โพสต์: 12 ธันวาคม
Note: the following review currently covers only the single player portion of the game. It will be updated if I am able to play the coop/multiplayer portions.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist is the game the series has always wanted to be.
It acts as a culmination of every cool idea the series has ever had, finally finding that middle ground between the hardcore stealth that used to define the series, and the faster, more approachable and dynamic gameplay introduced in Conviction. It still isn’t perfect, as Ubisoft has stubbornly held onto a few of the less severe problems of the franchise, but for all intents and purposes Blacklist is far and away the best entry the series has ever had, which coming from someone who has enjoyed every Splinter Cell game ought to mean something.
The biggest problem of past Splinter Cell games up to Conviction was their strict adherence to set paths through levels, which were often difficult to discern and as a result required trial and error to get through. They presented you with a huge assortment of gadgets and tactical moves but rarely allowed you to use them unless they explicitly planned for you to, essentially removing any player choice with how you tackle a mission.
Conviction in contrary was the series rebirth, removing many of the extraneous stealth options but introducing levels that were far more open, and allowed a greater amount of freeform play. It transformed the series from one in which you were constantly vulnerable to having you be that danger, hunting down enemies and making your way through areas like a hi-tech ninja.
Blacklist as I said before takes the best aspects of both these fairly different experiences and rolls them into a gloriously dynamic bundle of options and an endless supply of ways to make use of them. For once you are no longer punished for playing however you want to play, be it sneaking through levels leaving no trace you were ever there or rolling in guns blazing and allowing no witnesses, and paths and opportunities for every playstyle have been designed into each level, never locking you into one particular way of playing but giving you the choice the take on encounters any way you see fit.
Expanded climbing options offer a level of verticality to levels that further extends your tactical abilities, often allowing access to secret paths or surprise takedowns. It made me conscious of the environment and how I could best make use of it, and nearly without fail anytime I looked for a solution it was there waiting for me.
I always felt in control playing Blacklist, whether I was hiding from hostiles or taking shots at them, and this freedom makes for an experience that’s extremely empowering and encourages you to try out different approaches. I’ve never replayed a Splinter Cell game, but Blacklist gave me reason to revisit levels and see what I might have missed the first time around and a scoring system that rewarded exploiting every tool in my arsenal. Being able to customize said arsenal further allowed me to tailor my playstyle how I wanted, ranging from which guns and gadgets I used straight down to the color of the LEDs in my goggles. These choices all mattered and I was able to see my abilities increase as I progressed and gained better gear, giving me yet another reason to go back to older missions and see how much I had improved.
Unfortunately, much of this doesn’t factor into the 4th Echalon side missions (which also act as the coop mode, though most can be played solo if you want). These smaller supplementary missions tended to lock me into a particular playstyle and in many cases harshly punished me if I attempted to deviate from it as I had been able to the entire campaign. It’s not that these missions aren’t still enjoyable or are particularly poorly designed, but they represent a step back to some of Splinter Cell’s most archaic design principles in a game that takes so many strides to finally distance itself from them. There are a few moments in the campaign when this happens as well,, but thankfully they are generally brief and at least contextually make sense.
Context is more important this time around, as Blacklist continues Conviction’s trend of finally giving me a story that I could be bothered to follow. The plot is a fairly standard Clancy terror conspiracy with an outcome of World War 3 proportions, but it’s told in a way that removes the dry, technobabel of past narratives with one that’s far easier to follow and allows for substantially more characterization. Your team at 4th Echalon is comprised of characters with actual personality, with little exchanges you can take part in between missions adding to the subplot of the personal dynamics between such a small, tightly knit team. It has a lot of ground to make up still, but the fact that I wasn’t skipping cutscenes because I actually cared and was interested in what happened is a marked improvement and hopefully will continual to improve as the series goes on.
There are still a handful of stubborn rough edges clinging to Blacklist from Splinter Cell’s past, but the overwhelming improvements and intelligent design present kept them from ever being more than a minor nuisance. I’ve loved Splinter Cell since its exception, but this is the first time that I feel almost everything has come together as planned, with smarter level designs, an excellent sense of progression, and the allowance for so many different playstyles that could likely all make up their own games. It’s everything I’ve wanted the series to be and then some, and I'm almost giggy thinking about where it could go now it's gotten to this point.