Splinter Cell: Blacklist review


By James Lenoir on Friday, August 30, 2013
"I'm a Panther, baby!"

Not so long ago, I had the strangest thought: what if the 17th century English poet, William Congreve was around today? Would his famously paraphrased quote “Hell has no fury like a woman scorned” be re-tweeted and re-blogged as “Hell has no fury, like a gamer scorned”?

I’ll admit, when it comes to games, I’ve been known to go from hero-to-zero faster than you can say “hadouken”. While my gaming addiction may have soothed the savage beast, and seen me through some of the toughest times of my not-so-young life, it’s also been responsible for exposing a couple of my most irrational and annoying character flaws. Take the previous Splinter Cell title as an example. Splinter Cell: Conviction was a sharp departure from the norm for Sam Fisher, and as a consequence, as a long-time fan of the series, it didn’t resonate with me (and a fair number of other like-minded souls). While a large number of critics and reviewers loved Ubisoft’s new take on Splinter Cell and welcomed – what at the time was considered a “Reboot” – our criticism was vocal and vitriolic.

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was anxious to rip the latest instalment of Splinter Cell a new one. My vindictive stance rested not only on the decisions made during Splinter Cell: Conviction, but also because the “Voice of Sam Fisher” Michael Ironside had been replaced by newcomer Eric Johnson. There was so much to hate about this new game, and I was practically salivating. I was ready to make a name for myself – as the reviewer that gave Splinter Cell: Blacklist a 4/10. Infamy and glory were to be my destiny. I was already eyeing that new Editor’s position at (insert relevant magazine). but something unexpected happened; it occurred between my fourth attempt at a perfect/undetected stealth run (during a co-op mission). I had a sobering realisation (a gaming epiphany) that what I had in-front of me was actually very good. Blacklist had captured my attention. I didn’t even mind re-doing a mission with a random co-op partner – from that great online zoo.

Of course, Fisher’s current adventure rarely ventures too far from what is expected from a Tom Clancy-inspired work of military fiction. It eagerly checks all the necessary boxes: (a) the US is under threat, (b) a grand terrorist-plot is being unveiled, (c) there’s the obligatory plot-twisting subterfuge, (d) some internal team drama/conflict and if for the briefest of moments, you feel a bit like Jack Bauer from 24, just be mindful of the genre. Blacklist continues after the aftermath of Splinter Cell: Conviction. If Sam Fisher was hoping for some well-deserved R&R after the NSA’s Third Echelon was disbanded, he’s sadly in for some bad news. A new terrorist group, called the Engineers, is trying to make a name for themselves, and Agent Fisher finds himself leading a new special counter-terrorist task force, called Fourth Echelon (4E) to quell the coming-storm. Sam is joined by his long-time ally and aid, Anna “Grim” Grimsdottir, as well as a few new faces, hacking specialist and quartermaster, Charlie Cole and former CIA agent, Isaac Briggs.

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While Blacklist’s story holds very little in terms of surprises, the real winner here is the superb gameplay. It’s definitely a compromise between classic Splinter Cell stealth-action and the 2010 reboot’s attempt at a “more approachable and action-driven game”. What makes the current version so memorable is the fact that you’re given a choice of how you want to approach a mission, rather than the game’s design making the choice for you. As Fisher you can be a creature of the shadows or use his state-of-the-art gadgets, weapons and training to subdue your enemies. The difference is that you’re given a lot more freedom in how you approach a mission. Do you want to go in guns blazing, or do you want to try a non-lethal approach or even a stealth-run with no one even knowing you were there in the first place?

The three vastly different approaches are expanded on through the game’s featured playstyles: Panther, Ghost and Assault. Panther is perfect for those who want to focus on stealth killings, whereas Ghost requires you to remain undetected. Of course, Assault is the playstyle for those who want to throw caution to the wind, and unleash Ares’ fury on their enemies. However, you’re not forced to choose between the three, and you can complete missions by using a mixture of the recommended playstyles. Since points are allocated based on your performance in the various styles, it opens up the possibility of revisiting missions and attempting to score perfectly in a specific playstyle.

