I Just Figured Out What Bothers Me About Splinter Cell: Blacklist

Everything that I know so far about Splinter Cell: Blacklist tells me that I should like it: it’s a beautiful, globe-trotting third-person adventure that gives you a ton of freedom to play the way you want. But, each moment I’ve laid eyes on it, I’ve been bothered by this nagging feeling in the back of my head.

Ubisoft aren’t saying as much but Blacklist essentially amounts to a soft reboot of their stealth franchise. It’s being made by a new studio under a new director and has a new actor in the lead role. And Blacklist has both new mechanical tweaks to shake things up and old favourite features returning to the fold.

When I got to play Blacklist two weeks ago during an Ubisoft event, the changes were apparent. New animations made Sam able to move more nimbly across the bigger environments and a re-instated light meter let me know just how risky my current position was. You’ll be able to customise loadouts at mission start and then swap out specific gadgets or your entire playstyle in the middle of a mission. Developer Scott Lee also told me that this Splinter Cell isn’t quite as narratively driven as other installments and is set up so you can play at a slower, more thoughtful pace if you want. The mix of gadgets, stealth kills and figuring out enemy positions definitely had me wanting more.

On top of all of that, it seems like it’s a game that want to matter. The plot yearns to say something about the sociopolitical climate of international relations and America’s murky, paradoxical role in the current state of affairs. I should be on board with all of that.

But, after mulling it over a lot last week, I puzzled out why I don’t feel ready to strap on those three-eyed goggles yet.

It’s not the reboot so much as the way it’s being presented that bothers me. It’s the way that Blacklist apparently steps right over its predecessor, as if it’s a smelly dirty vagrant sprawled across the sidewalk.

Blacklist acknowledges Conviction in only the slightest of ways. The fact that Sam Fisher’s now the head of Fourth Echeleon nods back to the far-reaching conspiracy in Conviction and his tense relationship with Grimm, the woman who used to whisper marching orders into his ear does, too. But Conviction set up a juicy cliffhanger that Blacklist is apparently giving the stiff-arm to.

Conviction drove a wedge in Splinter Cell’s fanbase, with some decrying the game as too easy. For what it’s worth, I liked it a lot. I appreciated how Conviction stripped away the tech fetish from Sam’s adventures and gave us a version of the series’ leading man that relied more on instinct and skill. Conviction felt tenser and more personal than other Splinter Cell games and teased an intriguing shift for the franchise’s future.

But that tease -- the conspiracy from the game’s plot and the leaner species of sneaking players experienced -- seems like something that’s not going to get followed up on. And what I’m left with is this weird sort of dissonance: a game that I enjoyed when I had my hands on it, built amongst the ashes of a predecessor that felt like it still had plenty of gas in the tank.


Comments

    Set up a conspiracy? Really? I felt it ENDED a conspiracy plot. Fourth Echelon takes the spot the corrupted Third Echelon did and will do a far better job until it too inevitably ends up corrupt.

      The game teased Megiddo, the organisation that Tom Reed answered to, and was implied to be immensely powerful with influence in major cities across the globe. It seemed like a set-up for a whole new chapter in the series.

    Different voice actor, younger look, oddly mismatched story, different gameplay mechanics. It may as well have been a total reboot. Honestly, this game seems much more suited as an offshoot rather than a direct Sam Fisher sequel. Still rubs me the wrong way that I'm not hearing the rough vocal chords of Michael Ironside.

      What really sucks is that before Conviction, they were heavily implying that Sam was getting too old and might have to retire soon. Then Conviction came along and told us he's still young enough to keep going (did they even keep the white hairs on his head?)

        Mmm, I remember reading that Ubi wanted to 'lock' Fisher's age, likely so he didn't keep getting older and they'd run out of Splinter Cell games featuring their main man.

