Going into E3 this year I was completely unaware of this new iteration of Splinter Cell. When I saw it at Ubisoft’s booth it made me very excited as I have been a fan of the series since the second installment Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow. After watching the theater presentation, I left with mixed feelings. The game looks awesome and the game play looks tight but some details, or rather, one detail really bothers me about it.
Taking place after the events of the last game, Conviction, Blacklist finds series protagonist Sam Fisher heading up the newly formed 4th Echelon after the corrupt 3rd Echelon is closed. I am not sure what the first two Echelon’s are up to but let’s hope they are minding their P’s and Q’s. A new terror network has emerged on the world stage and is targeting US interests all across the globe. This network, made up of nations tired of the US and its military presence outside of the US, has put together a countdown of escalating terror attacks on the US at home and abroad called the Blacklist. It is up to Fisher to ferret out the terrorists and stop the attacks by any means necessary.
The demo shown at E3 placed Fisher along the Iran/Iraq border as he is infiltrating a terrorist outpost to try and get a lead on the next move of the Blacklist. Infiltration looked pretty standard for the series but holy shit did the textures look incredible graphically. Slicing through a tent wall with a knife looked amazing. Details in the items in the tent looked amazing. The lighting and shadow contrasts looked amazing. Even the texture details in Fisher’s suit were intricate and amazing. The game was running on a PC so it is unlikely that it will look this incredible on the consoles but if it is even a fraction of it then this game will still look gorgeous.
The demo showed Fisher moving through the camp and we got to see how many options the player has in terms of how to attack the situation. The combat is a return to the ‘Mark and Execute’ system from the last game in which Fisher can tag multiple targets and then pull the trigger and he will kill them in rapid succession but this is earned by handheld kills so you can’t just walk into the room, target everyone and walk away like a badass. Instead what you can do is walk into the room, kill some guys with your hands, mark targets and execute them and continue smoothly into hand held kills and then mark and execute the rest in the room. This is done with the new mechanic that allows you to target enemies and move at the same time giving combat a much more dynamic feel. Now, it is important to note that the team was clear that the swath of destruction Fisher carved out was very hard to do from a timing perspective but it does show what is possible. It looks like regardless of your level of skill with the combat you have some options and luckily those options include good targeting and stealth kills that you can execute (sorry) on the go through dragging takedowns. So if you decide you want to kill a bunch of guys then you can certainly do that.
On the other hand if you want the stealth you can do that too with multiple paths to take and a variety of options in terms of distraction and breaching. Pursuant to this, Fisher’s radar has been beef up quite a bit and looks to be much more useful in planning egress and ingress strategies. I am also a fan of it being called radar and not some kind of instinct or sense. That is a major plus of a military based game where you can just call it what it is. Speaking of technology, Fisher has a lot of that at his disposal as he has a host of new gadgets to utilize during his missions. Not only do these gadgets work for distraction and getting around but he can also use them to kill with and there are a variety of them with which to play. One of these is a pretty awesome drone attack that lets Fisher assume direct control and carry out his own support strikes. This are distracting and destructive so you get the best of both worlds here.
When Fisher finally finds the guy he is looking for he finds a double agent who starts screaming that Fisher has just blown years of undercover work. Fisher gets in touch with his support team and has them check the guy out in some tense moments before they inform him that the guy was at one time MI6 but he has since been turned to the Blacklist. This triggers an interrogation sequence where you can violently and painfully interrogate the suspect, let him go or kill him. This was a bit disturbing and I am not sure I like the mechanic at play but it seems to be there to illustrate the stakes. This is a Jack Bauer moment from 24 and depending on how you feel about this it could be bad ass or a turn off.
I thought the interrogation was a little off putting but what really bothered me during the story driven portion of the game here is that Fisher’s voice sounded off. Veteran actor Michael Ironside has been providing the voice for Fisher for five games now and it just didn’t sound like him. It turns out that it is not and he has been replaced with Eric Johnson who also did the performance capture work for the character. Johnson does a decent Ironside impression and the reason given for the replacement was to create a richer experience through performance capture but I feel like it is kind of a slap in the face to fans of the series and Ironside to drop an iconic voice for motion capture. It might not bother anyone else but it bothers me.
Voice betrayals aside, Splinter Cell Blacklist looks pretty incredible. The game play looks fun and exciting and graphics are gorgeous. If you are cool with the interrogations then it looks pretty promising. It is still pretty early so any number of things could go long but this is off to a great start.