Splinter Cell Blacklist Interview - Discussing Spies vs. Mercs With Sebastien Ebacher

Lee Bradley

Recently we got to sit down with Splinter Cell Blacklist for an extended session in which we played the game’s single-player offering. It was rather good and you can read about our experiences here.

What many people are most looking forward to, however, is the return of the fan favourite Spies vs. Mercs mode. In this interview we talk to producer Sebastien Ebacher, quizzing him about exactly what Spies vs. Mercs is, what new elements Blacklist introduces ,and how Ubisoft hopes to bring a new lease of life to a multiplayer classic. Enjoy.

Broadly speaking, for those that don’t know, what is Spies vs. Mercs?

After Splinter Cell: Conviction, the number one feature requested by the fans was Spies vs. Mercs. So it’s a multiplayer mode that appeared first on Pandora Tomorrow and was not present in Conviction. 

The multiplayer is based on cat and mouse. So one one side you have a class of Spies who see from a third-person perspective and have to hack terminals, and on the other side you have a class of first-person Mercs that have to protect those terminals. They’re two classes that really have a different set of tools and abilities that they have to outsmart and overpower each other. 

Tell me about some of the gadgets and the abilities available to the Spies.

For the Spies, what we’re looking at is, the basic abilities, is that they can use shadow. Also they’re able to use the verticality of the maps. They can climb up the pipes and use the ledges. So that’s pretty powerful compared to the Mercs. Also, Spies are powerful in close quarters and from above. They have aerial strikes that are very efficient and they’re very good at melee. So for the Spies the environment is the weapon, in the same way that Sam Fisher uses it as a tool.

On top of that you have the customisation and the different gadgets and special abilities, which is a new addition. We’re talking about three special abilities for the Spy. The first one is like a suit, which triggers a wave that will highlight enemies in the area. For the Spy it’s not just about hiding, it’s about adding high level awareness. We also have optical camo. It’s like shadow on demand and it’s really useful for when you want to hide. You can trigger it and become invisible for a certain amount of time. And the third special ability is the saboteur, the saboteurs have an overcharge pack that will destruct any enemy equipment. It’s essentially a pre-emptive tool to weaken an enemy.

In terms of specific gadgets we come back with some of the classics like the smoke bomb and the sticky cam. Yeah so we have those classics coming back and there’s some new ones too that you can customise and upgrade in the Blacklist version of Spies vs Mercs. We have a big arsenal of tools and customisation, so that players can find their own play style.

What about the Mercs?

With the Mercs we also have this vision mode and they’re heavily armoured and they have a big arsenal of powerful customisable weapons. So in a frontal confrontation they will have the upper hand over a Spy. But yes he will have his own set of gadgets and vision modes too. The vision modes of the Merc are more like augmented reality, you have the choice between a motion tracker, sound detector and a device detector. You have to choose what vision mode you want, but they’re all based around finding and tracking the Spies.

How do the upgrades work? Can you unlock everything or are they trees which steer you down specific branches?

You can definitely unlock everything. It’s hard to say how long that will take because it depends on the skill of the player, but it’s a fair amount of time, perhaps 10, 12, 15 hours depending on your level. Probably even more than that, because what we’re talking about is you have to choose between one of the device gadgets, so you have to unlock five gadgets, three vision modes, also 12 different armour types and three special abilities. Just there we’re talking about 500 different combinations just for one class. Both classes have exactly the same amount of customisation options. 

On top of that you have all the weapons that you can select of which there are several and each of those weapons have attachments that you unlock. And on top of that you have visual customisation. So maybe it’s closer to 20 hours, if you want to unlock everything. 

Playing as a Merc sounds more immediate. Everyone knows how to play an FPS, while as a Spy there’s a small learning curve as players get used to climbing around and using the class’ abilities. How to you ensure balance?

Actually it’s an interesting question because what I like about what we achieved with Spies vs. Mercs is that depending on who you talk to and their perception, some people say ‘Oh the Spy, it’s in third-person view and you can see more and he’s probably stronger than the Mercs, while others say what you just have, that it’s first-person and everyone knows how to play it. 

The truth is that they’re totally different, the classes, and that’s what made the game so unique. And if you try to play the Spy like you play the Merc it just won’t work. The opposite is true also. The other thing is that you need to adapt. When you play FPSs, you have that habit of looking for a target horizontally. But what is cool and different and what people need to get used  to is that when you’re playing Spies vs. Mercs the threat can come from all over the place. So now you need to start looking vertically too. There’s that third dimension, so that the first time you use the Merc you feel comfortable, but you realise that it’s not the same experience that you’re used to because you need to be careful. You see people pick up that tactical feeling of looking up and around at their environment. 

