Splinter Cell Blacklist Hands-On Impressions

Tactical espionage returns.

CruelLEGACEY shares his impressions of the campaign, co-op, and Spies vs Mercs game modes in Splinter Cell Blacklist.

Splinter Cell Blacklist_2

My co-op partner and I begin our mission in the courtyard of an old refinery. A sniper’s laser sight peers down from a crack high up the building’s front wall. We peel off in different directions: my partner sneaking right, tip-toeing through a cluster of land mines. I scramble left, silently taking out the mercenary patrolling the area and taking cover in a small building. A guard dog catches sight of my partner, forcing him to put it down with his silenced pistol. We regroup at the refinery wall, entering through a crumbled hole at its base. We accomplish this smoothly and effortlessly. By this point in our playtest, we have had lots of practice making our way in to the building. It’s what follows that gets tricky. Time and time again, my partner and I have made our way in to the building and attempted to complete our mission. And we’ve failed each time in new (and often hilarious) ways. Yet each time, we’ve jumped back in eager to try again.

That is the brilliance of the mission design in Splinter Cell Blacklist. There is no “trick” to success. Each level is like a puzzle that is constantly in motion. Players can certainly approach each area with a specific playstyle in mind. In fact, the game encourages this in many ways. But the true magic lies within the ease with which the player can adapt to the mission as the situation changes; strategically modulating their playstyle and tactics. Each success or failure is a unique experience that leaves you wanting more.

Splinter Cell Blacklist_5

A puzzle in motion

Our objective is to hack into 3 computer terminals located throughout the building. Detection is not permitted in this mission, so every single guard must be handled carefully. Two guards patrol the ground level, blocking our path to the first terminal. Several of our earlier attempts ended in failure as my partner and I struggled to remain hidden in tight quarters. So we decide to split up, giving ourselves more space to maneuver. While my partner makes his way upstairs towards the 2nd objective, I sit behind cover and plan my attack. The two guards standing between me and the first terminal are facing each other, engaged in conversation. No way to take down one without alerting the other. To make matters worse, one of them is heavily armored, and wears a combat helmet (protecting him from my “mark and execute” maneuver).

One floor above, my partner has made his way to the 2nd terminal and has begun his hack. Back on the ground floor, I decide to try something daring. Moving around the room’s perimeter, I manage to rotate behind the armored guard. I peek around the corner and mark both targets. Then I dash at the armored guard’s back, catching him by surprise and holding him as a human shield. The other guard is split seconds away from shouting in surprise and triggering the mission-ending detection alarms, but I manage to trigger my “execute” ability just in time, dispatching him with a single shot to the head. I incapacitate the armored guard and proceed to hack the first terminal.

As I make my way up to the second floor, I see the signs of my partner’s progress through the environment. Several lights have been shot out, and a single guard lies unconscious in the corner of the room. All at once, I notice another armored guard patrolling the middle of the room, with my partner springing from the shadows behind him. I can tell he will successfully neutralize the guard, but I can also see that his take-down will¬† put him directly into the line of site of one of the many security cameras placed throughout the building. Even as my partner is closing the gap towards his target, I draw my pistol and shoot out the camera. These moments of synchronized effectiveness are the ultimate payoff in Splinter Cell Blacklist’s co-op mode. The game provides players with countless opportunities to compliment each others actions with speed and efficiency. This makes mastering the many game mechanics and systems truly rewarding.

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Ghost, Panther, Assault

Splinter Cell Blacklist is designed from the ground up to accommodate 3 distinct playstyles. As you progress through the campaign, all of your actions will award you points into one of 3 categories: ghost, panther, or assault. The developers at Ubisoft Toronto care greatly about player choice on a moment-to-moment level. There are hardcore Splinter Cell fans who will be determined to progress through the game undetected. They can stick to the shadows and complete their mission without ever alerting the enemy to their presence. (Splinter Cell Blacklist features an achievement for completing the entire campaign without performing a single kill, so it is possible!). Other players will prefer to shoot their way through, using Sam Fisher’s wide array of weaponry to bludgeon their way to the end of each mission. And some players will take a more measured approach; moving silently, but still eliminating all guards in their path.

All of the systems within Splinter Cell Blacklist are designed to engage these 3 distinct playstyles. But what impressed me was how smoothly I was able to move between ghost, panther, or assault techniques whenever I wanted. Never did I feel painted in to a corner, nor did I feel that the game was punishing me for choosing any particular approach. In my time with the campaign (roughly 2 hours) I found myself frequently bouncing back and forth between playstyles, doing whatever I felt would be the most effective in a given area. I will always prefer a more stealthy approach in a Splinter Cell game, but I do want to stress the fact that gunplay in Blacklist is greatly improved over previous installments. Hit detection, weapon handling, targeting are all smoother and more refined. For the first time in the series, guns are actually fun to use if you want to use them.

