Splinter Cell: Blacklist - Preview

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Release Date: 27/02/2013

Splinter Cell: Blacklist preview for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC

Sam Fisher's back. Well, seeing as Splinter Cell: Conviction's only a couple of years old, he's not exactly been gone long. Okay, what we mean is that the Sam Fisher of old, the one who stalked in the shadows sporting a fetching little triangle of green lights on his bonce, has returned. Except Michael Ironside, the voice of the old Sam Fisher, has been sidelined to make way for a new, more youthful and more athletic lead. Alright, this is getting complicated. Let us explain.

See, there hasn't been a Splinter Cell in the traditional sense this generation of consoles, and arguably the last to fly that flag was 2005's Chaos Theory. When the series made the jump to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 with Double Agent, it ditched the panther suit, and introduced a more brutal and more human Fisher.

They weren't exactly bad games - Conviction, in our opinion, remains an action highlight of the last few years - but there's been a hankering for something more traditional, and that's where Splinter Cell: Blacklist slots in. This is Sam as you know and love him, if you've a little grey in your beard and know your Manic Miner from your Mario.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist preview for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC

Back In Black

Sam's no longer a rogue agent, and is now operating with Fourth Echelon, a new organization that is set aboard a flying fortress called the Paladin. Here's one of the first really interesting things about Blacklist - the Paladin hosts all your comrades, and you're free to roam around it in between missions, building relationships and engaging in side missions. It's more than a little Mass Effect, but we're certainly not complaining.

On the ground, it's slightly more traditional, though Blacklist doesn't abandon all the innovations introduced in Double Agent and Conviction. You're back in the suit, but you're more agile than before, and while pure stealth is an option, ghosting through the shadows in an attempt to never be detected, you're also free to pounce and kill or, should you so desire, go weapons free and play it like a Call of Duty game. We really wouldn't recommend that last one though - Sam goes down like a wet cardboard box, meaning it's best to play this one a little smarter.

Two levels in this early preview highlight these approaches best. The first, set in the dazzling daylight of Benghazi, has Sam finding shadow in the glorious shabby brickwork of the city - note that this is an almighty fine looking game - leaping around from window-ledge to window-ledge like a modern day Ezio de Auditore before indulging in some lethal and athletic takedowns.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist preview for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC

Returning To The Shadows

Mark and Execute, the system introduced in Conviction whereby you can tag multiple enemies before downing them by triggering a slow-motion state with a single button push, returns, and combined with the new takedowns it makes for a much more fluid style of play. Blacklist's real trump card is how it never punishes you for playing how you want to - straight-up kills will earn you Assault points, attacking from the dark will earn you Panther points and going through undetected will earn you Ghost points, and they all tot up in the end while also reflecting your own style of play.

The final mission shown takes place in London's Docklands under the cloak of darkness, and it's here where the real Splinter Cell traditionalists will find most cause for excitement. There's ingenuity to the level design that can be seen in the countless nooks and crannies to hide in, and plenty of bad guys to stalk. Sam's suit, which has had some minor upgrades and is, for the first time in the series, fully upgradeable thanks to a new in-game economy fuelled by those points we mentioned earlier, is an incredibly empowering piece of kit.

A triumphant return for the series, then, and one that's set to find the perfect balance between the action of more recent games and the smarts of old. Sam Fisher's never really been away, but still - it's great to have him back.

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