        I guess at least he'd have a reason to move all slow and clunky if they added in a walking frame. :p

          Not only that, they actually dropped his age in Double Agent. If you look at the manual for the game (current gen version) they shaved about 10 years off his date of birth. Since Conviction they've stopped listing DOBs for characters :p

      Indeed, the different voice just doesn't seem right at all. I don't but the whole reasoning either. Ironside completely could've done the VO work. Either that or maybe it was time to move on from Sam Fisher to a new character instead of giving us a pale imitation of a well loved character?

        There's an interview where they explain the reasoning behind the decision not to separate mocap and VO work. They wanted the VO to match with the physicality of the mocap. Have Fisher panting after running, grunting under strain, taking hits realistically, that sort of thing.

        I'm still no way near convinced that the trade-off is worth it: Ironside for high-fidelity grunting and panting? Nothing seemed amiss in Conviction. I am glad they had Michael Ironside consulting with Eric Johnson. Not a total loss.

    Someone in the forums posted a thread about how it's too focused on Call of Duty "set pieces" and throwing in explosions. Even daring to say that it is possible to "ghost" playthrough a chase sequence.

    During the demo at PAX AUS, they did show different playstyles, but they all ended up with an explosion, causing Sam to rush past guards, then explode through the roof into a panic room and escort him out during an ambush by another faction of guards. How is this a "stealth" game again?

    Anyways, I'm split on getting the game.

      Sorry, but "Stealth Game" itself got rebooted a coupla years ago (rebooting is the cool thing to do now - it's basically being able to do whatever the fuck you want...but without having to squander precious brand recognition).

      You're probably still under the assumption that a stealth game involves the player observing and being perpetually aware of the gamespace and moving their character through in such a manner as to cause as little disturbance as possible, using your own judgment based on observations and any tools at your disposal, and removing NPCs (if at all) without said NPCs without raising them out of their baseline AI state.

      Now it means "Yeah, we got like a knife or some shit for you to use."

    As someone who didn't play the earlier instalments but liked the look of this one at PAX, I appreciate if there's less past baggage. It might bug old players a little, but it is an advantage for getting new players in if there's not many references in the plot they can't understand without playing prior games.

    I didn't play much Conviction, but it really bummed me that everything went black and white whenever I was stealthed. Being stealthy meant consistently having all of the colour completely drained from the world, and not being stealthy just made it another action blockbuster.

    Chaos Theory was my favourite; the sound meter idea was really damn cool. Such as in the lighthouse mission where you can time shots with the thunder. That, combined with the visibility bar (rather than a simple green/yellow/red light system on Sam Fisher's back) made it all the more better.

    Anyway, non-Blacklist-related babbling aside, Michael Ironside is Sam Fisher. :P

      Chaos Theory is still one of my most favourite games.

        Quite understandably so! Wicked game. Even had some pretty fun coop. I was kinda disappointed that the coop didn't make it into the HD collection version though. Ahh well. Gotta have a reason to boot up the old PS2 still ;)

    What happened in Conviction? I never found out because they randomly decided that it would be an Xbox console exclusive.

    To be honest I never really played the older games, the only one I finished was Conviction, and I thought it was great. I LOVED Sam Fisher. Ubisoft changing the actor for Sam Fisher "for the motion capture" instantly put me off this game. It was already established Sam Fisher was getting too old for the job in Conviction, why couldn't the new actor play a new character? Ugh.

    Yeah, maybe ignoring a game because they changed one element is childish, but when I've got a pile of shame a mile high I can afford to do it. Sam Fisher was awesome to me and Ubisoft rubbed me the wrong way changing him.

    Last edited 24/07/13 2:07 pm

      Yeah, I still liked the gameplay enough in Conviction (my game of the generation so far) that I'll buy Blacklist sight unseen.

      Conviction really was one of the most innovative titles this gen, the colour indicating visibility, the mark and execute, the last known position, having objectives projected onto the walls, the face off mode - hands down the most fun I've ever had with a split screen mode.

    The best one was Splinter Cell: Distended Scrotum and I'm really angry that they have changed Snake Plissken's boots to lace up instead of straps. I also cried when the puppy was killed. I hope they kill more small animals in this game or I'm only going to buy 4 copies this time.

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