This review is for the Wii U version of the game. Splinter Cell Blacklist is also avaliable on the PS3 and the Xbox 360. I don't know if the game is any different on these other platforms so this review is strictly for the Wii U version of the game.
It has been a long time since we last saw a Splinter Cell game, six years to be exact. Of course I am not counting in that 3DS remake of another game that can just be forgotten. But in the time since the last game our sneaky friend Sam Fisher, who has clearly been avoiding us, has gone ahead and started going grey and has even had his voice change, but even if he has gotten older it is still great to see our sneaky friend come back for his long overdue return.
Sam’s latest adventure sees him having to face down a terrifying terrorist organization known as the Blacklist who have plotted to spread destruction and ruin in locations all over America every week until their demands are met. The reason is simply to get all soldiers out of wars all around the world and back to their own country, or at least that is what they say. To stop this organization, Sam Fisher is called back into action and must team up with a small group of people to jet across the world and uncover the mystery behind the Blacklist and put a stop to them.
For those who aren’t aware, the Splinter Cell franchise is well-known and has been praised for its stealth-based gameplay. Blacklist is no different, there are many levels and sections which demand the player to find a route that avoids staying out of trouble or sight as they make their way to the objective, additionally there are sections where you have to literally avoid enemies and find an alternative way around, where maneuvers such as hanging from high up on a wall become a necessity.
Each mission is scored on a player’s performance, ranging from whether the player chooses to play as a ghost, a panther or just full-out assault. Playing in the form of any of the play styles is all well and good as it caters for how the player chooses to play. While I like the idea of this I did find the way the game does things annoying, such as this new combat emphasis. Unlike in previous games, the player is often forced into combat situations which are not always easy or accessible based on how the player has chosen to play. Likewise, with this combat focus, entire stealth levels are an issue for the combat-based player as they will have more often lowered their stealth abilities in favour of armour to help them to survive.
Running through levels not caring if you get caught is all well and good as a play style and I believe that this style will work better for the more impatient player. Personally I preferred to avoid combat where possible (not that it often worked) and try to find the alternative ways around areas. Enemy avoidance was my complete focus and I was glad for how the level design catered for this play style. Each room is full of cover points and often roof-based or ground-based hiding spots are able to be found in order to sneak through a room, but not hiding in darkness and ending up in plain sight is still hazardous. This is not to say level design is perfect, it is in fact often very repetitive using the same cut and paste idea from each level with a different theme and idea to match the area environment. There are a few standout points to see but they are short lived and are more often than not as the level is finishing.
Ubisoft has provided some decent usage of the Wii U’s Gamepad here. It never goes beyond a small usage every couple of missions but the way it has been used is well done. Usually at the start or end of the level a stealth section would be delivered that requires careful precision and aiming to take out a selection of enemies. Moving the gamepad around moves the camera over enemies and taking a shot in the right point will take them out or in some cases a couple of shots are required, such as when you have to take out cars in a chase sequence before they destroy the car Sam is in. It was well done and makes for a fun challenge. The gamepad is also used to switch weapons around and change the vision type via the simple touch of a button.
While I love the gameplay ideas, there are few things that really annoyed me about this game. One of my first issues is that Sam seems like a very dislikeable character. This was probably just the new voice speaking but he always sounded so sad and moody even when on his plane. I understand it in the field remaining quiet but otherwise it just annoyed me. It’s a small thing but the voice actor didn't seem to do the character justice. Luckily, Sam does show he isn't all that miserable in his conversations with his daughter, which shows he does care, but perhaps his voice issues are the effect of him getting old.
My other major issue is in the multiplayer, my first issue here is the game's insistence on online multiplayer. This means that players have to have online connectivity to their console in order to play with other people, and can’t just play with their friends locally. The following issue is that while the game does have a good portion of side-missions both single-player and co-op enabled, the missions from one character are all co-op which means to do these missions I needed someone to play and I struggled to find anyone. On the other end of the scale I fail to understand why multiplayer can’t have one person on the gamepad and the other on the TV as it would be so much easier. Also, loading times between missions are unbearable.
Splinter Cell Blacklist is a great entry in the Splinter Cell franchise and the combination of gameplay ideas and the player’s choice in how they play makes the game quite interesting. I may have had a good variety of issues with the game but that never got in the way of my fun, from beginning to end the story of the game pushed me to keep playing, and even when those final credits rolled I still wanted to go back for more and I believe that is the sign of a great game. Just in future please supply local multiplayer and stop forcing online on us as that is the only thing that dampened my experience with the game.