Sunday, 25 August 2013

Splinter Cell: Blacklist - Final Round Review

Splinter Cell: Blacklist has the kind of story you would expect to see in an episode of 24, which is to say if you have seen an episode of 24 than there is nothing new here.  America has been attacked by a terrorist group, and it’s up to Sam Fisher to stop any further attacks from occurring on American soil.  It’s as cliché as it sounds, and only made worse with too many lucky breaks and just in-the-nick-of-time moments that drain the story of any suspense and tension.  Some moments will leave you scratching your head, things that are meant to make Sam Fisher look tough come across as cheesy and, in some situations, downright impossible.  I understand the concept of suspension of disbelief, but when the main character breaths in nerve gas and somehow not only survives but manages to make it through an interrogation and skirmish with groups of trained mercenaries, it begins to border fantasy.  It feels like the developers really wants us to idolise Sam Fisher as a badass hero, yet it comes across forced and in the end makes him look like a bit of a D-bag.

Sam Fisher originally had a Liam Neeson type persona that I absolutely loved, nothing is more intimidating then a man who knows how to kill you with his bare hands but is reserved enough not to give you an example.  His personality made a major change during Conviction, becoming more violent, but the story gave his emotion context and a reason; in Blacklist the aggressive Sam Fisher makes a return, this time he is not a spy out for revenge but rather is just doing his job.  The fact that his long-time friend is severely hurt at the beginning of the game is an incredibly flimsy plot point that gives no reason for the alteration from silent assassin to angry brute.  The new voice actor does a decent job as Sam, even if he does sound bored, and he will hopefully get another chance at being more like the original.

Splinter Cell is a third-person stealth/action game, where you are tasked to get into locations undetected and grab your Intel or hostage and get out again, or at least that is what is meant to happen.  What the gameplay really boils down to is pick a path; either A the action path, or B the stealth patch, and the easiest path will always land you in the stealth section.  The stealth paths are so overly simplistic it offers no real challenge though, and you can virtual walk through the entire level without really needing to stop, save for a ledge or two.  Most enemies seem content to look the other way.  Even on the harder difficulties they, more often than not, walk past you without a glance.  When you do spark there gaze and begin to attack, they rarely make an attempts to call in for back up and are happy walking around, calling out to you because that crate you sat behind confused them so much.  Fighting back after getting spotted requires you to grab cover quickly as a few shots puts Sam down fast; thankfully he does come equipped with three weapon slots at his disposal, a pistol, main weapon (SMG, Sniper Rifle, etc.) and a special weapon such as a Crossbow or Taser.  Getting head shots is a must as each enemy takes a fair few hits to go down, and with the wide reticle making your shots inaccurate at any more than a few feet, upgrades are necessary.

All of the weapons in the game can be upgraded and altered to suit your needs and by completing missions you gain money to spend either on upgrades or new weapons.  You can even upgrade individual parts of your suit right down to the gloves and boots.  One of the highlights to Blacklist is its selection of gadgets that you can purchase, my personal favourite being the little drone you can fly around and shock people into unconsciousness with.  Some of the items are a little over powered, and when paired with another gadget they can make the game even easier than it already is.  Thankfully all your upgrades and weapons purchases carry over into co-op missions, giving you and a friend a good reason to play through the large number of missions available, multiple times, even if it’s just for a laugh (seriously try out the drone).

Multiplayer also makes a return; breathing some new life into the Spies vs. Mercs game mode with 8 player death matches, capture points, and unlockables to keep you coming back.  Each side plays differently with the Spies using the third-person Splinter Cell play style, and Mercs donning the heavier FPS style.  Both sides have strengths and weaknesses that you must exploit to win your respective match, and even one on one can be a ton of fun with the tension of kill or be killed building up as the timer ticks down.

My experience with Splinter Cell: Blacklist has been less than stellar, the single player campaign has left a lot to be desired and the overall change to Sam Fisher has left me disappointed.  Co-op and multiplayer have been the highlight to what is otherwise a skipable and subpar entry to the series.  If you are a Splinter Cell fan and looking for a third-person shooter with choppy stealth and not bothered by the story then you will have a blast, but I will be setting my sights on Metal Gear Solid 5 for my stealth/action needs.


 - Will Flynn

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