At long last, Sam Fisher returns to Nintendo. He was last seen dimming lights and snapping necks in 2006's Double Agent on the GameCube, which was a backwards port of a next-gen game. Now is the first time since Chaos Theory (2005) that we've seen full parity between Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft machines and the wait's been well worth it.
A lot has changed in Sam's seven-year sabbatical. He's now more agile, more brutal and inexplicably younger, vaulting around environments and dispatching bad men by the dozen. His Benjamin Button-style approach to special ops sees the leader of the newly established Fourth Echelon defend America against deadly terrorists with an ultimatum. Their 'Blacklist' threatens an escalating series of attacks on US soil and it's Sam's mission to stop the countdown reaching zero.
To help: gadgets. No self-respecting spy leaves the house without them and they're right at home on the GamePad-equipped Wii U. "The GamePad screen is the player's version of Sam Fisher's arm computer or OPSAT (OPerational SATellite uplink)," explains Blacklist producer, Liu Jun. "Sam uses his OPSAT throughout the game to access and control his gadgets and to communicate with his team.
"With the Wii U version, the player gets to experience first-hand how OPSAT works for Sam and how it feels to operate it. In the Wii U version, players can see what Sam sees through the OPSAT and it's a very powerful feeling to choose how to use this gadget to make decisions as the leader of Fourth Echelon."
Gadgets are a key part of Splinter Cell tradition, a series that offers tantalising glimpses of military technology's bleeding edge. "Originally, Sam's OPSAT was based on real-world military prototypes and secret research programmes," states Jun, "but our inspiration is not just military. We look at exciting innovations and we find inspiration from the latest technology."
It's important to tread the line, though. A few years ago, flying killer robots would have been more Terminator than tactical espionage, but Blacklist's Tri-rotor finds its place here, thanks to the US government's deployment of similar drones overseas (thanks, Obama!).
You'll pilot it remotely to scout ahead, mark enemies and even explode with frag grenade force. Like ZombiU players whipping out their backpacks and glancing away from the TV, you'll need to pick your moments carefully, unless you want a bullet in the back. And in most scenarios, you don't.
The GamePad doesn't just help with gadgets. "Players are going to be constantly making tactical choices on the fly, such as, 'should I kill this guard or just knock him out?' or, 'should I use a Five-Seven with a silencer, or a shotgun?'" explains Jun. "We use the GamePad screen to help players make tactical choices on the fly, without breaking the game's flow or story's tension. So, at any moment and by simple touch, you can pick any of your weapons or gadgets, or switch from lethal to non-lethal takedowns."
Killing remotely is great, but nothing beats getting up close and personal. "Killing in Motion is a core gameplay philosophy in Splinter Cell: Blacklist, enabling the player to move through the environment to kill quickly and fluidly and we've connected this in an innovative way to the GamePad," says Jun. "By raising the GamePad, for example, you can activate the thermal vision on your GamePad screen. From there you can use the motion controls to scan the environment and conveniently mark enemies with a simple touch. Once you've mastered Sam's abilities, you can give the execute command, and enjoy the spectacle of the Killing in Motion you've just triggered on the screen."