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Splinter Cell Blacklist
on 24 August 2013
The Splinter Cell series has been going for some time now but I've found that the quality of each game varies considerably. Some games in particular seem extremely restrictive in how you go about each mission, forcing you to follow a set series of actions step by step. What sold me on Splinter Cell Blacklist is that some considerable effort has been made to allow you to play the game the way you want to play it.
As usual you play the eponymous hero Sam Fisher, an expert in covert black ops. The plot involves a group of terrorists known as The Engineers who are holding the United States to ransom by threatening a number of different targets around the world. As usual with a lot of Tom Clancy based stories the actual plot is fairly nonsensical but is covered with enough smoke and mirrors to make it sound cool. Fans of Clancy's books will love the techno babble and espionage buzz words used throughout the game.
The basic solo gameplay involves you selecting missions from a large transport plane equipped with the best technology money can buy. I mean this quite literally as your progress throughout the game is measured by monetary rewards which you can use to upgrade your HQ, weapons and equipment, as well as paying for research. There are a surprising number of options as to what you can spend your money on and how you can equip Sam on each mission. As usual new options are available either from bonus offers or from spending real money in the Playstation Store.
You also get a good choice of mission types in this game, from missions that depend entirely on stealth to more action based missions where you have to take down waves of bad guys. This is a nice touch as you can pick and choose your missions, going back to more difficult assignments when you have upgraded your equipment or are more experienced as a player.
The main gameplay involves a third person perspective where you navigate through a set area aiming to fulfill a particular mission objective. Although the objectives may vary most of the missions are dependent on stealth. Even on the Rookie difficulty setting Sam is not designed to take enemies on face to face in a straight fight. A couple of hits and he is dead, so most missions depend on you staying hidden. For those who enjoy sneaking about, taking down unsuspecting guards and using lots of cool gadgets this game is loads of fun. It is not for everyone though, you need the patience of a fisherman to succeed as one mistake can lead to mission failure.
It's worth noting that this is a tough game. You cannot save the game in the middle of a mission, although some of the longer key missions do have automatic save points. In some ways this reminds me of the game "Dark Souls", it is tough, but the tension as you progress through a mission is intense. Thankfully failure is not as harsh as in "Dark Souls" but it can be frustrating to be sent right back and have to start the mission all over again.
One problem I have found with this game though is the third person view can sometimes be problematic. In games like "Uncharted" you might occasionally miss a shot because you can't get the camera to look over a nearby wall, or get your character to face the right direction. But such problems are rarely fatal. However in Splinter Cell missing just one shot can give away your position and lead to mission failure. If this happens as a result of the clumsy third person camera, or some intervening piece of cover it can be exceptionally frustrating.
Splinter Cell Blacklist aims to give you the freedom to complete missions the way you want to play the game. In order to do this there are three general ways to play the game - from complete stealth to all out guns blazing action, with the third option being a mix of the two. Unfortunately though a lot of missions have a requirement that you remain undetected, and even those that don't can throw in so many reinforcements once the alarm is raised that the mission is fubar as soon as you are spotted. Stealth seems to be the only way forward, with the occasional frantic firefight as you struggle to silence a guard quickly before he can raise the alarm. So, this idea of different approaches is not especially practical. However each area has a lot of different routes to navigate through it, and along with the many options for modifications you do feel as though there is more freedom here than in previous Splinter Cell games.
The other big difference are the multiplayer and co-op options. These are selected within the game as part of the single player campaign and allow you to earn additional funds by completing related missions. As with the single player you can modify the weapons, equipment and appearance of your online character. Co-op allows for split screen play and unlocks new areas in certain single player missions. This could be a lot of fun playing with a friend, although I would not trust playing with a complete stranger if you are relying on stealth to survive.
The multiplayer involves two different sides - spies and mercenaries. Mercenaries are tougher, with more powerful weapons and are tasked with guarding certain objectives. Spies are like Sam Fisher wannabes who rely on stealth to capture objectives while trying to avoid the Mercenaries. The focus on stealth vs strength gives this game a unique dynamic, although it does depend even more than most multiplayer games on knowing the maps. Once you know your way around you can defend or attack objectives a hundred times better than a newb who is still trying to work out where all the doors are.
Overall then I think Splinter Cell Blacklist is a very good game. The graphics are similar to its most recent Tom Clancy predecessor "Ghost Recon" but with the gameplay having even more emphasis on patient stealthy tactics. If you have the time and patience this game can be very rewarding. If you are hoping to waltz through it like Chuck Norris in a POW camp you might want to think again. The third person controls can be frustrating at times but despite that this is a very well designed and very playable game.