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Splinter Cell: Blacklist Review

Excellent Game

Splinter Cell Blacklist Review

Splinter Cell has finally “come back.” That’s my short teaser for the theme of this review and many others reviews out there for that matter.

This game brings the best aspects of Splinter Cell Conviction and previous pre Double Agent Splinter Cell games and merges those aspects together in a new and extremely satisfying whole.

What Blacklist does it does very well. It feels like Splinter Cell taken to the next level in a lot of ways and I’m pleased enough with it that it will very likely be somewhere on or near my Game of the Year shortlist before the year is out.

http://www.ign.com/articles/2013/09/04/the-rise-of-ubisoft-toronto-how-a-new-team-nailed-its-aaa-debut

I have to give full credit and thanks to IGN for this behind the scenes story about Ubisoft Toronto. Talk about knocking it out of the park! I hope you fellas enjoy being rock stars because you’ve all earned it! You all have my vote for holding the Splinter Cell torch from here on out.

Splinter Cell Blacklist Screenshot 01

GRAPHICS:

I’m shocked that this game is still essentially an Unreal 2.5 engine game after all this time when we’re up to Unreal 4.0. It’s amazing how much life they’ve been able to crank and get out of this engine.

Conviction had a drab and monochrome look to it that was downright dreary and depressing at times. Mercifully this has been rectified without going to the absurd opposite extreme. Gorgeous attention to detail and textures abound. Awesome lighting effects. If your PC has the hardware to run this thing with the eye candy maxed out you will never confuse this for the console versions. Character animations have a more organic and realistic look to them thanks to the motion effect used. Computer screens can be clearly read in levels, moisture shines and gleams off of pipes

DX9 or for the first time in the series DX11 support and yes DX11 is worthwhile here thanks to a new tessellation technique called “phong” and the other DX11 bells and whistles you expect to see including HBAO+, SSAO, FXAA, TXAA, and MSAA.

The world’s physics are much appreciated and I appreciate the attention to detail that clearly has been shown in all aspects of this game.

Comprehensive graphics and control options are available in the menus with all the options PC gamers want to see.

It ran perfectly at the highest settings on an Intel qx9650 Ocd to 3.5 GHZ, 8GB of RAM PC8500, and GTX 680 at 1920×1200.

For a further in depth break down of graphics performance please click here.

The bottom line here is: This game will give your hardware a very nice work out including some of the higher end systems. My GTX 680 actually had to crank its fan up several times at 1920×1200 with everything maxed out. I haven’t had a game before this one that took my 680 for that hard of a sprint.

Splinter Cell Blacklist Screenshot 02

AUDIO:

Let’s get it over with. Micheal Ironside is gone as the voice of Sam Fisher. It’s noticeable. He’s missed. Any voice actor following his footsteps was going to have huge shoes to fill. The good news is: The game does everything else so well that it took me about 5-10 minutes to get over it, tops.

The new voice actor Eric Johnson is competent enough and I’d say my only complaint of sorts is that he sounds a little too young. What would have been worse is if he or another voice actor had tried to “pretend to be Ironside.” That could have been painful. As it stands I can suspend disbelief a little bit and figure Sam got seriously refreshed after the events of Conviction. It just isn’t the end of the world. The rest of the voice acting is well done and in most case I believe the motion capture actors did the character voices. This affords an impressive and organic synergy for the characters in the game. Grim, Victor, and Kobin return from previous games and Briggs and Charlie are the new regular characters added. Each character gets a moment to shine in the game and there is realistic tensions between all of them throughout the story. It’s an all new voice acting cast save for Elias Toufexis as Kobin and Howard Siegel as Victor. Elias’s voice is hard for me to forget since he got the plum spot as Adam Jensen, the lead character in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a fantastic game that’s overdue to get its sequel by the way.

Special mention has to be given to Carlos Rota, a favorite of mine. Go on IMDB and jog your memory. He gets the nod as the lead villain in this and did his own motion capture and voice. He’s fantastic in anything he’s ever been in and this is no exception.

I’m happy that a fairly generous amount of voice actors were brought in to bring variety to villains and other NPCs in the game even specific to nationalities and geography. It’s all logical and make sense. I wish more games would take a cue from this one to avoid “clone-itis.” Skyrim anyone?

The guns sound excellent and varied as you would hope given the wide variety of firearms in the game.

The sound design is superb, sublime, and important to not short change. Direction audio is critical for survival in this game. I can’t recommend good speakers or headphones enough. I feel like the music took a step backwards in this game vs Conviction and especially Double Agent and Chaos Theory. It’s ambient but utterly forgettable and that’s a shame. Good music can be another character in a medium like this and put an already excellent product like this over the top.

Splinter Cell Blacklist Screenshot 04

GAMEPLAY:

Tight, sublime, balanced, and satisfying all summed up.

Players are awarded for playing in their preferred style and there are always multiple ways to solve problems and take down bad guys to achieve objective. Run and gun is still not a wise way to approach things but if you have to do it you can. I much preferred being as silent and deadly as I could. I enjoyed being in situations where I’d lure an enemy with a quiet taunt and dispatch them however I saw fit.

I appreciated that the choice between lethal and non-lethal approaches was always available and the non-lethal approaches aren’t afterthoughts, either, as they can be in many other games.

I found that the default key layout left me a little confused so I remapped the keys as close as I could to Conviction’s lay out and I was off to the races. Keyboard and mouse work great here as does the controller.

You are given a treasure trove of great weapons and gadgets to use and upgrade with money you earn through the course of both single and multiplayer situations. You are even able to upgrade your flying headquarters, Paladin.

