Splinter Cell: Blacklist - Review

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist Review for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC and wii U at GAME

The New Black

We're not sure Tom Clancy has that  much to do with the Splinter Cell games these days - although his accountants probably enjoy them - but it's funny seeing his worldview reflected in Blacklist in light of recent press revelations about the US Intelligence Community and its actions. This is a game where Sam Fisher flies a plane around the world following leads on a new supergroup of terrorists call the Engineers, and you get the impression that if he encountered PRISM, rather than throwing his hands up in dismay, he would probably regard it as inadequate for his needs.

Blacklist takes the cinematic slant that Conviction applied to Sam Fisher's famous spy series and knocks it even further away from the cold-blooded stealth originals released way back on the first Xbox. The game opens with a playable prologue where the Engineers bomb Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and Sam and his old buddy Vic are caught in the middle of it. Part scene-setter, part tutorial, it sets the tone for a lot of storytelling intrusions later in the game that drag things away from gameplay toward a spy thriller narrative so far-fetched and lean on humanity that it would struggle to convince in an airport paperback - maybe even one written by a baggage handler on his lunchbreak. Still, if you like bad guys with English accents and a total lack of character development, you'll be fine.

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist Review for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC and wii U at GAME

The Gadget Show

Story and its intrusions aside, the rest of the game is pretty great. You have an amazing toolset of spy gadgets with which to infiltrate a range of interesting facilities and environments - terrorist training camps, US bases, foreign embassies, etc - and you will spend many happy hours crouched in the darkness plotting ways around or through a range of enemies. Mark-and-execute returns from Splinter Cell Conviction, allowing you to tag enemies and follow their movements through walls before popping out to cap them all in a flurry of automated gunfire, and things like sonar vision, remote-control drones, and multiple grenade and mine types give you options. A lot of the time, though, you'll be happy enough with a pistol to shoot out lights and your bare hands to take care of the rest.

When the game heads outside into the daylight, which it does fairly regularly, it doesn't hold together quite so well. The cover system isn't as robust as equivalents in games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, although the directional awareness indicator that shows you when enemies are alarmed is solid, and Sam Fisher doesn't handle as smoothly as some third-person action heroes. But it all works well enough, allowing you to clamber over building exteriors, hang from pipes, and manipulate your adversaries with distractions, explosions and silent blades with great aplomb.

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist Review for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC and wii U at GAME

Spies Like Us

The campaign is about 12 hours long and there are lots of excellent side missions - many of which can be played in co-op online or in split-screen - and beyond that there's the return of the Spies vs Mercs multiplayer mode to enjoy. This is a real highlight - in its original form it was hamstrung by clunky movement controls, but now it feels much more modern and has level design to match. The idea is that a small team of spies tries to hack terminals while another team of hefty mercenaries tries to stop them. The asymmetry works brilliantly, creating amazing tension. Classic and Blacklist variations give you a decent amount of control over how things play out, while other modes like Extraction, Uplink Control and Team Deathmatch mean you can keep things fresh if you get tired of creeping around in the dark.

Something else that's good about Blacklist is the way progress in every single mode - whether it's a campaign mission or a game of Spies vs Mercs - rewards you with currency that you can spend unlocking new weapons and customisation options. What's more, you can choose where to invest. You could earn cash in campaign and use it to beef up your custom merc loadout for multiplayer, or you could play a few games of Spies vs Mercs to afford that tri-rotor drone upgrade back in the campaign. It's a clever balancing act and makes the game feel more connected.

Overall, Splinter Cell Blacklist is an improvement on Conviction. You may wish that the story had been reined in a little - the Mass Effect-style hub area, some dodgy first-person sections and other distractions get in the way of your fun far too often - but if you can look past these flaws then you'll find a deep and satisfying game with an excellent suite of multiplayer options to round it out. Sam Fisher is back.

GAME's Verdict

The Good:

  • Sneaking around in the dark is still brilliant.
  • Local and online co-op is very welcome.
  • Spies vs Mercs returns in style.

The Bad:

  • Slightly clunky cover mechanics.
  • Too many daytime missions.
  • Story is pretty rubbish and forced on you too often.
SKU: Reviews-241798
Release Date: 15/08/2013