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Combat and evading have never been more fluid and effortless. Sam can comfortably swap between melee and gunplay. Individual gadgets are also never more than a button press away. While, I tend to focus more on the stealthy aspects of Sam, it is comforting to know that if he’s discovered, evading enemies can be rewarding and seamless. The truth is, Sam is never defenceless, and since gear loadouts are customisable, you can plan for any situation; whether you need a few incendiary grenades for pesky armoured soldiers or even a tri-rotor for scoping out enemy locations.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist also features a little bit of Splinter Cell: Conviction DNA, with the “Mark-and-Execute” feature making a controversial return. Fisher can mark and track up to three targets at a time. If your targets are in range, they can be instantly assassinated/executed.  I’m still not a fan of this feature, because even in Conviction it felt like a very cheap cheat. Fortunately, for all my kindred spirits, who hate(d) it, the feature is disabled at Perfectionist level (the highest play level).

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One auxiliary feature that I enjoyed was the fact that (in between missions) Sam can freely roam the mobile headquarters of the Fourth Echelon. The headquarters actually takes the shape of a massive C-159 Paladin military transport/cargo plane – simply called the Paladin. It is here that you’re allowed to check-in with your team mates, get valuable intel on missions, launch team-mate specific coop or single missions, upgrade & customise your gear and even buy valuable upgrades for your plane. If you’re getting a strong Mass Effect vibe, it would be on the dot, and it works perfectly.

The Paladin also serves as a hub from which you can launch your multiplayer adventures. Blacklist’s multiplayer modes include a couple of dedicated 4E co-op missions and even the return of Splinter Cell’s old multiplayer mode, Spies vs. Mercs. It’s actually amazing to think that nearly a decade has passed since it was last included in a Splinter Cell game. It has been missing since Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow (2004).

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If you’re unfamiliar with classic Spies vs. Mercs, it’s essentially an extremely fun battle where agile and ninja-like spies (played in third person) are pitted against gun-wielding mercenaries (played in first person). Blacklist expands on the classic theme, by also including mixed team matches in the typical online flavour: deathmatches, capture-the-flag scenarios (with a hacking subtext), and even objective-based King-of-the-Hill scenarios. This multiplayer mode proves to be extremely competitive. It’s also a brutal baptism of fire for newcomers. While matches tend to be very well-balanced, Low-level players tend to find themselves out-geared and outplayed by gadget-proficient higher-ranked veterans. If there was ever a display of the dog-eat-dog concept, this would be it. Regardless, the multiplayer features some of the most engaging battles that I’ve had the pleasure to be a part of.

Blacklist’s multiplayer and singleplayer are also complemented with an additional feature, called ShadowNet. ShadowNet captures all your gameplay information and provides you with additional challenges. These may include getting a certain number of kills with specific weapons, to updates on missed collectables to even posting online challenges to your friends. All challenges net you in-game cash that can be used for upgrading your plane, or buying and upgrading gadgets and weapons.

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While, Splinter Cell: Blacklist puts its best foot forward, there are a number of technical issues that mar the experience. I definitely can’t fault the character animation, but visually Blacklist is underwhelming. Given, how the Splinter Cell games were always visually impressive and pushing the limits, I can’t help but wonder what went wrong. The textures on environments and even on the characters themselves appear ill-defined and patchy.  Not to mention the ugly screen-tearing and texture lag.

As a total package, Splinter Cell: Blacklist delivers one of the best Sam Fisher experiences to date. The main campaign and the overall story may not be as strong as it could have been (with the final confrontation between Fisher’s Fourth Echelon and the Engineers never reaching the heights that the game promises). However, where it matters (the gameplay), the game excels. I can honestly say that Blacklist feels like a return to form for Agent Fisher. It’s the closest of all the recent Splinter Cell games to the stealth/gadget action of the much loved and respected Chaos Theory. However, if you were a fan of Conviction, it still allows you the freedom to unleash the fury.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist was reviewed by on the 30th of August , 2013 at 12:00 PM on Xbox 360

GAMEPLAY
9.0
Two words: “Flawlessly Executed”. If murder and stealth executions were an art, Sam would have been the Mona Lisa... Ok, maybe not the Mona Lisa....
DESIGN
7.0
Aesthetically, Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a mixed bag: fantastic lighting, excellent character designs, decent to excellent voice acting, but extremely dull textures on environments and characters.
VALUE
9.0
“Replay value” may seem like such an over-used sack term, but in this case, Blacklist wants you to replay missions. It wants you to try different routes, use different techniques, or even merely perfect your own individual playstyle.
TOTAL
8.0
Through Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Ubisoft has reminded us of what a force of nature, Sam Fisher truly is. The take-home message is that there's still life in the old dog. While, the game may be a compromise of sorts, with a merger of concepts and ideas, its true success lies in how flexible and rewarding the gameplay is.

