- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Developer: Ubisoft Toronto
- ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
- Genre: Action-Adventure
- Pros: Variety of Environments, Great Gameplay, Engrossing Story
- Cons: Some Repetitive Mechanics, Cluttered Multiplayer
“Blacklist” picks up on the action of 2010’s excellent “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction”...sorta. Protagonist-super-spy Sam Fisher has gotten a little younger in look and sound, as the developers at Ubisoft have updated the character a bit, notoriously replacing legendary voice actor Michael Ironside in the process. The result is a little off-putting but not unlike a new actor taking a role like Batman or James Bond. You miss Sean Connery at first but then you get used to Roger Moore.
Sam Fisher and Vic Coste are planning to depart from an Air Force base in Guam when it’s brutally attacked, killing nearly everyone there. It’s revealed that the attack is the first of many under the code name “Blacklist”. Who is behind the acts of terrorism? How can Fisher stop them? Fisher and his team, including the return of Grim as Fisher’s guide, and new characters like the sometimes-playable Isaac Briggs and weapons master Charlie Cole, work from an airborne base called the Paladin, picking assignments, upgrading both the plane and their equipment through in-combat experience, and trying to stop the Blacklist.
From an SMI interface, you basically guide your own “Blacklist” narrative. You can alternate between basic story missions that push forward your overall mission with increasingly accomplished narrative development. I was concerned to start that the missions of “Blacklist” would get repetitive but the story jumps around the world, allowing for an incredible variety of environments, from the Middle East to a Russian spy headquarters to Guantanamo Bay. And if you ever want a change of pace, “Blacklist” incorporates co-op missions right into its story (most of which can technically be played solo if you’d like), which will not only add to the coffers you need to upgrade a deeply customizable cadre of weapons, armor, etc. but actually enhance the overall arc of the story. Co-op/solo “side missions” are often of the wave variety – fight off a bunch of bad guys until you can extract – but they offer a nice diversion and truly serve as a great place to practice the skills you’ll need in the heart of the game.
What skills? “Blacklist” is a cleverly designed combination of stealth and combat. The “Splinter Cell” games have always placed an emphasis on staying in the shadows. Most of your enemies should never see you coming. And “Blacklist” keeps that core aesthetic for those who like it. Crouching, sneaking, taking cover, shooting out lights as often as enemies, getting to love your silencer – this is how I play “Blacklist.” You get extra points for leaving hostiles entirely undisturbed. Get in, get your objective accomplished, get out. They don’t even need to know you were there.
However, you don’t always have to play “Blacklist” silently and sometimes, when they catch you, you’ll have to scramble. Pull out the automatic weapon, switch from smoke to frag grenades, and get into assault mode. The balance between the two – stealth and all-out chaos – is brilliant. And it’s amplified by a new mechanic called “Killing in Motion.” Fill a bar through killing or knocking people out and you’ll be able to tag nearby enemies. Push the triangle button and you will instantly kill them in super-awesome slo-mo. When you get to the point, as you will, when you’re blending all the elements of “Blacklist” – using stealth, combat, and your executioner ability – this game is as entertaining as any you’ll play all year. It’s tough to master but so rewarding when you get there.
Having said that, I think the multiplayer offering is a little cluttered, as I do all multiplayer combat games that are too reliant on gadgets. Stealth and gadgets don’t really work in the modern world of twitch gunfire games. All your enemy has to do is master a gadget or trick before you do. It creates an uneven playing field and the rest of this game is so entertaining that I’ll admit I never cared about leveling out that field.