PAX East 2013: Splinter Cell: Blacklist preview
Sam Fisher and I don’t have a lot in common; as a matter of fact, we don’t have anything in common. He is a well-trained killing machine; I bruise easily. He uses state of the art equipment in hostile situations; I have a hard time connecting my cell phone to Starbucks’ WiFi. He can stealthily take down 10 enemies; I can’t walk to the fridge at night without tripping on something. Like I said, we are nothing alike. But in 2002, Ubisoft put me in the night vision goggles of Mr. Fisher, and my life was never the same. 11 years later, I’m ready to once again, strap on those goggles and help Sam Fisher save the world in Splinter Cell: Blacklist.
In case you don’t know anything about Splinter Cell: Blacklist, it’s takes place following the events of Conviction. Sam Fisher is appointed head of Fourth Echelon by the President of the United States -- a mobile group of operatives carrying out missions assigned to them by the President. A group of terrorists initiate a terror ultimatum called “Blacklist,” a deadly countdown of escalating terrorist attacks against US interests. As you’ve probably guessed, it’s Sam’s job to stop these terrorists.
At PAX East in Boston -- where it is far too cold and snowy to play baseball games in a few weeks -- we were able to see a live demo from Sam Fisher’s latest adventure, courtesy of Ubisoft Toronto. The live demo was Ubisoft’s ‘night demo’ for Blacklist (before 2pm they were showing a demo of a daytime level). The demo started out aboard The Paladin, the flying base of the Fourth Echelon that acts as a hub. Aboard The Paladin, you talk to characters and initiate missions, among other things. For instance, conversing with another agent can set a story mission in motion, unlock co-op missions or prompt you to upgrade The Paladin. Oh yes, upgrading your plane is a thing. Upgrading The Paladin rewards you with things to help you in-game, such as a hud minimap or new weapons.
The map aboard the Paladin acts as the game’s menu. From there, you will see a map that has all of your campaign and co-op missions available to you, as well as the competitive multiplayer mode “Spy vs. Mercs.” The great things is that Blacklist has persistent currency across all modes. Any upgrades you make in your single-player campaign will carry over to multiplayer, and vice versa.
Upon choosing a mission, a 24-esque cutscene sequence took place, outlying the details of the mission. The music made for a very tense scene. After it gets presented to you, you have the option of playing the missions or backing out to move around The Paladin and do as you please. We didn’t have all day, so the Ubisoft employee went ahead with the mission, choosing from three difficulty settings -- normal, realistic and perfectionist. If you like your Splinter Cell really hard, perfectionist is the way to go. We’re talking one shot, one kill, really hard, must-play-in-stealth difficulty. For the demo’s sake, he played in normal. Also, before the mission, you can customize Sam Fisher’s equipment. Not only does this change the weapons and items available to you, but it affects three attributes -- armor, stealth and kit -- as well as your proficiencies with certain weapons or melee.
Once the mission started, Sam had to make his way through the rooftops of an enemy hideout during a dark rainy night. The person playing chose to not kill anyone and play strictly as stealthy as he could -- which was fine by me. It really showed off how patient you need to be when playing in stealth. As much fun as it is watching Sam be a tactical killing machine, there’s something equally rewarding about watching him sneak past a ton of enemies. Sticking to the shadows primarily, Ubisoft stressed how important that is to stealth gameplay -- as if we didn’t know. That said, the shadows and lighting effects were absolutely outstanding. The effects and visuals have a cinematic quality to them that is not often found among games. What I’m trying to say is, the game looks really pretty. Little touches, like the animation of how Sam Fisher slides behind cover, having to shift his weight in order to stop, or the gun on his back moving slightly as he walks, really make a world of difference. Also, all of the lighting in the game is dynamic and can be manipulated. So you could play mind games and turn them off from afar, close up, or a ton of lights all at once with a well-placed EMP.
Eventually, we reached a part in the demo where Sam found a nice, little safe spot and deployed a drone, which can be upgraded during the game. The drone can also be spotted by enemies, so stealth gameplay is a must, but luckily it can fly above the heads of enemies. He promptly took out a few enemies to clear a path. Throughout the demo, it was stressed that playing tactically and planning will be keys to success. In order to let you plan the way you want to proceed, Blacklist’slevels are a lot more sandbox than any other Splinter Cell game. There’s multiple ways in and out of every situation, as well as multiple ways of disposing of your enemies.
Before we knew it, the demo was over -- not the mission... the demo. That’s right, I was hooked and they weren’t even going to show me the results of what the stealthy effort yielded. Ubisoft really knows how to tease. Splinter Cell: Blacklist is the most ambitious Splinter Cell title to-date, and you can tell that it’s being treated with a ton of love and care. The gameplay looks like it has a lot of freedom, while also capturing the core feeling of the stealthy Splinter Cell roots. Now if they’d only let me get my hands on the controller...
Splinter Cell: Blacklist releases on August 20, 2013 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.