Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist
Splinter Cell Blacklist Hands-On Preview - Fields of Blood Red Poppies
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The latest press preview for Splinter Cell Blacklist was staged in a sweaty bunker, deep within the bowels of London. Fully dressed up as a government agency base, it was even necessary to get patted down by a security guard in order to enter. Or at least I hope it was a necessity, because I’ve got a nagging feeling that my misjudged wisecrack about having an AK-47 down my pants was mistaken for flirting.

Anyway, a brief spell of borderline sexual abuse later and I was in and ready to spend time with both the single-player aspect of Ubisoft’s upcoming sequel and the returning Spies vs. Mercs mode.

Here’s how it works. Sam Fisher is now the head of Fourth Echelon, a newly-formed unit able to act with impunity to bring down a mysterious group of terrorists that’s threatening to blow up the world, city by city. The rest of the unit is comprised of badass agent Isaac Briggs, motormouth nerd Charlie Cole and chief technical advisor Anna Grímsdóttir - with whom Fisher endures a rather frosty relationship.

This somewhat ill-matched gang work aboard the Paladin, a hulking civilian airplane kitted out with everything Fourth Echelon needs, from surveillance tech, to an armoury, holding cells and medical bays. Most important, however, is the Strategic Mission Interface (SMI), a computer with a map of the globe from which you select your excursions. The Paladin is essentially a floating army base, or perhaps more helpfully, think of it as the Normandy from Mass Effect.

Everything, from story and side missions in both single-player and co-op, as well as the Spies v Mercs matches, can be accessed from the SMI aboard the Paladin. There are no divisions between the different modes and no separate menu options on the splash screen. Similarly, the money you earn from any of your missions in any of the modes can be spent on equipping both Sam and the Paladin with extra gear. Everything you do stems from and then feeds back into the Paladin and the SMI.

Where does this money come from? Well. After each mission you are rewarded with an amount of cash according to the play style you adopted during the operation. This cash is split into three categories. Assault rewards you for going in all guns blasting, without worrying about who you alert of how much blood you spill; Panther rewards you for staying stealthy and not alerting guards, but nevertheless killing the crap out everyone; while Ghost rewards you for staying unseen and non-violent.

Rather pleasingly, your missions are not assessed in a black and white fashion. So if, for example, you manage the majority of a mission without killing or alerting anyone, but then balls it up towards the end and have to shoot your way out, then your rewards will reflect this. You’ll get a big chunk of cash in the Ghost category and a smaller slice of change in the Assault category. It’s a rather deft solution.

The issue for many, however, is whether or not Splinter Cell: Blacklist continues the series’ trajectory of becoming more and more action-oriented. For those that were worried, and count us among them, we’ve got some good news.

After trudging our way through the early, worryingly bullet-heavy sections, which see you acting out various military shooter cliches, the SMI aboard the Paladin opens up and you are given a choice of maybe five or six different missions. The one we chose, in a poppy field in Pakistan run by heroin traffickers, was a revelation.

Relatively small and enclosed, the mission was reminiscent of a Terrorist Hunt map in Rainbow Six: Vegas, a space within which to work your way through slowly and methodically, taking out one enemy at a time. Just like Terrorist Hunt it was our job to disable every guard on the map to ensure victory. The difference, however, was that shooting your way out of the situation wasn’t really an option.

Going all guns blazing is possible, theoretically, but this particular mission was already pretty tough. If you alerted any of the guards to your presence, not only would they all converge on your position intent on spreading your brains over the mud, but reinforcements would arrive too, almost doubling the size of their mini army. A far better option is to silent stalk them.

And that’s what I attempted to do, crouching and sneaking around the environment, staying out of sight and suffocating each of the guards one by one. There’s multiple routes within this too, thanks to some canny level design, allowing you to switch up tactics and take out guards in whatever order you like. I messed up and died. A lot. And loved every moment of it.

Perhaps if I had had chosen a different mission I would have emerged from the demo with a different impression. Some of the other journalists in attendance certainly did. But as far as I’m concerned, this mission in the poppy fields is exactly what I want from a Splinter Cell game. It demanded patience and planning, stealth and silence. It was genuinely brilliant.

Far less conclusive was my short session with Spies vs. Mercs. In Blacklist there are two flavours of the mode, the classic two-versus-two and the new four-versus-four version. I played the latter, engaging in a two round match in which we alternated between the heavily-armed yet clomping mercenaries and the more agile, wall-climbing spies.