Splinter Cell Blacklist_SvM_1

Spies vs Mercs

The concept is simple: a team of spies is charged with hacking in to three data terminals. A team of mercs must defend those terminals. Go. Yet from this springs one of the most dynamic, exciting, and thoughtful multiplayer modes around. Playing as one of the spies is very much like playing as Sam Fisher in the campaign: you are quick and agile, and the shadows are your friends. The merc team all play from a 1st person perspective, and are heavily armed. In a nutshell, it is a contest between the spies’ cunning and the mercs’ brute force. But the nuances that complete that formula are virtually endless.

Matches of Spies vs Mercs take place in densely constructed environments, jam packed with pipes, air vents, catwalks and platforms. For the spies, these elements of the environment are the keys to success. They must out maneuver the mercs; striking from the shadows and vanishing before the mercs can use their superior firepower to bring them down. To my surprise, both sides feel very well balanced. Despite their distinct abilities, strengths, and weaknesses, neither side seems overpowered. Even more important, both sides are extremely fun to play. Each side has their own range of gadgets and weaponry, from night vision goggles and stun guns to land mines and EMP charges.

The match centers around 3 data terminals. Successfully hacking the terminals requires thought and planning from the spies. Once a terminal has been hacked, all mercs are alerted and will quickly descend on the compromised terminal. The remaining terminals are also locked down until the hack is either completed or halted. Ubisoft Toronto has thrown an interesting wrinkle in to the mix: In order to stop a hack, the mercs must kill the spy that initiated it. To keep things fair, the spy that initiated the hack must stay within an area fairly close to the terminal in order to maintain the hack. This creates an exciting dynamic. A smart team of spies will use a hack to draw the enemy mercs into a series of traps. However, they must also protect the spy responsible for the hack, which puts them on the defensive. The tension in these situations is palpable and thrilling, with shouts and screams coming from players on both sides as the match comes to an end.

Splinter Cell Blacklist_SvM_2

Splinter Cell Blacklist brings 2 flavors of Spies vs Mercs to the table: Classic mode and Blacklist mode. Classic mode stays true to SvM roots. Teams of 2, the spies have no lethal ranged weapons, and each team has access to a preset list of gadgets. Blacklist mode adds several elements to the mix. It features teams of 4, and allows a wide range of customizable suits and loadouts for both the spies and the mercs. Spies can also carry lethal ranges weapons (pistols and automatic weapons) in Blacklist mode, making them more overtly dangerous. Make no mistake, a merc will still destroy a spy in a head-on shoot out, so spies still need to rely on stealth and agility.

In addition to the gameplay changes, the Blacklist version of Spies vs Mercs features cosmetic changes in the form of brighter lighting. This makes vanishing into the shadows substantially more difficult for the spies, and helps to balance out their increased firepower in this mode.

As an old school Splinter Cell fan, I definitely preferred the Classic Spies vs Mercs mode. It is a more patient, thoughtful, and strategic version of the game. Having said that, I think the Blacklist mode will appeal to a wider audience, and perhaps find greater acceptance amongst long time fans than they might expect. Blacklist mode is certainly more chaotic. With twice as many players, the maps can feel quite crowded. Add all the extra gadgets and abilities into the mix and things get hectic. But there is method to the madness. A meta game of rock/paper/scissors begins to take place as each side tries to use their abilities to negate the other side’s abilities. Cloaked spies will find their suit’s power disrupted by EMP pulses, while Merc hover drones are shot out of the air. The higher player count also means spies and mercs alike must be more careful about making themselves visible to the enemy. Attacking an unsuspecting foe can easily draw the attention of your victim’s nearby teammates if you don’t plan your attack carefully.

Both Classic and Blacklist modes are fun and exciting. Spies vs Mercs is a unique multiplayer mode that really deserves to be experienced.

Splinter Cell Blacklist_SvM_3

Closing thoughts

Splinter Cell Blacklist is looking to be a very strong addition to the franchise. Ubisoft Toronto has made an impressive array of improvements across all aspects of the game. If my time with it is any indication, Blacklist is poised to walk that magic line between pleasing the old fans while expanding into new ground. No simple feat.

– Nevin Douglas / CruelLEGACEY

Related Features:

Spies vs Mercs – Splinter Cell Black List VIDEO PREVIEW

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7 Responses to Splinter Cell Blacklist Hands-On Impressions

  1. Pingback: Spies vs Mercs [Video Preview] | CruelLEGACEY Productions

  2. Dome500 says:

    nice name btw, shows that you first shout and then start thinking.
    I am certainly no fan-boy of Conviction, but I’m a great fan of the series a long time now. I can’t tell you what impressions I had because I haven’t played the game yet. But attacking a previewer personally. And I think that’s exactly the reason why publishers are not listening to people like you.
    You are no hardcore fan, you are a hardcore fanatic. Yes, you have played the games for countless hours, and you are an old school SC fan. I get that. But at some point in the development of the series you probably started being so
    jaundiced that you couldn’t do anything but raging about everything you hear about the franchise.
    People like you then start looking at the game and are not seeing the positive things. You will go on and pick every little detail you don’t like of the game and smash it in the face of the publishers and the previewers/reviewers, who are just expressing their opinion about this game. Of course there are magazines and sites which just float games from big publishers with praise without even looking at it, but people like CruelLEGACEY are surely not one of them.
    So why don’t you wait and look what becomes of the game you are so raging about without ever playing a single mission of it.
    Of courser Blacklist will be different from the old school games. Of course it will contain things from Conviction (which I am today still not seeing as a Splinter ell btw.), but the important thing here is the evolution. The merging of Convictions strengths (as few as they were) and the atmosphere, gadgets and mechanics of the CT (and the other legacy SC titles).
    The developers might have their own vision of the game, and you don’t have to trust them with it.
    If you want to be sure wait for Lets Plays, watch them and look if you like the game.
    Constructive criticism is a good thing, but raging is surely not the way to be heard.

