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Splinter Cell: Blacklist!

The latest in the long running Splinter Cell franchise has finally arrived to much anticipation, but will the newest installment be worthy of the hype?

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Spy Drama: The narrative of Splinter Cell: Blacklist revolves around a tried and true spy drama of terrorist activity, a secret organization set to protect and a whole lot of sneaky intrigue. Once again you are placed in the silent shoes of Sam Fisher as he and the 4th Echelon look to take down an ill-willed group called The Engineers.

The plotline is not terrible by any means but quite frankly it is cliche and has been seen in not only countless other forms in games but also hundreds of movies over the years. At its core, the story is based around terrorist organization that looks to attack the United States and the shadowy small band of heroes who surmount large odds to protect the nation. Not exactly original, not to mention the plotline is moved along mediocrely over the course of the game.

As well, while Sam Fisher the character does return to the series once again, ironically the man behind the character does not. Michael Ironside is not the voice of Fisher anymore and this change of vocal actor is not a well-received one.

The gruff voice of Ironside did well to expand the character of Sam Fisher over the years but the new voice actor behind our main protagonist sounds too youthful to fit into this character. At only 34, actor Eric Johnson is not a bad voice actor necessarily but simply seems out of place as the voice behind the grizzled veteran Sam Fisher.

One Is The Loneliest Number: In addition to Sam Fisher returning, a couple of characters from Splinter Cell: Conviction are making a recurring appearance in Blacklist as well. However, a somewhat large focus is placed on Isaac Briggs, the "sidekick" to Fisher.

Briggs is essentially the toymaker and also acts as the co-op partner to Fisher over the course of the game. Much focus is placed on the relationships between Fisher, who runs the tight knit 4th Echelon group, and those that work with him.

As you progress the story does admittedly do a pretty good job of having the character relationships develop somewhat interestingly over time.

Finding Yourself: As fans of the Splinter Cell series are all too aware of, the previous installment, Conviction, altered or flat out did away with many of the trademark features of the franchise in lieu of a more aggressive, combative gameplay formula.

This time around Blacklist returns to its roots and places a heavier focus on stealth mechanics, while unsurprisingly giving the option to play Blacklist as Conviction was forced to be played.

After each mission you will be given a grade that fits into one of three categories: Ghost (non-lethal, stealthy), Panther (lethal, but still stealthy) and Assault (self-explanatory). For many gamers, going down the route of Assault will often be the easier option as you will not have to cast a worry to stealth or not raising alarms. The higher the body count, the better.

That being said, there is no question that utilizing the other, less explosive methods of completing a mission are far more satisfying. Adding onto that, if you choose to make the game as difficult as it can be (and, typically, it fails to be incredibly challenging), you can opt to complete all of the missions with a Ghost rating.

This sounds easy enough but is quite difficult when you come upon sections that are clearly intended to raise the body count. Whether using the returning "Mark and Execute" feature to quickly auto-kill up to four enemies or simply seeing that guns blazing is the easiest option, it is entirely possible to complete every mission with a Ghost rating but can be frustrating in your pursuit.

The level design and heightened focus on stealth is a welcome return to the franchise though, as Conviction, while decent, just did not feel completely like a true Splinter Cell title. Having gone through that period of finding itself, the series has returned to its root while still offering the option to be loud and aggressive if you so choose.

A Game Of Intrigue: While the main campaign of Blacklist is decent enough to entertain fans of the series likely to its quicker-than-expected end (roughly ten hours), a lot of attention has been placed on the multiplayer aspect of Blacklist and fortunately it does seem to live up to the anticipation.

The multiplayer once again pits spies against mercs (mercenaries) in a combative scenario that sees them both looking to attack or defend specific objectives. The spies are far more agile and played from the third person viewpoint as they have the capability to sneak around and attempt to silently complete their goals and assassinate their targets.

Mercs on the other hand are played in first person and are the more aggressive combatants of the mode. Although unable to scale walls and sneak around, they possess heavy firepower that gives them an advantage in a frontal battle with a spy.

Both sides of the coin also have access to a number of gadgets that can be effective on their own or countered by the gadgets on the other team. For example, mercs can utilize gas grenades to disorient their targets but if equipped with specific masks, spies can be immune to the attack.

At times the balancing of the multiplayer can seem less than perfect, as well equipped, skilled spies almost always hold clear advantages over equally proficient mercs, but the tension of running into an enemy or having your throat slit expectedly adds more excitement to the mode.

Aging Not So Gracefully: Unfortunately while the campaign is decent and the multiplayer has an oddly addictive quality to it, the visuals are a seriously mediocre aspect of this title. Considering it has launched in 2013, towards the end of the Xbox 360 and PS3 lifecycle there is no reason Blacklist should be a little more impressive in the graphics department.

Oddly enough there was clear effort put into making Sam Fisher a polished, detailed character but the same effort was not put forth in any other aspect of the game. Your fellow agents of 4th Echelon look bland and occasionally downright ugly and even the environments are fairly plain and undetailed.

As well, animations are twitchy and awkward at times and the cinematics suffer from rampant screen tearing that does little to immerse you further into the experience. Inexplicably the loading times for Blacklist, an issue with previous installments in the past, are suspiciously long, adding to the frustration of seeing poorly modeled characters and environments.

Rent vs. Buy: Blacklist does some things right, but this, like most of the other titles in the series, are likely to be most loved by real fans of the franchise. Little is offered in Blacklist to consider this title to be revolutionary in any way and quite frankly this just seems like a modern version of one of the previous installments.

Clearly Ubisoft tried to appeal to, and maintain, any fans that Conviction may have attracted and they seemingly did a pretty good job of that. That being said, there is nothing groundbreaking or incredible about this title aside from owning a moderately fun campaign and the unique appealing niche of spies vs. mercs.

Fans of the series will enjoy the title but it is more of a question of whether or not this title is worth the full retail price of $59.00. If you are not big into multiplayer or simply are not attracted to the unique spies vs. mercs showdowns, then there is little reason to justify a full-priced purchase of this title.

Report Card

Fans of the series will enjoy the title but it is more of a question of whether or not this title is worth the full retail price of $59.00. If you are not big into multiplayer or simply are not attracted to the unique spies vs. mercs showdowns, then there is little reason to justify a full-priced purchase of this title. (Krakrabbit.com)


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