A figure emerges from the shadows, all you can see of them is three glowing lights emitting from their goggles. You raise your AK-47 with murderous intent, but what is that noise? The figure was a distraction all along and the true threat is behind you. As you lapse into unconsciousness, you cannot help but utter the words, Clever Girl.
Sam Fisher is back, but not everything is the same. Gone is the voice of Michael Ironside and instead we have a more youthful sounding Sam, but with enough silver in his hair to make him an authoritarian. He is going to need all his experience as Sam has been tasked with commanding an elite group to track down and neutralize a bloodthirsty terrorist group known as ‘The Engineers’. Can Sam hunt down the group before they enact another hideous act of terrorism?
The Splinter Cell series has always been a franchise to look forward too. It may not have the Japanese cool of Snake, but in terms of action, it is the stealth game of choice for many. In Splinter Cell: Blacklist there is a bigger emphasis on action than ever before. In the single player campaign you control Sam in a third person stealth shooter. Climb up walls, along pipes, down drains. Plant bugs, listen in on conversations. Sneak up behind your enemies, drop on them from above; do you choose to kill or knock out? All the classic elements of the Splinter Cell experience are here, but what happens if you are spotted?
Unlike in previous games in the series you are actually given a decent chance of survival. Sam’s prowess with guns has improved greatly and you can use superior firepower to shoot yourself out of tricky situations. This potential change in gameplay style is supported by the XP given at the end of each level – you are rewarded for stealth, but also combat kills. With this in mind, you can tackle the game as a shooter with minimal stealth elements, or aim for stealth throughout.
High production values are present as soon as you start the game up. The prologue introduces both the gameplay and the story in spectacular fashion. Even without Mr Ironside, the voice acting is still excellent and the game pushes the graphical fidelity of current gen consoles almost to their limits. Levels are designed with a great mixture of stealth and action; you will finish one section expecting the level to end, only for it to open up into a new sequence that needs to be tackled either stealthily or with your action pants on.
Ubisoft have tried to create one immersive universe in the game and this is aided by the co-op elements being part of the main mission map. From here you can launch into a solo campaign level, or choose to play a co-op mission. These are not central to the plot, but are given depth so that they feel part of the same story line. As you launch a co-op level you are given the choice to use a guest profile to play locally, go online with a friend, or go online and join a random player. Player one is given the honor of being the Fish man himself, whilst player two takes on the role of Briggs (a major part of the game's story).
Split screen works, but there is a lot going on
As you can imagine the best option is online with a friend, allowing you a full screen and someone to communicate clearly with. The local split screen option should not be discarded immediately, the screen splits cleanly, but having so much going on at once can be difficult to bear. The bigger the TV the better in this instance. Going online relieves this problem, but if you have no friends currently online it can lead to complications.
The co-op components of Blacklist work best with strong communication. There is only ever you and one ally to rely on. Missions are split between: survival maps against waves of enemies, stealth missions in which you must not be caught, mini campaign missions that cover all skills, and dynamic kill-everything maps. There is something here for everyone, the lover of old school Splinter Cell stealth, but also for fans of more Call of Duty style shooting.
With the right co-op partner, Blacklist is a very impressive game. You use all of Sam’s skills to achieve your goal. The best vantage points are often only discoverable if you work together, and with the enemies prone to downing one of you, being close is important to revive your partner. The issues come with playing with an impatient partner. Three of the four modes reward stealthy gameplay, so running in will either increase the difficulty, or fail the mission outright. I actually found that the majority of random players tackled the game in the correct way. Just don’t be surprised to suddenly start a mission with a Sam Fisher blazing away with an assault rifle, rather than a silenced pistol.
The best co-operative experiences rely on gamers playing it with the right mind-set and that is certainly the case here. Would you really want to play a Splinter Cell game that was just a shooter alone? By forcing the players to use stealth (at least some of the time), Ubisoft have created an immersive and wide ranging co-op mode that should suit most tastes. The high production values are present throughout the game; single player, versus and co-op, and you get a lot of enjoyment for your money. The only real misgiving I have is the shift in balance from stealth to action. This is only optional in the game, but with Sam being more powerful than ever, is it only a matter of time until we get Splinter Cell FPS?
The Co-Optimus review of Splinter Cell: Blacklist is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.