Ever since I was a small child, I was a soldier. I traded in Barbie’s pink dream house for fantasies of being a multi-lingual martial arts expert/super spy. I dreamed of working for the CIA and taking out the bad guys like an expert daydreamer. I was Team Seal Six before they became known. Oh yes, I would be taken names and kicking butt. However, over the years I traded those martial arts expertise for donuts, a couch and video games but the dream has never died and thanks to Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist it never will.
America is about to be under attack–I’m talking epic Independence Day, somebody call your momma type of destruction–and the only person who can save them is you…of course. However, there’s a whole bunch of people standing in your way whose main goal in life is to stop your dream of saving the world from coming true, much like people in real life. But you are strong, you are tough, you are a super-solider, you’re not going to let people and their destructive negativity stand in your way; come hell or high water Sam Fisher does not back down from a challenge whether that challenge involves recusing people from CIA safe houses or putting the smackdown on sleeper cells in London. Yes, I said London; this game is international and you don’t even need a passport…remember you don’t exist.
You are Sam Fisher. Yes, the returning leading man is back and it’s up to you to stop the Engineers, a terrorist organization known as the Blacklist. Compared to the other Tom Clancy games, this was like stepping into a sweeping blockbuster espionage movie, this game is more like a thriller at its core; sweeping across the globe as you travel the world in an attempt to uncover the Engineer’s treacherous plans. While you can tackle each and every side mission at whatever pace you desire there is a sense of urgency when it comes to the major mission–the world just needs saving, that’s all. One of the most apparent differences you will discover involves Sam Fisher himself, or more accurately his voice. You can change a lot about a game but one of the most sacred parts of gaming is getting the right voice actor and this was not the Sam Fisher we know and love. It’s jarring, like suddenly hearing the Affleck duck speaking in a light airy tone. It’s a turn off. Sam 2.0 is bland bland bland. Where’s the personality? Where’s the aggression? Did Ubisoft actually think we wouldn’t notice? Well I did and if I ever meet a genie who will grant me three wishes, the original Sam Fisher’s return would be wish number one. With that said I did enjoy the character’s bad ass nature but no credit whatsoever will go to blandy.
As I was busying myself with taking down the bad guys and being the assassin I was meant to be, I couldn’t help feel like I was a part of an IMAX movie. Thanks to the HD Texture Pack that’s included on disk 2, every image had a cinema-scope feel–it was crisp and clear. The graphics were some of the best I have ever seen in gaming. If you hadn’t a clue you was playing a game you would have thought by just watching the cut scenes alone you was watching a thriller. The action sequences are edge of your couch exciting. I found myself engaged in the storyline and actually talking back to the TV screen. Not only are the graphics on point but so are the sounds and the soundtrack. The sound design is perfection. From the thud of someone being smacked in the head with a gun to the humming noise your night vision goggles make when turning on. The background noise is as if it were produced in a Hollywood studio and the soundtrack is the pulse of the game.
I love single player mode (blame it on the fact that I’m an only child) but I truly feel it’s an unappreciated mode. It seems like Ubisoft felt the same way too because they actually put time and effort into this mode. I didn’t feel like the unwanted bastard child who had to sneak its way into the family reunion. Single player mode is treated like an equal, the gameplay is given just the right enough hours that you don’t feel rushed nor do you feel like it’s unending; it’s not repetitive and while there are moments of difficulty, you never feel like anything is impossible. You just have to thoroughly think out each action before you execute it, much like a real solider. One of the most impressive thing about this game is the use of cause and effect. If you use a gas can, the AI’s aren’t going to drop down in an instant, you have to wait for the gas to take effect. Also this is a game about the power of darkness, an AI can’t find you if they can’t see you. The darkness is your light to survival.
I would like to make it very clear that this is not a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, shoot-’em-in-the-head-now-they’re-dead kind of game. The solo campaign gameplay is between 10-20 hours, depending on your level of expertise and, I mustn’t forget, all the side missions. This is special forces, this the best of the best, and you are an elite solider. There are no dogs here because you are a fierce bad ass on your own. You will be given fancy gadgets that I have only seen on the Military Channel and at the Spy Museum. Despite the numerous items, nothing is overwhelming; everything is explained and laid out in simple terms. You will have guns, an entire assortment of guns, but expect to be climbing walls and scaling down buildings or flying across the sky like a Mission Impossible movie. For example, one of your missions is to break into a private estate in South America, and trust me, you will be in awe of the design. You will have to carefully plan out routes, as well as walk, climb, dive, and dip into parts of the building that is not meant for all that action. Assassin’s Creed wishes they had Sam Fisher’s skills.
One of Fisher’s super special skills that you will be praising is the inclusion of stealth in this game. Trust me, you will need plenty of stealth just to make sure you can get through a level. Unlike other shooters that are simple point and shoot, Blacklist forces you to use your environment beyond ducking and diving. Yes, you stab someone in the back but sometimes you need to provide a distraction for your team. So instead of going all Rambo, you focus your attention elsewhere. You experience not only the thrill of the kill but revel in the joys of the chase. Upgrading Fisher’s threads between missions allows you to craft builds based on stealth, to reduce noise while moving, or combat, such as increasing your overall damage threshold.
Gadgets that you purchase with your post mission savings can be upgraded to best benefit your chosen play style as well. Stealthy types will want to upgrade their crossbows with noisemaker and EMP bolts. Need extra cash? Of course you do and don’t worry, there are plenty of optional Dead Drops to collect, laptops to hack and side challenges to complete to raise your funds. No wallet will be left unfunded.
Even though I’m head-over-heels in love with the solo campaign I know you’re probably hoping I’ll get to the good stuff about co-op missions. Don’t worry; this campaign doesn’t disappoint either. Co-op will offer a big heaping bag of goodies. Play with others for spilt screen action or online where you can help Fisher’s fellow Fourth Echelon members with personalized side missions. Even though I’m a fan of solo there is something about working with a team to execute certain actions that you cannot do by yourself. You will find yourself having to communicate with each other before a mission to be more effective. Certain bragging rights come from having to save someone else from an impending doom that is just missing from other games.
If you happen to have Kinect using it will be a delight. For those who like a more interactive experience Kinect enables you to use voice and movements. Two of the best features of Kinect is the ability to use voice commands to lure enemy soldiers over to a mark and launch surprise attacks. The other is voice activated weapons to be at the ready. Then there are certain hands signals you can use to shoot and customize your guns. It’s fun but you’re not missing out if your not a Kinect user.
Overall, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist is the embodiment of the spy/thriller/espionage genre. Despite its length and a multitude of side missions, I never lost my interest and neither did the developers. It is one of the best in the series and the creativity never stopped. This game was bullets of fun. Yes, there are some elements repeated from the previous games in the series that are noticeable but in this day in age, this is to be expected. However, it does avoid the trappings of becoming stale. The gameplay is enrapturing, riveting, and downright gripping. I highly recommend it, both for those who are simply starting out in shooters and those who are life-time experts. There so many different ways to enjoy this game. Trust you will not be failed because I’m sure that isn’t in Fisher’s vocabulary.