by Quinn Levandoski
previewed on PC
Dare to Dream
At at least some point in our lives, everybody wants to be a secret agent. The freedom, the power, and the unadulterated bad-assery appeals to something almost universal in the human psyche. That being said, I would never want to be Splinter Cell franchise protagonist Sam Fisher. As cool as his arsenal of gadgets and iconic tactical goggles are, the man has been through hell; heís lost his daughter in a drunk driving accident, found out it wasnít an accident, been held responsible for entire wars, been double crossed by those close to him, was forced to take innocent lives while inside an enemy organization, and a lot more. Sam must be a real glutton for punishment though, because after everything heís been through heís coming back for another stomp around the global playground in Splinter Cell: Blacklist.
Now, after having gone ďrogueĒ for some time, Fisher is falling back to his roots working with the United States government to take down an international terrorist organization threatening life as we all know it. This time around, the danger comes in the form of an international group of terrorists known as the Engineers who threaten to continually unleash a series of attacks called The Blacklist unless the U.S. pulls its military forces out of a number of countries. Luckily for the good guys, United States president Patricia Caldwell has formed a new team to take on threats of just this sort. The Third Echelon, the organization Sam previously operated under, has been disbanded after the corruption revealed in previous games. Now Sam has been placed at the very top of itís replacement organization, the off-the-books and creatively named Fourth Echelon. Not a whole lot about the plot has been revealed yet, but what we do know is that Sam will fly around the globe on Fourth Echelonís mobile aero-base called the Paladin with his team of longtime acquaintance Grim, CIA agent Briggs, and hacker Charlie to take on the Engineers wherever a threat rears its ugly head.
2010ís Splinter Cell: Conviction aimed to increase player immersion with mission objectives and other text being painted on the environment, and Blacklist is looking to up the immersion ante even more. Each time the player turns the game on they wonít be met with a main menu, but instead thrown right into the Paladin. The inside of this flying fortress allows players to talk to team members and access displays to start single player, co-op, and multiplayer missions, purchase new weapons, upgrades, and gadgets (which, once unlocked, will be available both in the campaign and in competitive multiplayer), set loadouts, and more. Itís obviously hard to tell without using the system hands-on, but it seems to be a pretty slick and easy to use way to bring players more into the gameís world. Immersion improvements also extend into missions themselves, with information being both painted onto the environment a la Conviction, as well as projected holographically via data packs sent to Sam from the Paladin. Sometimes games that try to replace pop-ups and on-screen text with more immersive approaches can make things confusing and unclear, but it seems that Blacklist uses the techniques well, adding to the experience of the game instead of detracting from it.
To be honest, last yearís Blacklist demo at E3 turned me off of the game a little bit. It showed Sam dashing and climbing like someone from Assassin's Creed, shooting almost everyone, and leaving the majority of bodies out in plain sight. Donít get me wrong, it looked very cool, but it didnít look like a Splinter Cell game. Luckily, at least in my opinion, it seems as though that demo isnít indicative of how the majority of the game has to be played if the player so chooses. By unlocking points for various feats in the game, players will be able to unlock gadgets, perks, and weapons aimed at supporting one of three playstyles: ghost style unlockables support true stealth play and rely on misdirection and sneakiness to get through maps without taking any lives, assault includes body armor and heavier weapons to take on enemies head on, and panther is a mix of the two meant to support using stealth to quietly take out enemies without leaving a trace or alerting others. It wonít be possible to strictly stick to any of these styles the whole game as certain situations will require the use of force or stealth, but the vast majority will give the power to the players. Quite frankly I donít like that assault is even possible since it goes against what the franchise was founded on, but if itís going to be there Iím happy that Iíll still have the option to sneak and strike from the shadows.
Will it Stand Out?
There are still a lot of question marks about Splinter Cell: Blacklist. In a franchise that has at least some amount of story continuity throughout all of its games, it will be important to weave a story that is both deep enough to be compelling to longtime franchise fans while still being approachable to people that are new to the series. Itís yet to be seen if The Engineers can be different enough to differentiate themselves from the hundreds of ďmysterious terrorist organizationsĒ present in games. Little is also known about the gameís multiplayer, which will see the return of fan (and personal) favorite spies vs. mercs mode. The Splinter Cell franchise has spread the spectrum from revolutionary titles such like Chaos Theory to the largely average Double Agent, but Blacklist seems like itís shaping up to fall closer to the former than the latter. Fans of the franchise and newcomers alike shouldnít let this game slip past in the dark.