As for the Spies, what I like about it is if you put yourself in the mind of a spy and try to be careful and use your advantage of navigating the environment in different ways you see that it’s very different. The way we balance it also is that each match is based on two rounds of ten minutes, where in one round you play as a Spy and the other you play as a Merc. So basically, you have to play and win as both sides to win a game and you learn as you play. If someone does a good kill on you, it gives you ideas that you can use next time you play as the other class. You learn from it.

You mentioned the Blacklist version of Spies vs. Mercs. Tell me about the two different versions of the mode you have in the game.

So we’ve got Classic, which we wanted to do because it’s what the fans requested so much. We wanted to make sure that we addressed what they want and what they like. It’s the Spies vs. Mercs experience exactly how you remember it. In Classic the big difference is that you don’t have customisation. So the loadout that you have it the one you are given.  So for the Spies, for example, the non-leathal weapon they have is a stun gun only and you have just one vision mode, the night vision goggles. On top of this the levels are darker. We realised that in the Classic mode the shadow is more important. 

Also, on the Mercs side, there’s no customisation again, only one vision mode and you have the flashlight, because it’s so dark. It’s also two versus two and it’s really intense. Now you alone are half of the team and it’s really about anticipation. 

For the Blacklist version, which is the version we've been talking about here, first there’s the number of players. So there’s four versus four. That changes the dynamic. Also we’ve got the customisation so everybody can develop his or her own playstyle, which is important in what you contribute to the team. Also the Spy will have access to lethal weapons. All in all it’s still a stealth game, because most of the tools for the Spy are based on stealth, but you play with different things like levels of awareness or like destructing the equipment. It’s as intense as the Classic version, but for different reasons. It’s because of the increased amount of things going on that makes the Blacklist version more different that the Classic. 

So do these different version have different maps? How does it work?

Actually, we played with that. They’re the same maps. It’s just the lighting that is different, which is so important it changes the make-up of the map completely. We think it works really well and we’re excited about what both versions offer.

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

  • Really looking forward to this - it was a lot of fun in double agent and it sounds like they're making it even better!
  • next month cannot come any faster!
  • Yeah this game going be epic. Loved every Splinter Cell series. I think my favourite is Splinter Cell, Chaos Theory and Double Agent all those on original Xbox (I had played Double Agent on Xbox 360 but it is entire different throughout game so I think original Xbox better version for Double Agent since longer campaign and gameplay felt much like Splinter Cell 1 to 3). I did loved Conviction but story campaign is 3 to 4 hours and that is very shorter campaign it is quite disappointed but story telling is great and gameplay is great too but felt short. Coop modes in Conviction is fantastic fun and quite addict as well great time on it. I do hope Blacklist going be epic with so many exciting games release so far by next month. I did preordered SC Blacklist collector's edition as well. Very hotter day today and it is 32oC (London, where I lived in). So sweaty and sticky hehehe. Much tired today over heats. :P
  • #5 Yah man. I do agreed and hope it got good balance. There lots of MPs for games out there that got many unbalance matches cheaters and ruined matches. I hope Blacklist balance is good for MP modes. We have wait and see around time for game release. :D
  • i have very hopes for this game, sounds like they really are listening to fans and making an honest attempt at furthering the series while keeping true to what established it. many franchises have gone the way of yearly installments and drastic deviation, i really hope (and expect) this to be a true stealth/action game...more emphasis on the stealth >=)
  • #6: You'll accuse it of being CoD as usual.
  • Grr, not digging the special abilities for the Spies but I'm sure they'll play out well. Guess we have Classic SvM for that. Overall, the game mode seems balanced, interesting, and all around fun!
  • Sounds great except for the part you guys had literally nothing positive to say about the multiplayer after playing it. Seems like a red flag to me. Still getting the game at launch (only X360 game I will do this for this year!).
  • #10 Really just this game. What about GTA V? 8O
  • You know, No matter how much they try to give the mercs they are still underpowered. I never lost as a spy in that game mode and was just average at the game. hopefully they can level the field a little bit.
  • I don't understand why maps need to be darker in classic. Make them darker for all of it. You shouldn't be able to see a Spy if he is well hidden in the shadows. Also, how is removing customization classic? One of the greatest things to Chaos Theory was the customization options. All the different tools at your disposal.
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