Of all of Tom Clancy’s electronic children, Splinter Cell is arguably the most grown up. Telling the story of super spy Sam Fisher, Splinter Cell’s six games have combined high intensity stealth gameplay, with gripping geopolitical thrillers, and a touch of character drama to boot. The success of the original trilogy of games has allowed Ubisoft to take some somewhat questionable risks with the later sequels. Double Agent stuck with the stealth gameplay, but introduced a new hub world and a pseudo-morality system. Conviction deviated from the stealth in favor of a more action oriented gameplay system. Due to this, Blacklist finds itself in the odd position of trying to improve new features, while making the game seem more like the older entries. The results are interesting to say the least.
The story picks up an indeterminate number of years after Conviction with a somehow younger looking Sam and friend Victor working for a PMC. They happen to be at a Military Base at Guam, (weird since they were on the run from the CIA at the end of Conviction), when a mysterious terrorist group called Blacklist attacks the base. Vic is seriously injured and Sam, for some reason, is tasked by the President to prevent Blacklist from carrying out weekly attacks on the homeland. Sam, old hand Grímsdóttir, and new guys Briggs and Charlie form Fourth Echelon in a giant plane (no seriously) to take down the enigmatic organization. If you couldn’t tell, the story isn’t much to write home about, and towards the end it trades coherence for excitement. Nothing about the narrative is bad per say, it’s just very bland.
Luckily the gameplay is anything but boring. The new features in Conviction definitely sped up the pace of the series, but the stealth aspect went completely to hell. Blacklist fixes this by making pure stealth an option again, while still allowing you to use the “Mark & Execute” multiple takedown ability from Conviction. The number of equipment options available to Sam this time around has been significantly increased as well. A myriad of customizable armor, weapons, goggles, and gadgets allow players to tackle the large amount of content the game offers. The only issue with the new systems is that it makes Sam a bit too capable, and as a result you can blow through the campaign, side missions, and co-op in less than half a day.
The fairly robust multiplayer will make up for the campaign's relative brevity, but fans of the original "Spies vs. Mercs" will have mixed feelings about the changes Ubisoft has made. The big deal breakers from Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory have been addressed. Asymmetrical gametypes now have a halftime where each team switches sides, fixing the problem where getting people to play as Mercs was impossible. Plus a number of customizations are now available, greatly increasing the number of possible interactions players can see. What fans won't like is the massive simplification of the new gametypes. Spies can kill mercs with a simple melee attack, greatly reducing the tension the series was known for. There's a deathmatch mode for god's sake. All that said, it's still fun in it's own right, and is good for a laugh or two.
This being a late generation game it looks gorgeous, but what AAA game doesn't these days? The light, and shadows look great and enable the stealth gameplay competently. The voice acting is pretty good all things considered, even if the new guy is no Michael Ironside. Fortunately character actor Carlo Rota fills the void with his turn as the new villain.
If Splinter Cell had ended as a trilogy a lot of fans may have been happier given how much of a hash Ubisoft had made of the series with Double Agent and Conviction. Blacklist, however, brings the series back from the brink, and headed in the right direction. The story may not be back up to code, and the multiplayer has been dumbed down, but compared to most AAA games it's Shakespeare. If you were a fan of the original series, this may be the first next gen entry worth checking out.