E3: Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist First Impressions

Source:   Spencer Perry
June 12, 2013

Stealth titles have redefined storytelling and gameplay in video games for over a decade now and there's no better franchise for players that love stealth than "Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell." The latest entry into the franchise, subtitled "Blacklist," offers a new chapter in the life of operative Sam Fisher and even puts him in charge of the top secret agency he once worked for. Picking up after the events of Splinter Cell Conviction, Sam has been made the leader of the newly established Fourth Echelon, though he chooses to remain a field operative.

The single player for "Blacklist" remains largely similar to previous installments; however, it combines many of the elements from conviction such as the targeting ability, and point-and-click cover movements with the classic feel of “Pandora Tomorrow” and “Chaos Theory.” Where it is different in the control scheme is in the weapon selection. Players hold down the D-pad to access their own personal arsenal. This offers quicker selections for choosing equipment, speeding up the process from previous games.

Its biggest improvement as a franchise is in the level design. "Blacklist's" developers have brought an open sand-box style to the previously linear levels, offering you the ability to tackle objectives from whichever path you so choose. At times this aspect goes away, when you're tasked with a specific objective, but it still offers players the unique ability to try out different routes.

Single player for "Blacklist is divided into three different play styles: Ghost, fully stealth approach; Assault, “guns blazing;” and Panther, which is a mix of the two. Like previous games, depending on how you decide to play will effect your scoring upon completion of the level and your equipment as you load in. "Blacklist" also offers some new challenges for the player, specifically in the form of new enemy combatants called a “Heavy.” The Heavies provide much more of a challenge for Sam as they are covered head-to-toe in armor, including helmets that make headshots impossible, and have a keen sense of hearing and sight. You have to approach these guys from behind to take them out, and even then you can't use your sidearm.

The co-op play for "Blacklist" is quite similar to the single player in its play style. The open sandbox levels not allow only players to choose their own path each time but also to take care of objectives in the order that they choose. Unlike previous cooperative modes in "Splinter Cell" games, these levels will lead in and out of single player missions and offer one player the ability to play as Sam Fisher. While one plays as Sam the other will play as his new partner Isaac Briggs, who was described simply as “A young version of Sam” to me (that's it?). One interesting mode for the co-op levels are the “Grimm Missions,” which will offer veteran "Splinter Cell" players their best challenges to date. Unlike other levels in the game, if a player is spotted even once by an enemy combatant the level is over and you have to start from the beginning. This means players are required to work together and put their stealth skills to the test.

What we were most excited for with "Blacklist" was the return of the fan-favorite multiplayer mode. Continuing the mode that started in “Pandora Tomorrow” the Spies vs. Mercs competition is back and looks better than ever. The spies continue to be the stealth portion of the multiplayer with the Mercenaries not even knowing what subtlety means. The team at Ubisoft Montreal have designed entire new levels for the multiplayer experience, instead of replicating ones from previous games (though we have the feeling those levels will be showing up down the road).

"Splinter Cell: Blacklist"is a gorgeous looking game. Even though its primary M.O. is about the shadows and remaining undetected, it still manages to use an amazing spectrum of colors that are jaw-dropping with its stellar graphics. This is exactly the step up that the franchise needed after “Conviction,” and as a long time fan I'm very glad to see it coming.

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist will be released on the PS3, Xbox 360, PC and Wii U on August 20. You can watch the E3 trailer below!

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