Posted July 13, 2013 by Peter in News

Splinter Cell: Blacklist comes out of hiding

Splinter Cell: Blacklist logo
Splinter Cell: Blacklist logo

I thought I was going to be trained to kill, using nothing more than a paperclip and a used teabag. This was not the case.

It was an honest mistake. When Ubisoft invited me along with many others of the gaming-journalism community to the “Fourth Echelon UK Training Facility” in Farringdon, only two possibilities occurred – the company was forming a team of elite trouble-shooting assassins, or it was preparing for the launch next month of Splinter Cell: Blacklist, and while it turned out to be the second of these this wasn’t a disappointment.

Instead, there were several hours of hands-on time with the forthcoming game – and here’s what was revealed…

Blacklist is the direct sequel to Splinter Cell: Conviction, picking up events three years after the last game and once again putting control of Sam Fisher (and the fate of the western world) into your hands. Of course he doesn’t do this alone, with the return of characters such as technical support Anna Grímsdóttir, friend/foe Andriy Korbin, and new ally Isaac Briggs – who also provides the second character when playing co-op.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist screen
Fisher now leads Fourth Echelon, the successor to the discredited and disbanded Third Echelon (from the events of Conviction). This team is pressed into action when a terrorist organisation – “the Engineers” – attack a US base in Guam, declaring it as the first of many targets until all US troops abroad are returned home.

This gives scope for a lot of things to happen, spread across the game’s three modes – the solo campaign, with a linear selection of missions advancing the plot; the side missions, progressively unlocking as the main story advances and intended to be played co-operatively (although many – but not all – can also be tried solo); and the competitive multiplayer with a revised Spies vs Mercs making a return.

In mission, the game stays with the third person view of previous titles, where use of the environment and paying attention to areas of light and shadow are critical. Gauges suggest how visible you are to enemies, when they may be about to spot you, or even where they think you are if you’ve been seen before breaking their line-of-sight. All of these can be critical to survival, as while Fisher is going in prepared for hostility he can still get shot down pretty quickly.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist screen
Fisher has three basic approaches available – evasive stealth, avoiding combat and kills if possible; more aggressive stealth, actively attracting and ambushing enemies to make kills silently; and full on offensive, throwing caution to the wind and literally going in guns blazing. These three approaches are all scored separately at the end of a level, referred to as Ghost, Panther and Assault respectively, and each have target scores to reach. This obviously encourages replays, though customising Fisher’s loadout can help in specific areas – everything from the guns and gadgets carried to the grip of gloves or visibility of his suit being adjustable… at least, when the appropriate pieces are unlocked.

Most of the unlocks appear to be straightforward purchases – you receive money on completing a mission (or from playing PvP games – more on that to follow) to spend on new items or modifications for existing ones. However, some are also metagame goals, such as finishing all the side missions associated with a certain character, or upgrading Paladin, the aircraft serving as your base – and I noticed a few unlocks needing the player to visit Ubisoft’s Uplay site too.

[Note: it was hard to judge how much work may be needed to make upgrades; the demo version provided was also set up to have a lot of starting cash simply to show more in the time available]
Splinter Cell: Blacklist screen
There are also unlocks for Spies vs Mercs (over 500, according to the Ubisoft representative on the day). The game type has been revised since earlier games, although the basics remain the same – spies are controlled from third person, benefiting from peripheral vision, agility and melee abilities though weak in a straight fight; mercenaries are controlled from first person, heavily armed and armoured but vulnerable to ambush due to limited vision.

While the game does have “classic” Spies vs Mercs as a game mode, played 2vs2 with preset loadouts and shadows being more important, the revised Blacklist version is meant to be a team game with more going on. As well as adjusting your spy or mercenary as you like them – or taking one of the three pre-built roles on each side – the new mode pits players in 4vs4 games, played over two rounds (once as each side for balance).

The aim for spies is to hack various terminals – which immediately alerts the mercenaries – and then remain in the area while the hack completes. Obviously, the ability to hide is extremely useful when people with big guns are searching for you, although even when killed there is still a short window of opportunity for another spy to resume the hack. Naturally, the aim for the mercenaries is to prevent this, largely by giving the spies a very bad day in the form of excessive violence.

The specialisations are extremely pronounced – the spy’s gun feels like a deactivated pea-shooter when you see how little health it takes from a mercenary, whose firepower can in turn take you down in seconds; however, a little sneaking and a lot of melee can go a long way. On the other hand, spies do not cope well with tools like remote controlled drones, or mines left by mercenaries to guard key approaches…
Splinter Cell: Blacklist screen
Ultimately, Blacklist is looking to give something for a wide range of players – options of slow, planned out stealth or run-and-gun alternatives, missions to run alone, or against the AI with friends, or competitively in PvP, and with lots of meta-goals to encourage replays. Whether this will draw in new players is to be seen, but it should prove an extremely welcome addition to the series for fans.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist is due for release on 360, PS3, Wii U and PC next month.


Peter can be described as an old, hairy gamer, a survivor of the console wars of the 1990s, and a part-time MMO addict. He has an especial fondness for retro gaming and observing the progressions in long running gaming series. When scandalously not caught gaming, he can also be found reading comics and fantasy fiction, or practising terrible photography.