BADGP Reviews: Splinter Cell: Blacklist

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Splinter Cell: Blacklist (Ubisoft/Ubisoft Toronto, Montreal, Shanghai, and Red Storm)

Review: Brock’s a Ghost, Alex is a Panther. Wait, what?

Brock Morgan and Alex Linna

September 14, 2013

What is Splinter Cell: Blacklist? (Brock)

Splinter Cell: Blacklist is the latest in the long-running Tom Clancy stealth series published and developed by Ubisoft, the earliest of which dates all the way back to the original Splinter Cell, released on various platforms on November 17, 2002. Blacklist represents an interesting turn for the series, positioning itself as both a bit of a reboot, changing several gameplay systems and the lead character’s voice actor, and a direct sequel to the story of Splinter Cell: Conviction, released in 2010. Placing more of an emphasis on environment traversal and player mobility (reminiscent of early Assassin’s Creed games), Splinter Cell: Blacklist seeks to deliver the stealth gameplay series veterans seek, while making the series more easily accessible to newcomers or players who may want a bit more gunplay with their espionage.

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How Does It Look? (Alex)

On Xbox 360, Splinter Cell: Blacklist comes on two discs. The second disc is for a portion of the campaign plus a non-mandatory HD textures pack much like the Xbox 360 version of Battlefield 3.  I installed it and am not sure that I noticed a difference, but the game looks quite good.  That is as good as a game that is going to look entirely dated and “last-gen” by the end of November can look.  There are a lot of particle effects and the environments are fairly detailed, but I was, by no means “blown away” by the look of Splinter Cell: Blacklist.  The returning characters are have all been at least slightly reworked and main character, Sam Fisher, looks much different.

How Does It Sound?  (Brock)

Blacklist features some of the best voice acting in the series. Though the man, the myth, the legend Michael Ironside may not voice the lead character anymore, the more than suitable replacement Eric Johnson fills the role nicely, and a great supporting cast rounds out the roster. Particularly impressive was the game’s primary antagonist. Musically, the soundtrack was fitting, but lacked standout moments present in some earlier Splinter Cell games. While Blacklist is certainly no slouch in the audio department, it’s also nothing to write home about.

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How Does It Play? (Brock and Alex)

While Blacklist may position itself as a sequel to Conviction, it introduces several changes to the gameplay formula that set it apart from any entry in the series before it. While the earliest Splinter Cell titles were about stealth and nothing but the stealth, Blacklist successfully lends an enormous amount of agency to the player, allowing for truly varied approaches between players. This is evidenced in the Ghost/Panther/Assault point distribution seen at the end of each completed level. The game evaluates all actions taken by the player during the mission (weapons used, whether enemies were attacked lethally or non-lethally, the way objectives are completed, etc…), gives them point values, and dumps those points into the Ghost, Panther, or Assault categories, thus classifying your playstyle and (ideally) giving you reason to play each mission through two more times.

The game also introduces a surprisingly deep customization system, allowing the player to spend money earned by completing missions and challenges on various improvements to gear, weapons, and gadgets. These upgrades also show you which type of play they’re suited for, allowing you to create custom loadouts for Ghost, Panther, and Assault-type mission playthroughs. While you may no longer be able to improve your pistol so that you can Mark four distinct enemies and take them out with one Execute command (a favorite move of mine in Conviction), the customization options with respect to gadgets and the stealth suit Sam wears are a more than welcome tradeoff. In short, Splinter Cell: Blacklist tailors itself to the player’s desired tactics, but sacrifices a bit more of the hardcore stealth gameplay for which the series has usually been known.

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The customization does not stop at the highly customizable stealth suit and guns, but also in upgrading Sam’s team’s airship.  The hub world airship feels like Ubisoft had just finished Mass Effect 2 and, perhaps rightfully, concluded that, “Hey, we need a Normandy too!”  The Paladin’s upgrades do not alter too much, but it is another nice money sinkhole that the game offers the player in its barrage of possible upgrade paths.  Sam may also speak to his crew makes a la Commander Shepherd.  There are also some minor control tweaks that were generally appreciated although the melee kill ability has been heavily nerfed since Conviction.

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How Does It Compare? (Brock and Alex)

The older Splinter Cell games will always hold a special place in my heart, as they really were the beginnings of my experience with the stealth-game genre. While Blacklist really is a much different type of game than those early titles, it still scratches the same sneaky, spy-game itch that they always have. I’d say that out of the six Splinter Cell games, this is my third favorite (behind the original and Conviction), but that’s saying a lot! If you’ve enjoyed previous games in the series, Blacklist is a worthwhile experience. (Brock)

Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a logical next step from Conviction.  It was Conviction that shook up the Splinter Cell formula, Sam’s character and his relationships with those around him, and even some very basic gameplay systems that were critical to the previous four games in the series.  Conviction has even been incredibly influential since its release. Its unique and compelling mark-and-execute system was nodded to in several other large games (007 Bloodstone, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood) and its innovations to the cover-system have been ripped by too many games to list here.  Blacklist maintains nearly all of what made Conviction so fun and rewarding, but tried to maintain a little more of the series’ roots and injected a strong dose of challenge and difficulty.  Blacklist on Normal difficulty is harder than Conviction on its hardest difficulty settings.  This is a good thing. (Alex)

Final Verdict  (Alex)

We here at the BAD Gaming Podcast really enjoyed our time with Splinter Cell: Blacklist.  It is a game that provides a suitable challenge and the reward that comes with overcoming it while being fun the entire time.  This is a hard balance to strike, and for that it deserves to be commended.  It may not do too much new, but what it does do is enhance what Conviction started.  Blacklist provides a satisfactory stealth experience for a single-player or two coop buddies.  The gameplay is where Splinter Cell: Blacklist shines and it certainly a game worth experiencing.  For fans of stealth, sneaky action, a decent story with decent characters, or a great coop and competitive multiplayer experience Splinter Cell: Blacklist has a lot to offer many different kinds of players all while providing an excellent value proposition to boot.

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Brock: 9.0                  Alex: 8.6                  BAD: 8.8

Image Credits:

http://themodernmage.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/splinter_cell_blacklist_large.jpg

http://static9.cdn.ubi.com/resource/en-US/game/splintercell/blacklist_2/SCB_IMAGE_SCREEN_FDO_01_102643.jpg

http://www.justpushstart.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/splinter-cell-blacklist-screenshot-3.jpg

http://s.pro-gmedia.com/videogamer/media/images/xbox360/splinter_cell_blacklist/screens/splinter_cell_blacklist_20.jpg

http://www.hybridgames.co.uk/series/tomclancy/screenshots/splinter-cell-blacklist/9852620120604_161850_4_big.jpg

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