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Splinter Cell: Blacklist review

Whose old dog is this? How has it got so many new tricks?

Sam Fisher's a sneaky guy. You can tell because we haven't seen him around these parts (aside from a brief glimpse in that 3DS remake we don't really want to talk about) for a good seven years. In the time since Double Agent he's started to go grey, changed his voice and face and, like every other Ubisoft hero, taken up freerunning.

Perhaps we're seeing him again after so long because now he's a lot less sneaky. The last major release in the series, Conviction, introduced Xbox and PC owners to the Mark & Execute system, a reward for good play that enabled you to automatically reduce a few in-range goons' heads to disgusting sieves in a slow mo second.

It marked an aggressive new approach to stealth and Blacklist takes the positive critical reaction to that change wholly into account. Every mission grades you on three scales, the combination of which enables players to choose how they want to play. Ghost rewards stealth, Panther prizes a lesser-used interpretation of the phrase "silent but violent" and Assault offers points to those who consider the non-use of BigLoudGuns to be tantamount to terrorism.

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This is why Sam has changed. Where his earliest exploits had you performing quivering airborne splits across corridors to avoid janitors, Blacklist gives you every tool you might need to survive in one of three ways. Sam carries three guns, up to six gadgets, his trademark goggles (which now switch between night vision and bat-like sonar pulses) and a sense of righteous purpose big enough to kill bad guys by itself.

Have gun, will travel

It works. The solo campaign (all about catching an anti-US terrorist group called the Engineers) has you jetting around the world almost constantly. You could be in a claustrophobic London warehouse, you could be winding your way around a swiftly abandoned Iraqi village, but you'll never feel out of your depth. Despite Sam's frailty - a few stray bullets will always result in a bloodied loading screen back to a checkpoint - those three approaches are (aside from forced story set pieces) always viable.

Aside from the obvious runnery and gunnery of Assault, you might study guard patterns, blowing out lights to draw them to you for lethal or non-lethal hand-to-hand attacks. Then again, you could also use your sonar to single out a conveniently resonant water pipe, shimmy up it and disappear into an air vent to the next area. While Ghost players are given more points (turned into copious cash for further upgrades), you're not judged on which approach you take and the freedom of each - and the equipment at your disposal - means turning a Ghost run into an Assault shootout (whether by accident or in bloodlust) is always an option, too.

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It's a peculiarly open design, particularly for the stealth genre and Ubisoft has pulled it off. It's a veritable web of ideas, encompassing stealth, action, FPS, RPG and even, with Mark & Execute's focus on multiple enemies' movements and your relation to them, mild real-time strategy elements. That web cleverly ensnares non-gameplay aspects, too: most bought equipment can be upgraded many times, cash earned in multiplayer can be spent on equipment (and vice versa), playing a tie-in app earns you new items... even the interactive main menu, set on Sam Fisher's flying HQ, the Paladin can be added to for your benefit. Of course, a web can just as easily be seen as a sticky mess and those huge, inclusive changes to the existing formula can seem that way a little too often.

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Comments

12 comments so far...
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  1. cmaxel Saturday 31st Aug 2013 at 11:05

    Great game, awesome spy vs merc "classic" is back. Buy buy and give mp a shot, its great but hard to master, but truly rewarding when you get the hang of it :]

  2. imbusydoctorwho Saturday 31st Aug 2013 at 14:11

    Really tempted to get this,still unsure though.

  3. JOHNNY01294 Saturday 31st Aug 2013 at 15:02

    Really struggling to understand the review score for this game!!!
    Browsing online tells me that the wii u version is the definitive version and I am certain that it deserves a higher score than what you gave it. Even on wiiverse it is plain to see that this game is being enjoyed by many many people. Comparing to some of the other titles you have scored higher makes absolutely no sense. I would love this game to sell well and I cant help but think that you have just made it a bit harder to hit those sales targets.

  4. ChandraONM Saturday 31st Aug 2013 at 19:16

    Really struggling to understand the review score for this game!!!
    Browsing online tells me that the wii u version is the definitive version and I am certain that it deserves a higher score than what you gave it. Even on wiiverse it is plain to see that this game is being enjoyed by many many people. Comparing to some of the other titles you have scored higher makes absolutely no sense. I would love this game to sell well and I cant help but think that you have just made it a bit harder to hit those sales targets.

