Friday, September 11, 2015

Splinter Cell: Blacklist review

    I'm a fan of Tom Clancy's work in spite of the fact they're more the kind of books my dad prefers to read than my usual tastes. Despite this, I'm never going to lose my love of his over-the-top spy fiction. While Tom Clancy's role in creating the Splinter Cell series is limited to the creation of Third Echelon and the character of Sam Fisher, I see a lot of his influence in every level of the semi-grounded series.

    The premise of the series is Sam Fisher is a past-his-prime Special Forces operative who specializes in getting into places and out of them without being seen. Working for Third Echelon, he is given carte blanch by the government to do whatever it takes to protect American freedom. In real life, that doesn't work out very well but we're in fantasy-land so I'll give it a pass. In Splinter Cell: Conviction, this proved to be a mistake as Third Echelon turned traitor and it fell to Sam to destroy his former comrades.
It's never a good day for terrorists when Sam's around.

    Blacklist picks up a year later with Sam Fisher having inexplicably gotten twenty-years-younger and being portrayed as a man in his mid-thirties-to-early-forties rather than someone pushing sixty. Having left the service of the United States government to become a private military contractor, Sam gets roped back into it when his best friend is badly injured during a terrorist attack on Guam's military base.

    Now the head of Fourth Echelon, Sam is given the task of tracking down and eliminating ex-MI6 operative Sadiq and his collection of terrorists known as Engineers. If not, they will unleash a series of devastating attacks on America called the Blacklist.

    The game has a big budget action-movie sort of feel from beginning to end. There's big epic plans to poison Chicago's water, set the natural gas reserves of the United States on fire, and other huge James Bondian plots. The game looks every bit as good as Conviction, better even, with a strong focus on memorable charaters as well as keeping the plot moving. There's never a dull moment in the game save, perhaps, some of the latter levels going on a little too long. The fast-paced, epic plotline has both good and bad effects.

No torture in the game but many forceful interrogations.
    The good is this is an immensely entertaining game which manages to capture a 24-meets-Metal Gear Solid level of play. Sadiq is an effective villain and I could easily imagine watching this on the big screen. The sets are big and grandiose with locations that stick in your memory like Iran's secret police's headquarters and the bunker where all of the United States' leadership is kept during a crisis. The game can be played in its traditional stealth mode but also in a hard action shoot-em-up style.

    The camaraderie with Fisher's Fourth Echelon team doesn't approach Mass Effect levels but it's in the same ballpark, which works fine. I love how many of the characters flat-out don't trust each other in the beginning, only to gradually warm to each other in unexpected ways. I especially liked the relationship between Sam and Grimdottir, which was permanently damaged by her actions in Conviction.

These characters DO NOT like each other.
    Watching them try to work together when Sam flat-out holds her in contempt is an interesting experience. Anna is forced to confront the hard reality that making her "hard choices" in previous games have consequences which extend far beyond the political. Sam and she may now feel like exes rather than father and surrogate daughter but the relationship is still fascinating.

    The bad is the game tends to be a little underdeveloped for what it could be. Sadiq's motivations are never followed up upon other than he is an MI6 operative who feels betrayed and hates America. Likewise, I feel we could have gotten deeper into the characters of the game despite Blacklist focusing more on them than previous volumes. That's not to say the game isn't good, by any stretch of the imagination, it could have just been better.

    The gameplay for Blacklist is very fun, combining the best of previous Splinter Cell games with the more action-orientated Conviction. The return of non-lethal takedowns was a welcome addition with the fact you're dealing with complete scumbags meaning it was a genuine choice whether to spare or kill your opponents. You get your mission grading based on what style of play you choose to indulge in and I admit, I usually went the assault route.

To shoot or sneak, that is the question.
    Long-term fans of the game will dislike the fact Michael Ironside is no longer voicing Sam Fisher but, honestly, I think it was time for a change. The problem is, I think they should have taken the time to replace Sam Fisher himself.

    Maybe have the newer, younger version of him in this game be his nephew or protege. Eric Johnson does a serviceable job in the role and I think manages to capture the spirit of the character, even if it's played much-much younger than a man with a twenty-five-old daughter.

    The game comes with the option of high-definition graphics but this proved to be a mistake as my Xbox 360's hardware wasn't able to run the game without an immense amount of problems. The voices of the characters dropped, there were pauses in the game, and other problems which left me feeling severely disappointed. These problems disappeared when I ran it without the upgrades, however.

    The game is beautiful with amazing sets, locations, and character-design. I loved the supporting cast, action, and gameplay. The voice-acting was excellent while the plot was a little stereotypical in places but still enjoyable. I'm not a big fan of the game's multiplayer nor was I really pleased with the amount of bugs I faced when dealing with the high definition Xbox version. I hope, when it gets to Xbox One, it'll play much-much better.


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