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  • Ultimo_Cleric N7

    Good article Banana.

  • Hammersteyn

    All hail the king of potassium!

    • Umar Kiiroi Senk?

      And Constipation!!

      • Hammersteyn

        Hehe

    • Sageville

      After watching Weeds, I can’t look at a banana seriously any more.

      • Hammersteyn

        O_O

  • John of Vault 11

    Well done Jim. This is a game I seriously want. Love the Splinter Cell series. Just hope this one is more like Chaos Theory than the newer ones.

    • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

      Let’s say, it’s closer to Chaos Theory than any Splinter Cell game in the past, but I don’t think Ubisoft will ever reach the highs they had with CT. That game made a believer. I actually still have the GameCube copy.

  • Purple_Dragon

    Bit of waffle there ;)

    I’m not a fan of stealth games but I must say this game does have me interested. Watched a few gameplay bits on youtube and looks promising. So might get this down the line.

    • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

      I can waffle with the best of them. The original draft was a 3000 word comparative treatise on how Conviction was a blatant attempt by neocon conservatives to curtail the liberal gaming media…. cough!

      • RinceThisNintypoo

        Viva! Viva! I do wonder why you didn’t cover the cold war and it’s impact on nappy design. Was looking forward to that.

        • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

          Indeed, perhaps I should sneak that into my next review. :P

      • Alien Emperor Trevor

        But instead you sold out to the socialist hippies who want to give everyone free healthcare & education, without working for it – shame on you!

        • RinceThisNintypoo

          Agreed, get a job hippies!

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            Dirty cabbage patch hippies!

  • RinceThisNintypoo

    Nice one Banana!

  • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

    I wanted to include the video review as well – where I talk about the multiplayer in more detail, and feature an unpacking of the 5th Freedom Edition boxset (such an awesome box).

    But sadly (a) Geoff thinks I sound like a 12 year Aussie girl – jissus dude.. really? (b)and work ate my time.

    Hopefully, I’ll post the video review on Monday.

    • John of Vault 11

      12 year old Aussie girl? What makes Geoff an expert in this?

      • Sageville

        Long story, needless to say they dropped the charges, but the restraining order is still up.

  • Sageville

    Love the game.

    Really, I’ve never been able to get into the SC genre, so in a way I was lucky, as I never got emo about Sam’s voice or the Execute functionality. So without that baggage I bought the game thinking “Meh, I’ll get a few hours out of it to tide me over till GTA V”…. now I’m like “Will I have time for GTA V given I’m still trying to beat my $1 million point Coop game from last night”.

    I’m still busy with the SP, so far it’s been awesome, the Coop play is very cool and gave me that “Sjoe, I can’t believe we pulled that off!” feeling on some maps.

    …and Piesang is right about replayability, I’m already planning my return strategies….

    • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

      If you’re ever keen on some co-op just give me a shout. I still have a few of Brigg’s missions to complete.

      • Sageville

        PSN: Sageville

        • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

          I have the xbox version :/ But I’ll add you later today for general gaming fun! :D

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    You’re a panther? O_O

    • John of Vault 11

      Doesn’t look like one. I’d know. I’m a wolf

  • Umar Kiiroi Senk?

    Nice Review B.
    The B is for Banana B a nananana

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    When you’re describing the SP I couldn’t help but think how it sounds like Alpha Protocol. In which case, SOLD!

    • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

      It feels like I’m really missing out. I need to get a hold of Alpha Protocol. Maybe that’ll be my pre-next gen guilty pleasure.

      • Alien Emperor Trevor

        You should. I avoided it like the plague because of all the negative press it got. Eventually picked it up from the bargain box more for curiosity sake & was really surprised by how much fun I had.

  • FoxOneZA – X-Therminator

    Sam is aging backwards. Perks of the job.

    • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

      With the change from Michael Ironside to Eric Johnson, there’s definitely a Curious Case of Benjamin Button vibe to the game. It would have worked better if Blacklist was a prequel, but then I suppose you’re opening a different can of worms all together.

