by Keaton Arksey, reviewed on
A blend of old and new
Splinter Cell: Conviction changed many things with the Splinter Cell series. Gone were the days of sticking to the shadows, memorizing guard patrols and trying to complete missions with zero kills and zero alerts. Conviction, thematically at least, rationalized series’ protagonist Sam Fisher’s new murderous tendencies by making the story personal. However, with his daughter safe and sound, what direction will Ubisoft take one of its most valued properties? As it turns out, they’re continuing down the path started in Conviction while handing the reigns to some fresh faces.
For the first time in franchise history, Ubisoft Montreal will not be handling development duties. Instead, the new Ubisoft studio in Toronto will develop Splinter Cell: Blacklist, with Jade Raymond producing. If that name sounds familiar, it should; Mrs. Raymond also served as producer for Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed II.
Goodbye Mr. Ironside
Ever since the first Splinter Cell, Michael Ironside voiced Sam Fisher. His gruff, gritty voice perfectly encapsulated Fisher, an older hero than the typical protagonist who is a tad more cynical about life. Sadly, Ironside will not be returning as Sam Fisher for Blacklist. Eric Johnson, perhaps best known for his run on Smallville, will be replacing Ironside. If there is any bright side to this, it is that Johnson will also be providing motion capture for Sam, giving dialogue a closer connection to the physical situation.
So with a new actor voicing Sam, what is Blacklist all about? Taking place after the events of Conviction, the US President shuts down the corrupt Third Echelon, and replaces it with a new Fourth Echelon. This new organization, headed up by Fisher and completely denied by the US Government, initially focuses on shutting down any remaining Third Echelon activities. When a group of twelve terrorists fed up with US military intervention in their countries reveal “The Blacklist,” an ultimatum of escalating terror attacks on US interests, Fourth Echelon shifts its focus to stopping the Blacklist. Along with some new characters, Anna Grimsdottir will return as part of Fisher’s team.
Killing in Motion
Blacklist will largely continue gameplay elements introduced in Conviction. The Mark and Execute feature, which allows Fisher to tag targets and quickly eliminate them, will return. Some old favourites missing from Conviction, such as Sam’s combat knife and high-tech, non-lethal gadgets like Sticky Shockers also make a return.
While Conviction received some opposition from the series’ fans, it did allow players to tackle challenges in multiple ways. Running in blindly firing in a Splinter Cell game is usually a fast track to an early exit, and while still not exactly a great tactic, Conviction did somewhat allow it, along with a slightly more liberal definition of stealth. In a recent demo for Blacklist, Ubisoft showed that this continues in the new entry, with Sam infiltrating a terrorist camp at the Iran-Iraq border. Posing as a terrorist, Sam is able to infiltrate the camp and eliminate a few hostiles before giving up his disguise. Trying to capture the terrorist Jadid, Sam can go from complete stealth to run-and-gun at the blink of an eye. This is thanks to a new gameplay system, Killing in Motion, that emphasizes movement during combat. In one section, Sam runs through an enemy outpost, shooting three enemies marked with the Mark and Execute function, stabs another, jumps over a truck hood, marks and then kills two more hostiles, all in one fluid movement. It definitely looks interesting and something that would be at home in an action movie.
Even though Sam is well over 55 by this point, he is just as spry as ever. After dispatching the terrorists, he effortlessly climbs a rock face, before entering the main enemy encampment. Here Ubisoft displays a Kinect-only feature; by shouting aloud, the player can call to enemies in the game. While it is essentially the same thing as the whistle in Chaos Theory, it is nonetheless a neat trick. When some hostiles discover one of the bodies Fisher has left behind, Sam conveniently shoots a sticky shocker into the puddle of water they are standing in, electrocuting them. Thankfully the option of moving bodies returns, so Sam could also hide the body and avoid detection entirely, which is sure to please series purists. Finally, reinforcements arrive, bringing with them a truck with a machine gun in the back. Outgunned, Sam calls in an air strike using his Fourth Echelon contacts, destroying the truck and several surrounding enemies.
Spies v. Mercenaries
I could ramble on and on about gameplay, but really only one thing matters about Splinter Cell: Blacklist; the return of Spies vs. Mercenaries. The beloved multiplayer mode did not appear in Conviction, and it is unclear how it will play in this new Splinter Cell world, but the simple fact that one of the best multiplayer experiences is returning is cause enough for celebration.
Sure, there may be a few reasonable trepidations on the part of fans concerning Blacklist. A new developer, and the replacement of a beloved voice actor could cause alarm, but Ubisoft looks like it will be able to appease both long-time fans of the series and those brought in by Conviction. With new features like Killing in Motion, along with returning staples like Sticky Shockers, moving bodies, and most importantly the Spies vs. Mercenaries multiplayer mode, Fall 2013 cannot come soon enough.