I feel a bit sorry for Splinter Cell: Blacklist as I sit down to review it. Through no fault of its own, I went into this one with an almost unshakeable feeling of apathy. This generation has lasted so long and the third-person shooter/stealth genres have become so bloated and overcrowded.
There?s very little Blacklist
could have done to really impress or excite me without simply reminding me of something else I?ve played over the last year or so. It?s like meeting Frankenstein?s Monster and recognising he?s made of your Uncle Chuck?s arms and Aunt Petunia?s legs. He?s still an impressive bit of necromantic craftsmanship, but the effect that the good doctor was going for is diminished somewhat. But whether I?m excited or not, it?s time for another round of anti-terrorism-based adventures for grizzled espionage veteran and night vision goggles-aficionado Sam Fisher.
The last Splinter Cell
, was critically well-received but alienated some of the series? fanbase by straying from the hardcore stealth focus of previous titles in favour of more intense and explosive action. Blacklist
has therefore been left with the unenviable task of pleasing both halves of its splintered following. That?s always a tricky position to be in, but it?s one that the developers at Ubisoft seem to have handled quite deftly this time round.
Like most games of its kind, Splinter Cell
puts me into an uncomfortable position. For the most part I lack the patience required to succeed in serious stealth games, and while Splinter Cell
always offers the option of charging through missions with guns blazing, it?s rarely the smartest thing to do. In fact on anything except the easiest difficulty it?s the best way to book your bullet-ridden corpse a ticket back to the last of the (thankfully frequent) checkpoints.
Waging open war on your enemies requires quite a bit of preparation as well as good reflexes and aim, as you?ll typically need to rely on headshots to take enemies down faster than they can put you away. Things get easier later in the game if your spending has mostly been on more powerful weapons and heavier armour, but I?ll cover that more when I discuss the inventory system later on.
No doubt hoping to appeal to gamers of varying tastes, Blacklist rewards you for playing in whichever of the three possible playing styles you like. 'Ghost' favours complete stealth over everything else and rewards you for sneaking through areas undetected and without resorting to combat. 'Assault' is the less sophisticated path of pure combat, with points awarded for simple kills. The third option, 'Panther', covers the middle ground ? rewarding you for stealthily taking out enemies without being discovered by their buddies.
Thankfully there are no restrictions that lock you into any particular style, and if you?re anything like me you?ll probably find yourself spreading your points out fairly evenly between each category. At the end of each mission your points are added together and converted into cash that can be spent on upgrading your gear.
Or if you?d rather you can even purchase improvements for your flying headquarters to provide in-game perks such as faster health regeneration, or upgrade the shops to offer more powerful equipment.
The inventory system is where the game really lets you tailor Sam to suit your gameplay needs, provided you?ve made enough cash from completing missions. There?s a sizeable armoury of weapons to choose from, though considering I wouldn?t know an AK-47 from an MP3 player I fear the effort might be lost on me.
What does matter is how they actually affect the gameplay, with more expensive weapons offering advantages such as higher damage and armour penetration or stealthy aids such as silencers to suit your tastes. Sam?s clothing is similarly customisable, with the option of bulkier armours that increase durability or lighter outfits that let you sneak around more easily.
Sam?s outfit is divided up into multiple parts as well, allowing you to tweak his attributes even further by mixing and matching different items of clothing. If you want to focus entirely on mastering one area that?s one option, but so is balancing your stats to create a more well-rounded hero.
As well as weaponry and armour there?s one other area that the shops cover. Sam?s pockets are filled with gadgets that help distract or discreetly incapacitate foes, and carefully choosing which you bring along on each mission can be key to your success.