Once a leading light in Ubisoft’s line-up, the Splinter Cell series has had a rough time of late. The transition to HD consoles debuted with a touched-up version of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Double Agent. It wouldn’t be until 2010 that the first true HD Splinter Cell would arrive in the form of the underappreciated Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction. ‘Underappreciated’ as the verdict was unanimous in saying that Splinter Cell: Conviction was a wonderful, innovative stealth-action videogame. But in the years that have passed public opinion has rallied against it. Back in 2013, it was against this barrier that Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist had to battle. A wall made not of passionate hate but rather indifference born of spite.
10 years ago today, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist tried to change the game again. It brought back old rules and applied them to a more modern design. For the most part it was successful in doing so. But given that Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction’s footprint is still there to be seen on occasion you can’t help but wonder how naturally immersive that template would have become given the freedom to evolve directly. Instead Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a more demanding stealth experience that often demonstrates how threadbare the genre’s mechanics had become. Often, you might feel that you are being chastised not by interpretation of realism, but because the rules say you should be.
Revisiting Splinter Cell: Blacklist 10 Years On
Splinter Cell: Blacklist casts you in the role of Sam Fisher again. This time back on the side of the US government. As commander of the Fourth Echelon, your mission is to stop terrorists from executing the Blacklist; a series of devastating acts of violence that will occur every seven days until the US calls back all it’s troops from international tours of duty.
Furthermore, your buddy gets injured in the opening chapter, so it’s personal. But then, when isn’t it? Splinter Cell: Blacklist is the stuff Holiday dreams are made of. Faux clever but making a dash for the action at every opportunity. All explosions and evil doers. The game does not aid the impression of videogames as blood hungry murder simulators.
In-game of course, the action are considerably more calculated. As with Splinter Cell: Conviction, players are encouraged to stick in the shadows by moving through waist-high cover. The system works in the same fashion and always gives players a good indication of where there’ll end up. And a reasonable impression of their chances of making it without being detected. The Mark & Execute system makes a welcome return as does last known position. In terms of action mechanics, Splinter Cell: Blacklist owes a lot to Splinter Cell: Conviction.
Elsewhere Splinter Cell: Blacklist isn’t quite so successful. The definition of in- or out- cover is not quite as reliable as implied. Nor is aiming’s visual depiction of chance to hit. You may as well ignore the blindfire option altogether with pistols. The constant confusion between gadgetry and the above ruleset gives the impression of a videogame that on the one hand wants you to experiment, and on the other chastises you for doing so. It’s a harsh line to tow and one that certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste.
Sam 1, Sam 2, Sam 3…
Things become significantly more open in multiplayer, where the game becomes less about using systems and mechanics and more about getting the jump on your opponent(s). It’s an FPS experience through-and-through, completely at odds with the expected Splinter Cell gameplay. Yet it works thanks to its immediacy. Spies vs. Mercenaries alone is never going to steal you away from your preferred Halo or any of the numerous Call of Duty online components, but it does provide a welcome additional reason for revisiting the game.
The production values of Splinter Cell: Blacklist are remarkably high. The game constantly injects fresh and believable characters thanks to fantastic animation, skin textures and voice acting. The environments are littered with detail and incidental animation and the enemies are predictable via their movement, not by their routines. On the surface this is most certainly the best presentation a Splinter Cell videogame has ever benefited from, it’s just a shame that the rest of the experience doesn’t follow suit.
Despite its flaws Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist remains an enjoyable videogame experience, even a decade on. Its stealth-action gameplay is in relatively short supply and so those longing for the challenge have little else to turn to, but it’s always going to play second fiddle to Splinter Cell: Conviction. Back in 2103, both the series and the genre needed a shake up. Splinter Cell: Blacklist was offered as entertaining, but very far from progressive. As the last bloodline Splinter Cell game released, you can but wonder whether Ubisoft saw this as the death knell for the series.