When you have a series with long roots like Splinter Cell, it must be tough to make a trailer. Either you stay true to your existing fans, and show a man smearing himself against a bunch of walls and crates in the rain, or you try to capture the attention of the wider gaming public. That's why we get man-with-gun Bioshock box art, sexualised nun-punching for Agent 47, and in Sam Fisher's case, running across a rooftop, effortlessly shivving folks in the neck. Eyebrows were raised. “That's not Splinter Cell, is it?” was muttered.
But Blacklist is very much Splinter Cell. And Killing In Motion isn't a button you press to wall-run and stab everything. It's a design approach. It's the fluidity of Sam's movement. This isn't a dumbing down of Splinter Cell – it's taking the slick style of Conviction and bringing it back into official ghost ops. I played two missions – a botched extraction that turns into a daylight traversal of Benghazi rooftops, and a night mission in an abandoned London mill that positively stinks of classic Splinter Cell. You know, in a good way.
An XP system rewards all styles of play, in a gently guiding way. Ghosts are merciful and unseen. Panthers are stealthy, but leave a corpse-strewn wake. And Assault XP is awarded for being a huge stupid-head. The game, in a stroke of brilliant snideness, calls this “brave, open combat”. Hmmm.
Talk of 'playing games properly' is the language of the gruesome snob, but I'm just following Ubisoft's lead. And if you want to play this properly, Perfectionist mode lets you give up your less realistic tools. The Last Known Position marker disappears, so you can no longer see where the enemy thinks you are. You can't mark a number of enemies, then execute them all with a tap of a button. And your goggles become significantly less all-seeing.
The Paladin aircraft that houses the Fourth Echelon acts like a mini-Normandy. The Strategic Mission Interface (SMI) is the hub for every mission chain, in order to keep people engaged with the entire game, and not just one option on a menu screen. Between missions, you can chat to your mismatched crew, getting missions and generally being a good boss. You can even upgrade the aircraft for in-field rewards.
Game director Patrick Redding is fairly sure about what Conviction got wrong. The choice to indicate a stealthy location by moving into black and white was a source of annoyance to both the art team and players. He also feels that the absence of Spies vs Mercs in Conviction just gave them a chance to get it right for Blacklist. After playing a couple of hours of the excellent singleplayer campaign, Ubisoft Toronto have earned the benefit of the doubt.