While some players embraced the tectonic shift in tone and direction that Ubisoft Montreal settled on for 2010’s Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction, the majority of hardened Sam Fisher followers lamented the blatant eschewing of the series more pulse-pounding stealth mechanics in favour of a somewhat clumsy attempt to weave the fan favourite character into a series of Jason Bourne-inspired moments.
On some levels this down and dirty approach worked; appropriate then that new kid on the block, Ubisoft Toronto, has attempted to appease those on both sides of the fence by hurling everything but the kitchen sink into Fisher’s latest opus. This tactic is none more so apparent in how Blacklist tallies rewards for play styles when the curtain drops on each mission. Sneaking in and out of hotspots without detection garners Ghost points, while Assault points are doled out for side-lining stealth in favour of guns and gore. For in-betweeners there’s Panther, a rank that applauds shadow play, albeit with a harder, more lethal edge when it comes to dealing with the multitude of terrorist minions patrolling Blacklist’s expertly crafted world. The design mantra at the Canadian studio, it would appear, is to offer you as much freedom as possible over the course of the campaign, while encouraging repeat sessions to perfect your sneak-em-up skills.
Whilst a lot of the irksome details that chafed Conviction adopters have been evicted from Blacklist, a number of noteworthy mechanics remain intact, albeit with an even greater sense of polish. For better or worse, Conviction attempted to lay the groundwork for a fluid action-based experience, and Blacklist has grabbed that baton and run with it. The ability to move swiftly between two cover points is back, while the deliciously dark and deeply satisfying one-button execute makes a welcome return. However, it’s in its ability to effortlessly combine the two that Blacklist really comes into its own, offering up countless rewards.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a stellar experience from start to finish, offering up real depth with its multitude of load-out options, reward systems, co-op missions and the rebirth of the much-lauded Spy vs. Merc multiplayer mode. Where Splinter Cell: Conviction failed in its attempt to introduce far too much too soon, Blacklist succeeds by taking what worked and offering it up as an option rather than a necessity. Blacklist is by no means the saviour of the series, but it’s a step in the right direction for Sam Fisher and the future of the series as a whole.
Reviewed by Sebastian Williamson