The set-up is the same as it always has been. Viewed from a third-person perspective, Spies have to hack terminals, while the first-person Mercs have to defend them. Beyond increased player numbers the only majorly significant change was the ability to customise your character, kitting them out with new gadgets and outfits in an attempt to get the edge on your opponents. This is encouraging, as Spies vs. Mercs has been a fan favourite for years. But after playing just one match I don’t feel qualified to pass judgement. Look out for an interview with Spies vs. Mercs producer Sebastien Ebacher on the site tomorrow, in which we delve a little deeper.

Ultimately, as I emerged from Ubisoft’s press preview bunker into the daylight I was left impressed by this latest showing of Splinter Cell: Blacklist. There’s no way of saying just how well levels like the poppy fields will balance against those early, more action-heavy missions, but it’s worth staying positive. There’s enough evidence here to suggest that the developers are on the right track and I'm excited. So no, I don’t have an AK-47 in my pants, I’m just glad Splinter Cell’s back.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist is out on August 20th in North America and August 23rd in Europe.


User Comments

Forum Posts: 18
Comment #1 by oO Troggy Oo
Friday, July 12, 2013 @ 11:22:56 AM
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Sounds fantastic! Really happy they've gone back to the old style Splinter Cell, the proper way!

All pre-ordered and I'm sure this will keep me ticking over 'til GTA V. :)

Going to be skint by the time the X1 comes out, never mind after it!

Forum Posts: 111
Comment #3 by Johan
Friday, July 12, 2013 @ 11:52:57 AM
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this and GTA are the last games i buy on the 360 before switching to the One so this better keep me occupied til november, and as long as spies vs mercs is as good as in previous ones im happy.

Forum Posts: 10
Comment #4 by FlyingAbstracts
Friday, July 12, 2013 @ 05:56:53 PM
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@2 agreed, i thought Double Agent was a little off as well. and i didnt know conviction was an exclusive, great game (still a few multiplayer achievements if anyone is down!!!)

Forum Posts: 61
Comment #5 by Billamus
Friday, July 12, 2013 @ 05:57:05 PM
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Definite day one game for this looks awesome.

Forum Posts: 11619
Comment #6 by BiggD
Friday, July 12, 2013 @ 05:57:39 PM
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@2, woah really? DA was one of my favorites. Not sure if I could say why, I just loved that one.

@3, same, both games will be a blast, I'm sure of it.

Forum Posts: 10
Comment #7 by FlyingAbstracts
Friday, July 12, 2013 @ 05:57:57 PM
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still need*

Forum Posts: 64
Comment #9 by ShadowedAsh
Friday, July 12, 2013 @ 07:14:20 PM
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I still really want to know how aggro Spies are handled in this. From some of the videos I've seen, it looks like Spies can kill Mercs up-close regardless if they're behind them or not -- something that is a make or break for me on this because I loved multiplayer in Pandora Tomorrow, Chaos Theory and Double Agent.

Chaos Theory was the best albeit the learning curve was pretty high for new players.

Forum Posts: 1
Comment #10 by m92fjt
Saturday, July 13, 2013 @ 02:50:00 AM
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cant wait

Forum Posts: 0
Comment #11 by Havok1496
Saturday, July 13, 2013 @ 02:55:07 AM
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@2 i think people tend to complain no matter what developers do. Either the game doesn't add new features or it adds something but then they complain that the developer changed to much. Have to agree with you that you just can't please everyone. That said i am excited about the new splinter cell can't wait to play it.

Forum Posts: 305
Comment #12 by Snowed
Saturday, July 13, 2013 @ 03:32:49 AM
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I think this article implicitly says the multiplayer may not be as good as we're all hoping. He only played one match and isn't qualified to pass judgement. Sure, that's true. But no positive words at all that the experience is promising or that that match was good? Seems to me that spells disaster. He certainly had no problem saying the single player was really great after one mission (even if he did limit it to saying it was only based on that mission). And remember, he can't very well say the multiplayer was not good or he'd be quickly placed on the Ubisoft press blacklist.

I'm still going to buy the game at launch on blind hope, but I am no longer optimistic.

Forum Posts: 3
Comment #13 by Crumpet
Wednesday, July 31, 2013 @ 07:15:15 AM
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I loved DA. I also have this pre-ordered. Excellent as the 26th is a Bank Holiday, plenty of time to play the game to the death over the weekend here in the UK.

Glad they've brought back Spies vs Mercs.

As above also, this and GTA V are my only purchases now until the Xbox One comes out - pre-ordered the Day One Edition of that too!

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Game Info
Ubisoft Toronto


US August 20, 2013
Europe August 23, 2013

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