  3. fuckgreed says:

    you should be more careful what you say about balancing. casual console players like you should not even try to judge a game. you and ubisoft should wait and pray unti the game is realeased and the good old scct and scpt pros talk about their first impressions. no one gives a fuck about the stupid console version with wishy washy aim. 4on4 will be trash & trashplayers like you will enjoy it, but only for maybe 2 months because thats just how casual gamers behave. i dont give up hope for the 2v2 part though, but seeing as you can only hack 1 target at a time i already feel gloomy. I dont understand why big publisher dont ask for the help of players who played previous games for thousands of hours. you know who did? riot games. look where it got them. and they constantly ask for feedback. what to improve or change.

    • CruelLEGACEY says:

      You just perfectly illustrated why nobody asks for the help of players like you: you are incapable of expressing your opinion without sounding like a jerk.

      You don’t know anything about me, or what kind of player I am. You also fail to understand that big games need to sell millions of copies in order to be “successful”. Look at Tomb Raider: fantastic game that sold over 3 million copies, and the publisher is calling it a failure.

      What does this mean? It means Blacklist MUST be enjoyable to casual players, or else there won’t be another Splinter Cell game.

      Now I fully expect that the serious pro players will find issues with the game’s balance that are not noticeable to most other players. That happens with EVERY SINGLE GAME. But as somebody who spent countless hours playing SvM since Pandora Tomorrow, I can tell you that Blacklist is a far more balanced game. Perfect? Too soon to tell. But definitely better.

      • fuckgreed says:

        you sound like casual players give a damn about the finesse of a multiplayer look at cod. same game over the last 10 years minimal graphic improvements, 4 hour sp. and people still pay 70 bucks. it doesnt matter how terrible it is as long as you advertise it well enough. well ubisoft obviously is putting effort into the MP, might aswell focus on making the mutliplayer how the hardcore fanbase likes it.

        you think i sound like jerk? at some point you just stop being nice. ubisoft asked for feedback on twitter after their trailer was released. you are delusional if you think they spend a second reading feedback that sounded slightly negative but still constructive, you wanna be heard and get responses? gotta go all out. exaggerate and be rude.
        just take a min and take a look at those game legacys. Warcraft, Starcraft , Counter-Strike. those games were designed and balanced for highest level of play and dedication. you wanna make it into the hall of games. you focus on what makes the game good and not what makes casual players enjoy the multiplayer 2 hours more than they would spend. common misconception. You can’t create competitive multiplayer experience that holds the casuals. key to long-term casual player? Player versus Environment.

        Yes i have no idea who you are. but i read your sweet talk you call “impressions”. cant take those ball-less reviews quite serious, cant blame you though gl in the future

        • CruelLEGACEY says:

          You are so wrong, it’s hilarious. If you’d ever actually spent time talking with developers (as I do frequently) you would know that rude, disrespectful comments are ignored. If you aren’t even capable of expressing yourself intelligently, then your opinion isn’t worth listening to.
          Do yourself a favor: learn to communicate clearly, intelligently, and respectfully. It’s fine to tell someone you don’t like something. Developers love constructive criticism. But right now, you’re nothing but a raging troll who will be ignored.

          “You sound casual” <- How? What did I say that made me sound "casual".

          "Ball-less reviews" <- What review? This is a preview, and I genuinely love what I played. For your information, I wrote a full review of Conviction, and pretty much trashed it. I'm no fan boy. I write my opinions honestly.

          You need to think about what you say a bit more, because right now you're coming off as someone who has no idea what they are talking about.

        • Weird_Stealth says:

          Dude, you are wrong on so many accounts.
          Being rude doesn’t get you anywhere, hell I’ve watched a displeased customer at wendy’s get turned away just because he was being very rude, and insulting. I’ve seen developers listen to feedback of all kinds, but never feedback that was nothing but rude and insulting.

          Tell me, ever heard of the phrase “Treat others how you wish to be treated”? Do you enjoy going to work, and having people stand over you and be ass holes, say rude and insulting things to you and about your work? I don’t even think any place of work has that. By no means am I saying you should only say nice things about the work, or only comment on the good, but down right bashing doesn’t fix anything. You want to know why things don’t get fixed and cause you to stop being nice? It’s because people who insist the only way to get heard is to become assholes, and bash. That is what causes people to be ignored.

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