I liked Conviction for what it was but as a long time Splinter Cell fan I, too, was disappointed with the all but complete abandonment of worthwhile stealth in that game. This game restores much needed balance and I agree with others who state this is easily the best game in the series since Chaos Theory. That’s a bold claim since CT is generally considered the best in the series.

Freedom and variety. These are two major aspects of gameplay that were missing in Conviction and have returned gloriously in this game. It’s so fun and satisfying to have so many different tools and approaches to have a plan and execute it. It really feels like Splinter Cell has finally fully returned and went to the next level.

One more essential component: Stealth. Blacklist restores it in spades. Blacklist does stealth as well as I’ve seen in a game at least since Chaos Theory.

In Conviction the mark target and execute feature was fun to use but made things too easy in a game where stealth was already an afterthought. This gameplay feature has returned here but given how much more effective the stealth elements are it’s not an easy cheat button by any means.

The enemy AI is very respectable especially after higher difficulties. They change tactics on you and you don’t see a repetition of the same patterns repeatedly. They come with tricks of their own including drones and dogs. Wait until you get into a situation where you have several of those coming at you at the same time.

Splinter Cell Blacklist Screenshot 04

Another disappointment with Conviction was the lack of dimension to many of the levels or scenarios. This, too, has been addressed in Blacklist in spades. The level design is meticulous, well designed, and well thought out. Exploration and experimentation are encouraged. You can go high. You can go low. You can go under ground. You can jump out of windows. There are air ducts to crawl through or jump down on unsuspecting enemies as well as pipes all over the place to do the same or attempt to crawl across unnoticed.

The game rewards you for anything you do successfully including exploration! Technically this game isn’t a sandbox game like a Grand Theft Auto but I agree with the IGN reviewer that stated that this comes close to being like a stealth sandbox game because there’s so much you can do and so many different ways to do it in these gorgeous and detailed levels.

Another tip of the hat to Chaos Theory is the return of a scoring system that shows up at the end of each mission. It tracks everything you do and how you do it and doles out the rewards according to the following categories: Ghost (non-lethal stealth), Panther (lethal stealth), or Assault (loud and lethal).

Each of these play styles comes loaded with their own achievements and trophies so there’s always incentive to replay and try things differently than you did before. The game encourages experimenting.

These choices are reflected in gear customization and weapons choices as well.

Your flying headquarters, Paladin, takes a cue from the Mass Effect series’ Normandy although not quite as fully realized. The game’s menus, maps, everything you do is all incorporated in a smooth and intuitive interface in and out of this headquarters. You can even upgrade aspects of Paladin which helps you with overall mission support and recon.

A couple of bizarre decisions were made in another wise well planed and meticulously designed game:

A few Call of Duty-esque drone missions show up and completely disrupt the flow of the game in a jarring fashion but they’re fairly brief and thankfully infrequent. There’s also a brief first person segment you play through that’s extremely limited and bland. IMHO all of these sequences could have been cut out of the game and it would have been no loss.

There are a number of co-op optional missions that incorporate into the single player campaign and then the much welcome return of Spies vs Mercs! Spies play in third person view and Mercs play in first person view. The Pandora Tomorrow 2×2 classic version returns and in addition a new 4×4 version has been created for Blacklist that adds customizable loadouts. Simply put: This is a much needed injection of fresh air into multiplayer gaming and guarantees a very long shelf life for this game.

STORY:

Excellent continuity through the series in terms of plot lines and re-occurring characters. I found this storyline to be on par with the best of 24 and the best of Splinter Cell. It was a believable threat with a “ring of truth” to it on a number of levels. Character interactions were well done and each character is given moments to shine and contribute with realistic tensions between them all throughout. I had plenty of moments during the single player campaign where I was holding my breath, feeling the tension, and then “I’ll just play one more mission before I shut it off.” Famous last words!

At the end of it all I found myself feeling extremely confident and pleased about the overall status of the Splinter Cell series and the prospects for its future. If they simply keep this balanced they have and keep the ball rolling at high quality then the sky is the limit.

Splinter Cell Blacklist Screenshot 05

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Ubisoft has a mixed reputation in the PC gaming community. They’ve earned some wrath from PC gamers in the past for sloppy console ports and excessive DRM to say the least. In the last year or so that has gradually changed at least IMHO and I dare say this title is something even the most ardent of Ubisoft haters would have a hard time really finding serious faults with. Yes, you’ll have to install Uplay. Yes, I wish they’d dump it or at least not bother with it if you buy the game over a service like Steam. Get over it. The game is worth it. Put Uplay in offline mode if it gives you any issues and you’ll never have a problem again.

I’m writing this before the big 800 lb. Gorilla named Grand Theft Auto 5 hits the streets. Easy odds has it as a lock for Game of the Year in most circles although we do have plenty of other excellent games across the genres and platforms to look forward to as well. I certainly can’t imagine a better stealth based game coming out for at least the rest of this year. In some ways this game even brings a more satisfying Hitman like experience than Absolution did.

Simply put: This is the best stealth game and best Splinter Cell game I’ve played since almighty Chaos Theory and it might be as good or even better. This is a fantastic game that fans of the genre and series shouldn’t miss. It’s good enough and has enough going for it that I think it will create new fans for the series and stealth genre as a whole.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist gets a five out of five: EXCELLENT.

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1 Comment on Splinter Cell: Blacklist Review

  1. Wow. Sounds really good. Going to snag this one before the month is over. I wanted to finish up a couple other games first, but this really sounds like what I wanted SC to be like right now. Great review. I’m even more excited now.

    Like

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