Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist single-player impressions
By this point in time, a few of you may have cast doubts over the latest Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell game, Blacklist, mainly because of the change in direction for the character. Rather than getting the old, grizzled, Michael Ironside-voiced neck-breaker we've become accustomed to, Blacklist features a younger, spryer edition, one who works alongside an elite team to track down a global terrorist threat.
But does that mean that the series has lost its edge? Hardly. Blacklist retains all the goodness you've come to expect from the Splinter Cell series, especially when it comes to sneaking up on folks and dispatching them however you please. However, there's a twist – if you prefer to be more direct this time around, like in Conviction, you can do so, even though there's a price to pay with additional reinforcements coming into clean you up.
Ubisoft recently gave us the opportunity to go hands-on with the first few levels of the game – and they're quite good, from what we've played thus far.
One of the standout levels – for me, anyway – is in Chicago, where you find yourself pitted against gunmen who have taken hostages in a local facility – and during Christmastime, no less. Sam has to sneak his way into the building through the roof, hanging down from a panel, dispatching a guard (either lethally or knocking him out – the choice is yours and you don't face any severe penalties either way) and climbing down and across pipes, in fine tradition, to avoid detection.
The game really emphasizes using stealth mode in this particular stage, as the "flashback" system returns, showing your last position that guards saw you using a white silhouette. This allows you to sneak up from behind, or set up a vicious assault for whoever might be coming around the corner. You can go sneaky or all-out bonkers – the choice is yours. But if you're a long-time Sam Fisher enthusiast, you'll be all silent but deadly.
There are moments in the game where you have to lay out your plan of attack, such as dispatching terrorists that are closest to hostages, or slowly working your way up a hallway so as not to alert the more heavily armored soldiers that aren't so easily taken down – unless you're good at headshots, that is. Fisher's capabilities remain as sharp as ever, as darkness remains his ally. Anytime you're out of view, your green goggles light up, showing that no one has seen you – yet, anyway.
Sam also has access to a number of high-tech toys, thanks to his buddy at the command center, Charlie. He can use a cool little glider to pick up enemy conversations and survey the area, then let loose knowing where they're positioned in the room. The wire cam also returns, along with a variety of guns and armor types that you can pick and choose from. The less armor you wear, the more vulnerable you are – but you also get to move faster. The option is yours.
Other levels showed just as much detail in their design as the Chicago one. One requires you to find a mark in the middle of a village, torn apart by local police forces that are still roaming in the area. It's startling to see how much of an impact Fisher can make in the outdoor areas, even when it's not pitch black. It's also fun working out a strategy to clear out a room of guards without alerting them to your presence. You just need to make sure the mark is protected.
Another great mission has you infiltrating an outdoor area, first shown last year during the Xbox press conference prior to E3. Here, Fisher has to play the stealth route to not alert any guards to his presence. The opening of this stage is quite good, as you have to quickly snipe any patrollers in the area before they can trip the alarm and ruin your run. It's challenging, but exciting.
What's more, there were some great infiltration tactics on display as you crept underneath the bridge, tagging guards for taking out and setting up infiltration. The tactics are very easy to use – provided you killed someone to activate it, of course – and really help out when you need to clear a room of enemies, even if lethally.
So you can relax. Sam Fisher is still his same old self, even if he looks and acts a bit differently than what you might've been accustomed to. Blacklist has a solid single-player campaign thus far, and those wonderful toys do come in handy when it comes to taking out the trash. We'll see how the game fares overall when it arrives on PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii U on August 20th.