Splinter Cell: Blacklist Preview
Two things before I start: 1. I'm a huge Splinter Cell fan; the first three were fantastic and I liked Double Agent just fine. 2. I loathed Conviction. I was heartbroken to see that Splinter Cell had become a shadow of its former greatness. It eliminated much of the stealth-related depth and replaced that tactful, patience-oriented goodness with mediocre third-person action. And at first, I thought they were going to continue that unfortunate, dumbed-down direction with the new entry, Splinter Cell: Blacklist. But based on my research thus far, it appears I'm wrong in that assumption.
The new game will actually boast elements from multiple genres, and that includes adventure, stealth, and even strategy and role-playing. Sure, the resilient and highly capable Sam Fisher can kill with the best of them, but that will hardly be the focal point of the game (despite what you may have seen at last year's E3). Sam has become the leader of Fourth Echelon and he's in charge of his own crack intelligence team, which isn't based in Langley, Virginia (CIA HQ), but within a flying spy plane. Yes, you read that correctly. It's called the Paladin and it's basically your mission hub, where you can check out intel and launch new operations.
You can interact with your crew while in between missions and that will open up the game even more. This is because each team member might recommend a side mission that you can accept at any time. Furthermore, some teammates are needed to enhance and upgrade via any earned cash. The spy plane itself can be bolstered as well; the tech whiz Grim can add radar technology that will add more info to your HUD, for example. That's all mostly cosmetic, though; the heart and soul of this series has always been the gameplay. In this case, the game will tailor itself to your play style, as you will be classified as either a Ghost, Panther, or Assault soldier.
As you might've already guessed, Ghost is the silent, nonlethal tactic that involves rendering opponents unconscious rather than outright killing them. The Panther approach is also quiet but highly deadly and of course, Assault means you run into most situations guns a-blazin'. So yes, you have the option whereas in the older titles, you really had to be stealthy or the game was basically over. Still, the good news is as follows: Blacklist is clearly encouraging you to play stealthily as the cash and rewards will be better for those who embrace the Ghost or Panther styles. That's great, because it means this entry stays true to the franchise's stealth roots.
So the stealth aficionados should be satisfied, as there will be plenty of opportunity to make your way silently through most any any given mission. There will also be a variety of nonlethal tools at your disposal, such as an awesome silent crossbow armed with diverse bolts, sleeping gas grenades, and of course, the good ol' tranquilizer. Other tools are designed for diversion, which can lure enemies away or towards you, depending on how you wish to handle things. All in all, I'm happy with that I'm seeing and hearing, so Splinter Cell: Blacklist could indeed be a glorious return to form. If not...well, there's always Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes on the horizon.
1/31/2013 Ben Dutka