We recently had a chance to put our hands on the latest entry in the Tom Clancy: Splinter Cell series developed by Ubisoft’s new Toronto studio. Splinter Cell: Blacklist is about a group of rogue nations that mastermind what they call the “Blacklist”. The Blacklist is a series of escalating attacks on U.S. interests. They have one demand to the President; get U.S. soldiers out of their countries or they will bring war to America. The President has no intention of dealing or negotiating with terrorists and wants Sam to deal with the situation. Sam willingly accepts the President’s task on the condition that he gets to lead the team at Third Echelon. You are now tasked as Sam to run the operation instead being an agent at the mercy of the previous commanding officers as in previous Splinter Cell titles.
We’ll get to see Sam how you remember him best, back in his tactical suit, which if you remember Sam didn’t use in SC: Conviction as he was no longer affiliated with Third Echelon. We’ll get to see him takedown the Blacklist but we’ll also get to see him build his team and learn to trust people. We’ll see the return of some people from Sam’s past like Anna “Grimm” Grimsdottir and Andrij Kobin as well as some new faces like ex CIA operative Isaac Briggs and hacker Charlie Cole.
The team in Toronto has worked hard to make the new Sam Fisher a character that is always in motion and always one step ahead of his enemies. One of their pet peeves from Splinter Cell: Conviction was that at times during the game Sam felt very static so they’ve incorporated new types of executions and takedowns to keep Sam’s actions flowing. Working closely with the animation director they’ve been able to make Sam more fluid and agile. The new Sam Fisher doesn’t need to look at the enemy to perform a takedown as his body has muscle memory and as he’s taking down one target he’s already figuring out how to dispose of the next.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist is set up for three types of players. The classic ghost player; he’s the guy who doesn’t want to be detected, doesn’t want to be seen; just lethal. There’s the assault player; the guy who’s all about action, wants to kick down doors; wants to use breaching charges, throw the occasional frag grenade and shoot two handed weapons. The third style of player is the panther player. He likes to be lethal but likes to do it all from the shadows.
A new economy system has been added. The points you earn after completing each mission will allow you to buy additional upgrades and gadgets. For example if you like to play in that classic stealth style you’ll be able to redeem your earned points for items that cater to that play style. When you return to Third Echelon; a huge cargo plane named The Paladin; you can redeem your points to upgrade it as well. Doing so allows for items like increased range radar and access to higher tiered weapons during missions. Also while aboard The Paladin you have the ability to walk around and interact with your team members that are assisting you from both inside the plane and on the ground.
On The Paladin you’ll be using this large table called the SMI (Strategic Mission Interface) to send and receive intel and get an overview of the map for Blacklist locations. Sam now has a far more robust loadout system, including ‘savable’ loadouts that include far more gun perks (purchasable with the in-game currency), different outfit arrangements that can be pieced together to provide different buffs and even five different types of goggles that can be equipped, each with their own distinctive vision modes. You’ll be able to select from the campaign, co-op and adversarial missions at any given time. The developer also expressed interest in shipping the game with no discernable main menu system. They want you to be able to jump in and out of any of the types of gameplay right from the SMI. You’ll also be able to see where your friends are in game and be able to jump into their game to assist in eliminating enemies.
A video plays setting the tone for the journey that Sam is about to embark on. The video is the manifesto of the bad guys who call themselves the Engineers and it was uploaded to the web after their first Blacklist attack to make their demands known to the world. The video consists of cut together news clips of what look to be war torn locations. A digitized voice narrates of how our troops are in numerous countries around the globe and that if the President does not recall the troop’s home in five days there will be another attack. The video sets the tone for the game and for what we are about to play.
Two complete levels of the PC version were available for us to try our hand at and they were impressive. We got to experience one of the first missions located in Benghazi after the Blacklist has arrived. The objective was to infiltrate an enemy bazaar/safehouse and extract a CIA informant that has surrendered himself. Much of the level takes place on the rooftops and shows off the variety of possibilities to get Sam to his objective. In addition, Briggs is along for the ride providing sniper cover for Sam making the mission a team effort.
The second map we got to play was further into the game and the setup is you’re following up on intel that might lead you to the head of the Engineers. Sam also starts out winding his way through an open series of rooftops. These rooftops are more open and require Sam to travel larger open spaces which means we need to move slower, taking more time to mark our targets all while avoiding snipers in higher positions. This level also introduced one of Sam’s new gadgets called the Trirotor. The Trirotor is a remote controlled drone that you can use to scout out enemy positions and get a general feel of areas that you can’t see well enough using just your goggles. It also has additional functionality that allows you to take out enemies with a taser-like stun. The mission was set in London at night, in the rain showing off the contrasts between day and night stealth based gameplay.
Some of the innovations that SC: Conviction brought with it, such as mark and execute, auto-run to cover and customizable weapons made the cut here and have been improved upon. Enemies still work from that Last Known Position silhouette and will search For Sam in the last place they saw him. This gives players the option to sneak on through and avoid conflict or double back and take enemies down. It’s a mix of a bit of the old with a ton of the new and that makes this version of Splinter Cell look like a solid next chapter of the series.
One thing for sure is that Sam Fisher is back. He’s got the goggles, the tactical suit and the attitude to do whatever it takes to get the job done! Splinter Cell: Blacklist will be available for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC on August 20th, 2013.