    The Wii U version looks better and the GamePad extra help to make it the definitive version. . . but Joe just didn't think the actual game was amazing. It's good. . . enjoyable. . . but not the best Splinter Cell ever made. On top of that thye Wii U version's loading times are awful. . . nearly 2 minutes sometimes.
    As is always the case these days, we have to review it based on the single-player, a) because not everyone can play online so we have the review the game based on what's accessible in the box, and b) because the servers are rarely up and running that many weeks before launch. As it turns out the online multiplayer is great, so if you can play online you can assume that score to be more like 80. . . which is a great score.

  5. NintendanGX Sunday 1st Sep 2013 at 05:13

    And ONM were hyping up this game so much until now.

  6. Argenthor Sunday 1st Sep 2013 at 17:38

    And ONM were hyping up this game so much until now.


    It's often difficult to know how a game is gonna turn out until you have the full and final copy in your hand.

  7. dmanning Monday 2nd Sep 2013 at 10:11

    Bought this game last Saturday. Enjoying it a lot. I would rate it 90%+ The only downside is loading times and the graphics being a bit flat. Lots of stuff to do in the game.

  8. GiftedGimp Friday 6th Sep 2013 at 09:37

    I havn't stopped playing it since getting it at launch, Fanastic game up there with the original SC game and Pandora. If this bombs on WiiU then I won't be able to fault Ubi if they decide to stop supporting WiiU. Games as good as this deserve high sales Even my self-confessed Sony Fanboy Brother-in-law said my WiiU version Looks nicer and plays smoother than his Ps3 copy.

  9. ThePsychicExtrem Friday 6th Sep 2013 at 21:06

    IMO, I think this was reviewed wrongly. Got this on pc and I loved it, and i don't like this genre.

  10. liveswired Saturday 7th Sep 2013 at 20:41

    Really struggling to understand the review score for this game!!!
    Browsing online tells me that the wii u version is the definitive version and I am certain that it deserves a higher score than what you gave it. Even on wiiverse it is plain to see that this game is being enjoyed by many many people. Comparing to some of the other titles you have scored higher makes absolutely no sense. I would love this game to sell well and I cant help but think that you have just made it a bit harder to hit those sales targets.

    I've read a few reviews and I have yet to see one say that it is the definitive version.

    Yes it apparently has a slightly higher native resolution at 1280x720p over it's console counterparts however the Wii U sees more framerate issues and tearing - so I guess the whole thing kinda balances out.

    The problem I think stems from the Wii U's tiny storage capacity and so the Wii U version had to be designed to be read straight from blu ray instead of the install method on rival machines. This obviously leads to more stuttering, longer loads and texture load in issues.

    If Nintendo had simply used a 120GB HDD instead of a 40GB SSD .......But then I suspect that SSD was chosen to mask the atrocious load times of Wii U OS. Which it does pretty well.

  11. Phirst Monday 9th Sep 2013 at 12:14

    Really struggling to understand the review score for this game!!!
    Browsing online tells me that the wii u version is the definitive version and I am certain that it deserves a higher score than what you gave it. Even on wiiverse it is plain to see that this game is being enjoyed by many many people. Comparing to some of the other titles you have scored higher makes absolutely no sense. I would love this game to sell well and I cant help but think that you have just made it a bit harder to hit those sales targets.

    The Wii U version looks better and the GamePad extra help to make it the definitive version. . . but Joe just didn't think the actual game was amazing. It's good. . . enjoyable. . . but not the best Splinter Cell ever made. On top of that thye Wii U version's loading times are awful. . . nearly 2 minutes sometimes.
    As is always the case these days, we have to review it based on the single-player, a) because not everyone can play online so we have the review the game based on what's accessible in the box, and b) because the servers are rarely up and running that many weeks before launch. As it turns out the online multiplayer is great, so if you can play online you can assume that score to be more like 80. . . which is a great score.

    I did feel that this was a watershed moment for the WiiU. A big name multi-format release and the WiiU version seems to be the best :D I know there have been other multi-format games on the WiiU but SP:BL was released on all formats in the same week not 6 months after the hype like many other releases.

    Its a shame Ubisoft couldn't cut those loading times as they are ridiculous and the game (once its loaded) is great and I would have liked to have seen it get a silver rather than a bronze but I am biased towards this style of game.

    Despite what I have said above I am happy with Joe's review. The game should stand on its own merits and not as a tit for tat against other formats.

  12. M4RT1NO Tuesday 26th Nov 2013 at 20:52

    How to stealth:
    pull on tight leather and run around with flashy goggles

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