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Splinter Cell: Blacklist

By Bobfish11-09-2013
MrJenssen (editor)
BloodyFanGirl (editor)
Splinter Cell: Blacklist

The Defence

Ubisoft Toronto
Action, Shooter
Release Date:
US 20-08-2013
EU 23-07-2013

The Prosecution

Intel Core 2 Quad 2.6 GHz
AMD Phenom II X4 3.0 GHz
Nvidia GeForce GTX 460
AMD equivalent
4 GB
25 GB
9.0c, 10, 11

The Case

Let me say this right off the bat - I hate this game. It's rare for me to say such a statement, but there you have it. I’m a long-time fan of the Splinter Cell series, so much so that I even kinda liked Conviction. So then, you must be asking, why am I so quick to decry Blacklist? Is it pining for Michael Ironside? Lend me your ear a moment and allow me to explain.

The Trial

The first thing to bear in mind is that Blacklist is not actually a bad game. It’s quite the opposite; it has a lot going for it, and even more unrealised potential. I followed its development with a very critical eye during the latter stages of its pre-release hype, consistently growing more confident that, at least to some degree, the franchise would not be streamlined to the extent of being wholly unrecognisable - dumbed down, as they say, for the sake of commercial success. Now here's the really weird thing - I was bang on the money.

Well this doesn't look awkward at all.

Well this doesn't look awkward at all.

The gameplay does strike an extremely strong, nigh perfect balance between the older, more sedate sneak and hide style that typified the series from the outset and the ADD fuelled, shoot everything in the face with chainsaws dipped in petrol, doused in mud, served in bleach as I want you t... Sorry, went all Kurt Cobain for a moment there. A great balance between old school stealth and the current trend of rapid action. That emphasis on, y'know, stealth in a stealth game. Unlike certain other, unnamed Metal Gear Solid's where the stealth worked about as well as throwing a cat into a beehive but far less humane.

Visually, the game is even better. The environments are absolutely stunning in places and the lighting effects used here are second to none. Shadows look like shadows, instead of being these little patches of darker bits where you're left wondering if you really are hidden and spend all your time staring anxiously at your OpSat hoping you made the right choice. See shadow - hide in shadow. This is something which greatly assists the gameplay as you now know intuitively where you will and will not be seen.

Audio is also top notch, with excellent voice performances too. However the script leaves much to be desired, but we’ll get to that in a moment. The actual delivery is for the most part authentic and fits with the scene.

Shh, I'm incognito.

Shh, I'm incognito.

The first problem we run into though are the set pieces. Despite all the constant assurances that we could play the game however we want, fully sneaky-sneaky, stealthy-stealthy the entire time, it is insultingly apparent which sections were designed with a clear emphasis on 'shoot the shit out of everything', with a begrudging stealth 'option' tacked on afterwards. Frankly, that pissed me off even more. Just pick one and stick with it, I say. Don't half-ass something for the sake of keeping up appearances. That's the running theme here actually; a bunch of incredibly poor design choices which plague the entire game.

But the worst offense, without a shadow of a doubt well beyond anything else that was done wrong, is the complete butchery of the established canon. Splinter Cell has always been a series with a convoluted and a, for many, incomprehensible overarching narrative. But it has always remained internally consistent despite what some claim. It has always remembered where it came from, often making little in-jokes for the long time followers to chuckle at and feel smug for understanding. This is something which Blacklist tries to emulate by mostly referencing events from Conviction, such as the shenanigans around the murder of Sam's daughter, Sarah. Specifically, the man responsible for orchestrating the whole affair makes a return appearance in a much larger role than the prior title. But that is all it retains. A few nods here and there, which are so transparently an obfuscation it made me want to start head butting cats...into beehives. Can anybody tell me how Sam went back to working for the government? Never mind why, when he made it quite clear in both of Conviction's two endings that he had absolutely zero interest in doing so? Because Blacklist never explains it. It's just “hey Sam, here's your new mission” and off you go. But never mind that, why is Sam suddenly twenty years younger? He should be well into his 60s by now. Instead, he can't be a day over forty-five. Yet Sarah is still the same age she was before and a man in his early middle-age with a daughter rapidly approaching thirty...sure it happens, but it doesn't fit. Not at all. Especially not when there are vague references to Sam having been a government employee, doing effectively the same thing as he is now, whilst she was a child.

It's the pelvic thrust that really drives you insa-ya-yane.

It's the pelvic thrust that really drives you insa-ya-yane.

