In some parts, Splinter Cell Blacklist is the best Splinter Cell, passing Chaos Theory, the renowned pinnacle of the series. Levels are much more open to you. The AI is smarter. You have more tools than you ever need to tackle levels in so many different ways. And the UI interface makes it much clearer to the player to know when they are being spotted and when they’re hiding in safety. But at the same time, Blacklist is the entry with the least creativity, the least ambition, and the one most devoid of any personality or purpose. It’s a game made by highly capable robots completely adhering to the requests of suits, focus-testers, and play-testers without interjecting any sort of personal input to the game’s design.
Conviction might have been a more simple game, with a dumbed down minute-to-minute mechanics & level design. But it did have the grand idea of Sam Fisher being on his own, without tactical support or any sort of high tech gadgetry, depending on his wits and natural talents. And Double Agent before it had you going undercover into a domestic US terror organization, wherein you try to balance your actions throughout the game between trying to appear loyal to the organization and yet not going too far off the deep end, becoming just as bad as any of the “real” members. Blacklist goes back to the old mold of Sam Fisher working in his old unit (now called Fourth Echelon instead of the disbanded Third Echelon), doing the same style of missions as the ones in Chaos Theory and before. Again, nothing bad with going back to basic. The problem is all the other stuff Blacklist adds.
Blacklist’s campaign looks like a checklist of borrowed ideas from the generation’s biggest action games. Sam now possesses the same extraordinary upper body strength that Nathan Drake & the Assassins in Assassin’s Creed have. He can climb and leap several feet in the air & ascend buildings like the slyest of primates. Between missions, you hang around on your high-tech airplane (called The Paladin) where you can walk around slowly and talk to your teammates, upgrade equipment, or choose main/side missions, just like the Normandy spaceship in Mass Effect. Some side missions require you to dispose of wave after wave of enemies moving around a sea of chest-high walls & other forms of sticky cover points, just like horde mode in Gears Of War. At specific points of the game, you can choose to either spare or kill people, a decision which seems to hold no consequence whatsoever, just like about a million other game.
And then there’s so much Call Of Duty in here, with the plot that just serves to give “reasons” to travel around the world to disparate political hotspots with little merit (why is the president of the United States tasking one man to infiltrate a terrorist organization in Benghazi, extinguish fire in a liquid natural gas facility in Sabine Pass, disarm bombs in Philadelphia, and prevent terrorists from poisoning the water supply in Chicago all in a matter of hours is beyond me). Then there are the myriad mini-game sections, like the UAV mini-game, or the sniper mini-game, or the 1st person shooter sections (which are honestly competently made but never really made me want to play them over the proper parts of Blacklist). There’s even a QTE knife fight with the leader of the terrorist organization at the end of the game too.
Yes you’re watching footage from Splinter Cell Blacklist
But borrowing ideas is not inherently bad. In fact, Sam Fisher’s newly gained climbing abilities do greatly enhance the stealth mechanic of Splinter Cell. Stealth is inherently all about maneuvering through an environment, finding the safe path through a level while at the same time trying to time your movements to be made away from enemy eyes. So in a sense Stealth works a lot like a pure platformer. And with your climbing abilities, you get more pathways and places to access that are more vertical, making the level spaces more intricate and open. When Blacklist puts you in a level with a few dozen enemies and says “have at it”, it’s at its best.
The problem is that there’s so much uninteresting clutter between each of this instances, whether it’s the uninteresting cutscenes or the myriad sections where you’re forced to shoot your way out of situations, or the meandering walking-around-your-plane scenes. And again, none of that is bad inherently. I understand that Ubisoft’s intent is to create these scenes that are supposed to make you connect with the characters and “immerse you” into the game, it’s just that I had zero investment. I don’t care about Fisher or any of his cohorts. And I am a longtime fan of this 10+ year old series. I’m one who has played and beaten every single Splinter Cell game, even the mobile phone version of Pandora Tomorrow & the game boy advance one (both were good actually). Fisher might have had a bit of charisma previously when he was voiced by Michael Ironside and when he actually looked as old as he is supposed to be, but this new Fisher just squanders what little character Fisher used to have, and in turn what little character the game itself has. And the story is just a safe, by-the-numbers, flat imitation of a below-average season of 24. Nothing happens to Fisher or anyone else. And even things that are supposed to be “important” are dealt so clumsily.
For example, there was a scene where a high-level government official, who was taken hostage by terrorists and was tortured by having his fingers chopped off one by one, seems about to concede and comply with the terrorist’s orders to transfer some sort of important file on a computer. So your character springs to hold the government official by the neck and then proceeds to snap it. The hostage dies. And then that’s it. You, one of the good guys, just killed a tortured, mangled hostage. And the justification is that he was ABOUT to spill government secrets to terrorist, possibly.
And yet, the gravity of this decision seems to fly over the writers’ heads. It’s never given the deserved attention this scene so clearly needs. It’s never brought up after, or foreshadowed/built up to before. None of the characters, least the killer himself, seems to care about it or even recall it happening. All it adds up to is just another uninteresting cutscene put between the fun “gamey” sections of Blacklist, a cutscene I wished I’ve skipped. I don’t care. The characters don’t care. No one who played it seemed to care. A bunch of nothing.
The aforementioned scene. skip to 10 min and 10 sec. Spoliers obviously
This crystallizes the whole problem with Splinter Cell Blacklist. A lot of its parts are composed of parts from other popular games just because they are popular games. They are all just added in with little thought or purpose. But when it gets back to the fun parts, when you are really playing Splinter Cell, it’s as good as any other Splinter Cell if not better. It’s just that there are a lot of times when it’s just not Splinter Cell at all.