      But yes, when Sam phones his adult daughter and he sounds younger than her, it does leave you with a twitching eyebrow.

      • SaintsRowLee

        Why was Michael Ironside dropped? It’s as bad as playing Injustice only to find that Hamill wasn’t doing Joker…

        • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

          Apparently, Ironside was unhappy with the direction the game was taken in (during Conviction). He didn’t like that it had become so violent, and was actually pretty vocal about it.

          • Martin du preez

            Official bullshit reason was that Michael was too old and that they need the voice actor to do the mo cap as well. He couldn’t jump over shit anymore.

            The new guy’s voice take some getting used to though.

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            It’s like with David Hayter (Snake) or even Mark Hamill (Joker), their voices make the characters.

  • Lourens Jordaan

    Why is the great and powerful banana playing on a XBOX 360? Just curious, I thought you were more of a PS guy…. Good review anyway.

    • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

      I am, kind of, although for the most part the “Jim Lenoir PS fanboi” thing is just a trolling strategy. No one likes a constant voice of reason, or the guy who tries to mitigate when the armies of Sony and Microsoft are clashing. It’s all a ruse. The Banana is actually a lot more multi-faceted and multi-layered .. like a genetically-engineered onion, that tastes like a banana…. uh.. yeah… let’s go with that.

      Yes, I referred to myself in the third person. I’m that deep :P

      • Alien Emperor Trevor

        The banana is an undercover onion who makes the fanboys weep? :/

    • OVG

      He is actually a GameCube fanboy.

      • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

        My secret has finally been revealed. Much like OVG, we’re actually GameCube fanbois. The fact that we’re so bile-filled is because the poor console never got the love it deserved… internationally and locally.

        • OVG

          Sigh… :(

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            Indeed, ol’ chap… indeed. After 10 years it still hurts.

          • OVG

            At least we did not buy SEGAs Dreamcast. Please tell me you did not buy the Dreamcast.

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            I think if I had bought a Dreamcast, suffered through its demise and then faced the plight of the GameCube, I would have probably defenestrated myself years ago.

            The fact that I am still here is because I was a poor kid, who couldn’t afford another console. Poverty saved me; I am forever grateful.

          • OVG

            runs out to buy a Wii-U BWAHAHAHAHA

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            You know what’s funny, I almost did. I’m super-pumped for the Wii U – sigh!

  • Spathi

    Damn, now I want this game too! Nice review.

  • OVG

    GREAT READ.
    But I think Agent 47 will still retain Sam Fisher’s mantle. After the last game and its freezing issues and corrupt save files because they only want you to have one save file for all that U-PLAY bollocks. I’m not going near Ubisoft again.

  • Jonah Cash

    Was looking for something to play, said yesterday that I might give this a go… Now I will definitely give this a go!!
    PS. Why do you not get a guest writer tag like that other fella? Or are you that regular?????
    Either way great review!!

    • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

      I’m actually Gavin-in-disguise. :P

      Nah the truth is, that like Matt, I’m a casual regular; a bit like Green Arrow in the new 52. Not really an official team member, but eager to don the tights and wear the JLA emblem when called to action.

      • Jonah Cash

        I’m on my way to BT Games right now… Will be a Fisher in an hour!! You have convinced me to play this game!!

  • Martin du preez

    Yo banana jimmy! Want to gooi some bro op the weekend?

    • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

      Definitely! PS: Did you get a month’s worth of GOLD?

      • Martin du preez

        Picked a 3 month sub today. Will tie me over until the Lordstation 4 drops. :p

        • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

          Nice! Ok, Tomorrow begins a weekend of co-op madness! #PUMPED

  • Circuitflow

    played the game and i agree

  • Rock789

    The Banana Strikes Back!! Nice review. Perhaps I will need to pick up this game after all (was a little worried with the loss of the original voice cast – thought that may be a sign of things to come).

  • JHN

    I really like the new voice, when playing the previous ones you heard the voice then saw sam and you were like no way that voice comes out of that guy! Now its more believable.

  • JustAwesome

    Hi fellas. Can any of you please suggest to me where is the best spot to buy PS3 games in the Sandton area? The stores never seem to have the latest or the best titles. I guess I should be chatting about the game reviewed but I get frustrated that I can never find the games to play in the first place!!! Thanks, and shot for any advice.

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