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Review: Splinter Cell: Blacklist is an espionage game best played with a bang, not a whisper

Alex Rubens | Aug. 23, 2013
Splinter Cell: Blacklist might change things up a bit from what made classic Sam Fisher so great, but that doesn't stop it from being an exceptionally fun action game.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist doesn't waste any time. Immediately overwhelmed by enemies, you have to find a way to take them out—or not—and make you way to the objective without running afoul of enemy patrols. It's stealth at its finest, though Blacklist pushes the barrier of just how violent and confrontational a Splinter Cell game can become before it no longer bears any resemblance to a stealth action game.

That isn't to say Blacklist punishes you for playing stealthy—quite the opposite, actually—but there's a notable shift in how Sam Fisher is portrayed in Blacklist as opposed to previous Splinter Cell games. You can still sneak through missions using nothing but your wits and non-lethal takedowns, but you are constantly placed into situations where it's impractical and nearly impossible to do anything but shoot your way out.

Get ready to go loud
Sure, you can still distract guards by whistling or using sticky cam gadgets, but the challenges you face as Fisher are often difficult to surpass with a stealthy playstyle. Despite this shift in tone, Blacklist stays true to Splinter Cell's legacy of vulnerable protagonists. Sam Fisher can't take much punishment so if you get spotted, you better move or do something quickly before the enemy raises the alarm—once you get detected, you're as good as dead.

Even on the lowest difficulty (which I was extremely tempted to drop to on more than one occasion) it only takes a few shots in you to put you down, and there's no reviving like there is when you're playing cooperatively with friends. It's almost as if the developers couldn't decide whether to portray Fisher as a superhuman action hero or a vulnerable stealth operative, settling on an uneasy mix that's most easily played as a straightforward killing machine.

That isn't necessarily a bad thing, as Splinter Cell functions perfectly well as a standard action game. The plot follows a typical action movie formula almost perfectly, but manages to include enough surprises to keep things fresh. I didn't anticipate a few of the plot twists, which is always a nice feeling in a video game.

I also didn't anticipate Blacklist's loose mission structure. Past titles, especially Conviction, have been quite linear. When Blacklist opens up only 30 minutes in, offering you multiple mission varieties—solo, co-op, competitive—without shattering the illusion of narrative urgency, I was hooked.

That's something that Blacklist constantly excels at: keeping you in the moment with a thrilling espionage narrative while also allowing you to venture off and do your spy thing elsewhere, perhaps with a friend.

Unfortunately, that's all there really is outside of missions. If you play all the way through the main story without touching a co-op mission along the way, they feel meaningless and disjointed when you try to go back to them. So while these co-op missions are excellent, they would have been much more compelling if they had been incorporated more clearly into Blacklist's plot.

 

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