Splinter Cell Blacklist preview: re-conviction
by Andrew Yoon, shacknews.com, Jan 30, 2013 9:00AM PST
Splinter Cell Conviction proved to be quite divisive, introducing faster, more action-packed gameplay into the long-running stealth franchise. While critics and newcomers largely enjoyed the redefined Sam Fisher, many longtime fans lamented the franchise's new direction.
Three years later, the newly-formed Ubisoft Toronto is taking the reins with Splinter Cell Blacklist. Although this sequel comes from a brand new team, it plays close to the formula established by Conviction. As before, you'll be able to run, mark, and execute your way through the game--but Blacklist also attempts to return to the series' roots.
Blacklist has been designed around three different play styles. Conviction established what the team calls the "Panther" style, where players strike from the shadows. This is a lethal playthrough, one where they use stealth to take out enemies silently, in the quickest way possible. If Batman were bloodthirsty, this is probably how he'd play.
Conviction players will find themselves jumping into Blacklist quickly. It won't be long before you're doing corner take-downs, and mark-and-executing targets. However, the combat has been upgraded to be more fluid. Sam can now perform take-downs while moving, like after sliding down a zipline on top of an enemy. You can also mark and execute while moving. At the end of each level, you'll be graded on your performance, and awarded points based on how much of a "Panther" you are.
However, the game is also grading you on two other play styles as well. You can earn "Assault" points if you take enemies head-on and simply run-and-gun your way through the level. While I personally don't see that as a very fun way of playing, the option is certainly there. And, with the refined aiming controls, it becomes far easier to play that way, should you wish. The "correct" way of playing, as many longtime fans would argue, is to become a "Ghost," by remaining undetected and waiting for the best opportunity to move through the shadows.
I saw many opportunities to vary my play style through the two levels Ubisoft previewed. For example, as I was climbing up a building, I could deal with a sniper in two ways: grab him and throw him off the ledge, or sneak around him and avoid his line of sight for the rest of the level. In another section, I saw a key target getting interrogated. I could simply kill the captors, but I chose to throw a smoke grenade in the room and silently (and non-lethally) take the two guards out. In an escort segment, I could mark and execute the assassins getting in my way, or navigate a path to the exit without confrontation.
At the end of each level, you'll earn rewards based on your play style. The in-game money you earn can then be used to customize Sam to best suit your needs. You'll be able to save multiple loadouts for Sam, so you can choose before each mission how silent you want to be. For example, Ghost players will probably want to upgrade the Paladin to unlock better radars. With enough credits, you'll be able to see not only where enemies are, but what direction they're facing. Assault players will probably want to upgrade their weapons; Panthers will probably want to upgrade their gadgets.
Not only does the in-game economy enable players to customize their Splinter Cell experience, it also encourages replayability. Perhaps you want to try a no-kill run, now that you've purchased better equipment. Or maybe you'll want to challenge yourself to a harder difficulty, but with better gear. Each mission can be replayed at any given time through the Strategic Mission Interface (SMI)--a map of the world that looks similar to what you'd see in a military CIC. Here, you'll see not only any active single-player missions, but also various online missions as well. If your friend is playing a co-op mission and there's room on the server, you'll be able to enter that game as if it's another single-player mission. Should it work as Ubisoft envisions, it will certainly be an elegant way of combining single and multiplayer gameplay experiences.
While Blacklist largely continues the blueprint established by Conviction, I do appreciate Ubisoft Toronto's attempt to sate every type of player. Sam may be far more agile and lethal than ever before, but who will notice if you stay hidden in the shadows?
Splinter Cell Blacklist will be available on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 on August 20.