Splinter Cell: Blacklist review
It’s not a reboot, but I’m not sure why. About half of the Splinter Cell cast reprise their old roles, and the new Fisher is visibly and audibly 35-ish in a way that confuses the game’s insistence that he’s pushing 50. The performances are more dynamic in general, but I missed the heart Michael Ironside brought to Fisher. This is a heartless story, about unaccountable violent people doing unaccountable violent things.
The game has no central menu. When you begin the campaign for the first time you pick a difficulty level and launch directly into the lengthy opening cutscene, which is followed by a brief mission. It’s sort of a tutorial, but it’s skippable and most of the work of getting you up to speed is done once it’s over.
Whenever you begin the game from this point on you load directly onto the airborne Paladin and conduct the rest of your business via the SMI, a massive onboard table computer. SMI means ‘Sam’s Magic iPad’, if you were wondering.
It’s magic because it provides whatever information the team needs to progress in the plot, whenever they need it. It’s magic because it allows you to travel backwards in time to play older missions, a necessity of Blacklist’s highscore-chasing metagame. And it’s magic because it plugs Sam Fisher into the game’s multiplayer, which is where Blacklist picks itself up out of mediocrity and claims a bit of magic for itself.
Spies vs mercenaries multiplayer makes a return, with a classic 2 vs 2 mode as well as 4 vs 4 incorporating upgrade trees and unlockable classes and everything else expected of a modern game. At its most basic, spies race to hack nodes that mercenaries have to defend – but a series of clever design decisions prevent it from feeling like any other type of capture point multiplayer. In order to stop a hack, mercenaries have to find the spy that started the process and kill them. This encourages the spies’ allies to ambush guards, set traps, or simply try to be distracting.
Different maps emphasise different strategies. Hiding in the shadows is an option in some, while others place the spies in situations where direct confrontation is more likely. It’s a much more organicfeeling marriage of game mechanics and level design than Blacklist manages in singleplayer. I enjoyed sprinting across a room with gunfire pinging at my heels, knowing that I was buying 20 seconds of respite for my hacker friend. There’s a real sense of danger, and it’s a world away from Sam Fisher trudging down a riverbed, putting men to sleep with his infinite ammo crossbow.
Two sets of tech problems are worth bearing in mind. The first is the controls: this is a game that was designed to be played with a pad, and its heavy use of context-sensitive actions and radial menus make keyboard and mouse play fiddly. The second problem is Uplay. Ubisoft’s proprietary launcher is necessary even if you own the Steam version, and in my case it refused to allow me to connect to the game’s online service until someone from Ubisoft fiddled with my account in order to fix it. Then, Uplay deleted all of my saves. I had luckily taken manual backups, but could only restore them by disabling cloud saving outright. I recommend you do the same, if only to avoid having the problem in the first place.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist is far from terrible, but it’s not the classic that Chaos Theory was and it learns the wrong lessons from Conviction. That said, this is the strongest the series has ever been in multiplayer, and for that reason – and for the few missions where its stealth pedigree clicks into place – it’s worth peeking into its darkened corners.
Wonky mission design and technical issues drag down a solid stealth game that still has enjoyable multiplayer.