasn’t willing to discuss those other game modes aside from mentioning that multiplayer will feature Spies versus Mercs from Chaos Theory.
But beyond all of the gameplay, new features, and story, the game is visally stunning. I had to ask to be sure if this was Conviction’s engine or a new one. It was indeed the same engine used for Conviction—which was a great-looking game in its own right—but vastly improved on lighting, atmospheric effects, and facial motion capture. Ubisoft used the actual voice actors in mo-cap in its in-house mo-cap studio to create hyper-realistic facial expressions that show very convincing emotion.
The original Splinter Cell was known for stealth, its graphics, and the lighting. I came away from my demo taking note of those very same aspects in Blacklist. It shows that the team handling the game knows well what goes into making a great Splinter Cell game, ensuring that it resonates with longtime fans while providing enough new elements to keep it fresh. Splinter Cell: Blacklist releases on August 20th on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.