Splinter Cell: Blacklist Preview - E3 2012
Sam Fisher enters all-out combat in the next chapter of the series
Splinter Cell: Blacklist is latest installment in the (ever more youthful looking) Sam Fisher series of stealth/action games from the team at Ubisoft Montreal. Mike, Blacklist’s programmer talked of being given the opportunity to assemble a “dream team” of handpicked development talent from home and overseas to breathe new life into the game. The team felt with this freedom came the responsibility to blow all of the other games out of the water, calling Blacklist their “progeny.” The team were tasked with effectively “destroying,” the franchise and building it back up again (taking 2 years of development) to be better.
In Blacklist, Sam Fisher has been appointed commander of Fourth Echelon and is working to stop a new terrorist threat known as the “Blacklist.” The Blacklist is a contingent of rogue nations who engage in a series of escalating attacks for the purpose removing foreign troops from their territory. To back these threats up, terrorists have engaged in a series of attacks both in and out of American soil. As we all know, the USA doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, so to protect America’s 4 freedoms, they send in the 5th in the form of Fisher. Sam is now, for all intents and purposes, the boss and has free rein to deal with insurgents as he sees fit. This carte blanche comes with a lot of new toys and questionable moral decisions for the player.
I had some time to check out a guided playthrough of a level that took place on the Iran/Iraq border, where Fisher had infiltrated an enemy compound under the guise of a friendly combatant. Those of you who have seen the trailer at Microsoft’s conference will be familiar with the playthrough, however, I was party to their uncensored version. After we infiltrated the tent, Sam showed off his new moves by capping several insurgents between the eyes and brutally breaking the arm of their leader.
It was at this choice moment their programmer discussed the new and “mature,” direction the game was taking. The team wanted there to be no clear black and white options in your decision making, it would be all kinds a grey. Another point of note is that the decisions you make do not impact story so a player doesn’t feel they need to go against their instincts to pacify the flow of play. In the instance of our captured friend, we took the moral low ground and plunged a dagger into his throat.
Fan input also played a big part in Blacklist. Moves such as cutting out openings in tents and the sticky shocker have made a return, as well as the Spy vs Merc multiplayer. Another improved element has been the camera. In previous games, performing stealth kills and takedowns could sometimes impact visibility of your surroundings, which as any stealth player knows, is the key to staying unseen. From the demo, the camera is a lot smarter, and you can navigate both in static and actions scenes with unobstructed ease. This of course proves to be key, especially if you want to pull off what the devs refer to as “the highway of death,” where Sam performs multiple stealth kills and silent takedowns across numerous foes.
To demonstrate this flashy and unique ability, we took down a guard, and then from the safety of our tent, marked three enemies who stood in our path. We vaulted over a wall with breaking our stride and laid them low in one smooth path. Imagine free-running, but with a pistol in your hands, which culminates in sliding over the hood of car and snapping an enemy’s neck.
There are also more classic ways of dealing with opponents. We have the ability back to call out to guards from ledges, which is also compatible with Kinect and to engage in cover-based shooting if things get a little heated. There’s also some climbing portions reminiscent of the Assassin’s Creed games and new elements to impact a player’s ability to stay in stealth, such as dogs that can track your scent.
Another new feature to the game, as touched upon by Sam’s free rein this time round, is the ability to call on air support. This feature came in handy when several troops had us pinned down in a shack, so we radioed for the cavalry who deployed a missile bang in the centre of truck which saved us a lot of hassle. Another staple of the Splinter Cell games has been the freedom in which a player chooses to stage their level assaults. A great example of this that differed from the preview many of us saw, that was instead of going gung-ho into a building, we utilised our smarts.
After setting a charge on the door, we scaled the side of the building and waited for an opportune time. With a click of a button, the door flew off its hinges and we busted into the room via the window and with a few precise shots, took out the guards. A final and interesting element was that for the first time, we can actually take command of aerial drones, which enable a player to rain down chaos from the skies to eliminate pesky military artillery and enemies.
Blacklist is set for a Spring 2013 release on the PS3 and Xbox 360, and then later, the PC. We’ll see levels that span all across the globe, both day and night, and interior and exterior to allow us to put all those new moves and gadgets into action. From what I saw of the game, I’ll admit I jumped on the first carriage of the hype train. Blacklist looks like a really fun experience with its new free-running assault elements as well as classic gameplay modes.