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Checking Up on Splinter Cell: Blacklist

Posted on July 11, 2013 AT 09:00am

As of last week, I’ve now gone hands-on with Splinter Cell: Blacklist a grand total of three times. The first time, I got a taste of the single-player. The second, I tried out the co-op and Spies vs. Mercs multiplayer. And this latest jaunt? A long, in-depth playthrough of all three modes.

Rather than bore you all to death by retreading the same old ground, I thought I’d look back at a few of those first impressions and see if they’ve evolved at all now that I’ve seen a full third of the content Blacklist has to offer.

So for the next ten paragraphs, you can call me Dr. Stealth, because it’s time for Splinter Cell: Blacklist to come in for a good old-fashioned checkup. Turn your head and cough, Mr. Fisher.

Stealth seems too easy

Then: “As a pure stealth experience, the snippet of Blacklist that I played was uncharacteristically easy. In fact, I managed to complete a wholly undetected run with just two checkpoint restarts.”

Now: As it turns out, one of the levels that struck me as “too easy” the last time around was, in fact, the first level of the game (excepting a relatively short tutorial section in Guam). Once I got to see the difficulty ramp up over the course of the first five missions, I’m much less skeptical than I was before. Back in January, I thought the only way stealth fans would enjoy Blacklist would be if they played on the hardest difficulty setting, Perfectionist. I’m not necessarily sure that’s true any longer.

While the relatively vanilla stealth segments still aren’t that challenging—especially when you’re outdoors with a lot of routes to choose between—there are plenty of neat additions that complicate things enough to make the experience fairly demanding. There are dogs that will pick up on your scent and lead patrols to your location, stopping you from dawdling too long in an easily accessible location. There are armored guards that can’t be taken out unless you get the jump on them from behind. There are elaborate security systems that will cut off entire routes unless you find a way to circumvent them. Plus, the segments I played included some smaller, more enclosed areas that forced me to think carefully and pay close attention to enemy routes before I made a move.

A lot has changed this time around

Then: “At the moment, Sam Fisher’s latest does feel like a profoundly different beast from the Splinter Cell that won my teenage heart.”

Now: Oddly enough, a lot of the new single-player content I saw made Blacklist feel like a natural, fairly comfortable continuation of the first three games in the franchise, but a few things were so completely bonkers that I had to double check to make sure I was still, in fact, playing Splinter Cell. Hunting an enemy in the dark, picking the optimal moment to strike, then hiding their body in a dark closet so the other guards wouldn’t be put on high alert? That’s Splinter Cell all right! Running as fast as I can through a fiery, exploding Iraqi village and jumping off a cliff? Uh, not so much.

Spies vs. Mercs Blacklist isn’t bad

Then: “The major changes [in the new Spies vs. Mercs Blacklist mode] actually ended up winning me over after a few rounds. As much as the diehard Pandora Tomorrow fanboy in me hates to admit it, they’re smart, logical ways to extend the experience.”

Now: Any reluctance I had about the highly customizable, class-based, 4-on-4 Blacklist mode is now officially gone. In fact, I might even prefer it to the more traditional 2-0n-2 Classic mode. The more I’ve played of it, the more I’ve grown to appreciate the depth that comes from having to build out a team that’s balanced in the right way to take on your opponents. In the olden days, drones were a constant nuisance. Now that they’re limited to a single class of merc, that ability to easily pester spies hiding in the catwalks has to come at the expense of added firepower or survivability—and that’s just one of the dozens of fascinating gambits that come into play with the complexity of Spies vs. Mercs Blacklist. I honestly can’t wait to make this my go-to multiplayer game.

Spies = OP

Then: “The only thing that gave me pause in all my time with Blacklist‘s competitive multiplayer was the simple fact that, as a spy, I felt entirely too powerful. In previous iterations, there was a persistent sense that the spies were fighting an uphill battle against a superior enemy. In Blacklist, I felt comfortable waltzing into a crowd of enemies and taking them all down before they knew what hit them.”

Now: I’m still not entirely sold on the idea that spies can now sprint up to opponents from any angle and take them out with a single button press, but my second round of multiplayer matches didn’t seem nearly as pitched against the mercenaries as my first set. It may just be that I was playing against a more competent batch of mercs than last time—but if that’s the case, it’s probably a much better indication of what it’ll be like to play in the wild, especially once players have learned all the best hiding spots.

So, there you have it. Some of my earlier opinions have changed for the worse, but on the whole, I’m a lot more positive about the entire Blacklist experience than before. Granted, there are still a lot of open questions in my mind—most of them related to how the rest of the single-player campaign will shake out and whether or not Spies vs. Mercs will encounter any serious balance issues once thousands of players are putting it through the ultimate stress test—but I have to say that I’m looking forward to diving into the full game. If what I’ve seen so far is any indication, Blacklist might be the most fun I’ve had with Splinter Cell since Chaos Theory.

Josh Harmon, Associate Editor
Josh Harmon picked up a controller when he was 3 years old—and he hasn't looked back since. This has made him particularly vulnerable to attacks from behind. He joined EGM as an intern following a brief-but-storied career on a number of small gaming blogs across the Internet. Follow him on Twitter @jorshy. Meet the rest of the crew.

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