Splinter Cell is not the average gamer’s game. Hell, I consider myself – even at the semi-ripe age of 28 – to be a decent enough gamer, and I still find myself overwhelmed by the skill needed at times to trudge through the stealth-soaked series. Conviction, the 2010 installation in the franchise, changed a lot for Splinter Cell in both good and bad ways – but to say that game was anything but enjoyable would be a lie.
Blacklist is, at least on the surface, very much a return to the nail-biting, frustration-inducing gameplay found pre-Conviction – though not entirely. This chapter in the Splinter Cell franchise finds a return to roots and an embracing of the present in a combination of both patient and pressing play styles. Want to sneak through fields and slip by unnoticed? There’s a way to do that. But if you want to go full-tilt in a blaze of glory, bullets and hand-to-hand combat – you can do that too (within reason). In this sense, you can play to any sort of approach without completely alienating any part of the core audience of the game. But for what it is worth, the game corners different play styles for different missions, i.e. stealth only and wave-fighting missions mixed into the fray. For that, I applaud Blacklist – only until I get pissed off and throw in the towel on stealth to just choke people out through each mission.
As for the game itself, Blacklist‘s story is kind of interesting in that it feels like a weird reflection of recent events involving information and spying via the government. It doesn’t help that the open-world, Mass Effect-like hub for activities makes most of the impact of the story a bit dull even as it hits tense moments in trying to stop the Engineers. The story moves along well enough, though at times it feels a bit too wrapped up in twisting but not totally explaining – throwing us for more of a loop than building up the tension intended. But not being 100% invested in the story doesn’t harbor the experience too much, as trying to adapt your play to the particular mission seems to demand much more attention than the unfolding of said events.
Multiplayer feels like a nice touch – especially considering the continued involvement of traditionally single-player games in multiplayer arenas. Splinter Cell‘s multiplayer facet provides a decent enough contrast that it captures a different volume of intensity while keeping the soul of the game’s original purpose intact. It’s fun to play whether you’re with friends or traversing the Internet, and it doesn’t feel as tacked on or isolated as some recent shooter-based attempts at multiplayer – I’m looking at you BioShock and Dead Space.
As for co-op, much can be said of the single player game as with the two-player experience. Again, it’s nice to have a friend along to plan and punctuate marks with during these missions, and the game almost plays better at times when a second person is physically on your team. The only real gripe comes in the form of not currently supporting multiple gamertags on campaign-based, split-screen co-op. It’s 2013, what’s the hold up on that?
All in all, Splinter Cell: Blacklist feels like the perfect link between semi-present and past renditions of the franchise. Sure, it isn’t quite perfect through all aspects, but in finding a common ground between stealth and run-and-gun, Blacklist excels without losing sight of the game’s goal of overall enjoyment. Regardless of your familiarity with Sam Fisher and his past, Blacklist resolves as a homage to the past while forging new ground for the franchises future – all without some good ol’frustration thrown in for good measure.