Splinter Cell: Blacklist Preview
The previous Splinter Cell game is somewhat of a guilty pleasure. It’s far more acceptable as a piece of spy-porn because it begins as a highly character-focused narrative about a man grieving for the loss of his daughter, finding her “killers”, realising that the entire time she’s actually been alive and it was a set-up for their own political gain.
It worked on the same level as the film Taken. It might have even been direct inspiration. You had a very particular set of skills and used them in a forthright goal which eventually became more complex and larger as the game continued. It was a raw, stripped down experience of a loan man going against insurmountable odds with total justification.
Here in Blacklist, as head of Fourth Echelon, Sam’s activities are all decided from within a military plane which doubles as the agency’s base of operations. Before every mission you’ve the option of spending thousands of dollars on new trousers or gloves which you can use to buy new equipment that better increases stats in certain areas making you more stealthy or better at shooting things.
You've now too unjustifiable a goal and too much assurance that you’re overly capable of completing it. Sam Fisher has gone from an underdog in the last game using a broken car mirror so he can safely spot danger to a man with massive overspending behind him funding his dog punching habits.
Customisation can be great but here it’s just needlessly complex and convoluted in comparison to the previous game’s logical item progression. Raising your stealth effectiveness bar by two numbers because you’re wearing new shoes just seems silly, especially because it’s impossible to quantify the difference it’s making once you've actually bought something.
But it plays fine. You retain plenty of abilities from the previous game, most importantly the Mark and Execute mode that lets you tag enemy targets and then shoot each of them at once so as not to arouse suspicion. If you are seen you can quickly duck into cover and a ghostly visual representation of where enemies believe you to be will remain in the environment. This can allow you to keep the level's occupants focused in one place while you slip past (and return to punching their dogs in the head).
Played most effectively you sneak around levels trying not to be seen. Remaining in shadows as much as possible, taking advantage of a cover system which is cumbersomely designed, having you enter cover with one button but switching between different points with a different one. It's inelegant enough that we're upset no one thought better and streamlined the process.
Maybe the narrative will eventually take a turn and somehow become justifiable, but from what we've experienced it seems like generic American Ooo-Rah fodder without any kind of introspection. Splinter Cell: Conviction was the pinnacle of the series and Blacklist has thus far been unable to match it, let alone surpass it. There are plenty of other places to spend your money in the coming months and Blacklist may not survive in this Dog Punch Dog world.