But the worst offense is the ludicrous overhaul of Grim's character. She was always a tough nut, sure, efficient and self-confident. But now she's your carbon cut-out, tough as nails, refuses to be outdone by a man 90’s stereotype. She questions every decision every single person makes, struts around like she owns the place and everyone is holding her back. In short, she's a complete bitch. That just ain't Grim. But while we're on the subject of internecine strife, a good 70% or more of the dialogue consists of childish bickering between these supposedly seasoned professionals. It becomes grating extremely fast, without doing anything to disguise the fact that it is intended solely to make that last minute “let's all pull together and get the job done!” bollocks all the more fucking idiotic. I've seen six year old children act more mature than these defenders of the free world.

Having said all of this, the game is not without its strengths. The actual execution of most of the in-game mechanics is extremely refined. The only real problem is that there are so many disparate elements tied together that they conflict with one another. I cannot even begin to recount the number of times I've jumped over a ledge when I wanted to climb a wall. Or closed a door when I'm trying to disable a guard on the other side of it. Or had Sam walk halfway across a room to turn off a light! Because having one button do everything is just genius!

Speaking of which. You have to go all the way into the game, as in start and load a save file, before you can edit any of your settings. At the main menu you have only two options. ESC to quit to desktop, or hunt for the mythical 'any' key to start the game and this was something which was annoying when the game started up in a 2600-something resolution which my monitor couldn't even recognise, let alone display. But I had to start the game and stumble through the bleeping and blooping of the menu screen until I hit the resolution by sheer chance. By this point I'd already missed the opening video because I couldn't bleeding see anything and I’d mashed my keyboard until I skipped it.

Don't do drugs, drugs are bad. M'kay.

Don't do drugs, drugs are bad. M'kay.

However, despite all of this, and a lot more gripes I won't go into for the sake of brevity, Blacklist is not without its redeeming qualities. When not plagued with idiotic design choices it's extremely slick and polished, with mechanics translating perfectly between the single and multiplayer components. The former of these even contains some short, entirely unnecessary first person sections and the latter doesn’t detract from the core game for once. Though I almost wish it had in this case.

The whole game is generally well paced, both in narrative (stupid as it is) and actual gameplay. You can mostly take it at whichever pace you choose; go in all guns blazing, or skirt around and wait for the perfect moment to strike. The increased speed with which Sam (or your Merc/Spy) now moves does really help emphasise the feeling of being a prowling predator in the night. Until you get to that obligatory moment when a guard sees you through a bloody wall, or is immediately alerted to you because...it's Tuesday.

The Verdict

The end result is a wonky game that, most criminally of all, ends up being a haphazard collection of missed opportunities and wasted potential. Is it a bad game? No, not bad. Is it better than Conviction? Absolutely. Is it a better Splinter Cell game? Dude, it is not a Splinter Cell game. Period. So much so, I saved the greatest sin for last. It even ends...with a boss fight.


But the game let me have pink lights on my night vision goggles though. So it’s not all bad.

Case Review

  • Gameplay: Slick and refined.
  • Visuals: The lighting and general world design is truly stunning.
  • Characters: They have their moments, but most of them are just plain unlikeable.
  • Boss Fight: In a Splinter Cell game? Are you kidding me?!
  • Main Menu: It doesn’t bloody have one!
  • Plot: So riddled with holes and childish clichés it’s outright insulting.
Score: 3.5/5
Not bad, but a haphazard collection of missed opportunities and wasted potential.
Comments (7)
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Posts: 596

I'm going to piss you all off and say Conviction was my favourite Splinter Cell game. No kidding.

Anyway, I am checking this review as the title is on sale now on Steam for 20 Euros for digital deluxe edition (because you know, its SUPER deluxe... DLC, gotta catch em all). But after reading this review I'm not sure I will like it. Especially when you actually liked Conviction and did not like this one.

I also know I hate half-way games, meaning it does one thing halfway and then does another halfway. God that ruins games.

Posts: 3290

Actually, I didn't mind Double Agent so much. But I think that might be because I played the Wii version first. It was a lot more authentic than the other

Posts: 3290

I second that

Posts: 44

No, I'm afraid after Chaos Theory it was all downhill at a great rate of knots. Double Agent was about as much fun as eating a dog turd covered in broken glass and rabies. They hit rock bottom with Conviction. And now they've gone subterranean. Alas, poor Splinter Cell... I knew him Horatio.

Posts: 3290

So did Conviction. But that wasn't trying to sell itself as a return to roots

Posts: 1317

... And Double Agent truly sucked compared to the other games in the franchise.

It seems to me that Splinter Cell has become 24 (the TV-series) now. Just a bunch of dumb intrigue and action. Nothing really cerebral anymore.

Posts: 3

Double Agent (xbox, gc, ps2) had a boss fight. Just saying.