My first review, My first full Splinter Cell game. Only played one other and never completed it. That one being Splinter Cell Conviction. Backstory, someone in the PI group kinda needed to review blacklist and I was the only one interested in the game though I only ever really played a portion of one Splinter Cell I still liked what I saw from Blacklist at E3. So there was really no other choice. I can say having played Blacklist now it is one of the toughest games I’ve played in my lifetime and I’ve actually said that about the last of us. I never played a Splinter Cell game really though so I don’t think that distinction ever held up. Now I know these games are hard if you want to be stealthy. At least they are for me. It’s not cause the stealth is bad more so I’m just bad at it in this game.
I’m not going to do what my colleagues did and call the game out on graphics or anything because that sort of thing in gaming isn’t a big deal to me. If the graphics are gorgeous great, but if they look fine then they look fine. I’m not picky when it comes to this sort of thing because certain colors don’t even come up to me. Kind of a warning for other reviews I do as this will be the only time I post it. Maybe as a disclaimer in others but no promises. So this review will mostly consist of what you truly care about. The gameplay, Is it good? The story, Is it entertaining? And does the game have lasting appeal? All of these questions will be answered sort of in this review. I am no expert at doing reviews but I’ll give it my best effort.
I’ll start with what is my least important aspect of the game that I listed. That’s the story. I’m not saying story isn’t important mind you, I’m just saying that a game with a great story and crappy gameplay is not as fun as a game with an ok story and fun gameplay. So, the story in Blacklist as always casts you as Sam Fisher. Resident hero of the Splinter Cell franchise. You are charged in the story with basically bringing down this terrorist organization, I wanna call it, called the blacklist. Hence the name blacklist I guess. And that’s really the just of it.
The game’s story isn’t really a highlight. It takes you to interesting locales and interesting things happen, but nothing that is really that mindblowing. And as a matter of fact, nothing that I haven’t really seen before already. For this reason, the story is ok. Nothing to special at all about it. The best part about the story to me was how it took you to interesting locales. Not just in other countries but in America itself. You go to Philadelphia, someplace in Louisiana, and at one point and this was my favorite part of the whole game, Chicago.
See, you being here means you likely listen to the podcast but if you don’t you should know this meant a lot to me because I’m from Chicago. It was the city I was born and raised in. And I absolutely love the city. So seeing it realized in any video game in video game form is truly jaw dropping for me. So when Sam Fisher first arrives in Chicago I instantly recognized where I was and that was Navy Pier. It was so cool for me to know, holy crap I’m visiting something in a video game that I’ve actually been too in real life. A bit surreal. It takes the cake for my current favorite moment in video games.
The story though kinda does something that pisses me off royally. It takes away some of the freedom that you get in the game in some of the missions. To use an example. In one area you are completely forced to not kill anyone until a certain point in the mission. You are also forced to not get detected by anyone. This is really hard to do considering the ridiculously inconsistent AI that the game has. This kind of thing is what side missions are used for. Side missions restrict what the character has to do. The main story should be used for player freedom and choice in a game that has it a lot.
These instances happen 5 times throughout the game. And every time it happens it gets frustrating. But it’s okay as the gameplay is still solid for the most part throughout. One other highlight in the story for me was an actual enjoyable “final boss” fight. It’s not necessarily a final boss fight but it has the vibe of one. You have to be sneaky in this fight or you die literally instantly. The thing about this was though that I wasn’t expecting a final boss fight here. Maybe that’s why it was so good for me. Also because it was different from every final boss I’ve ever fought. Not about shooting him a ridiculous amount of times till he finally dies. No you be sneaky and that’s it. That’s the fight. Simple.
I don’t know if this is really story related but it’s a highlight. Checking in with the crew of the paladin, those being Charlie, Briggs, grim, your daughter, Sarah, and an unnamed person I won’t spoil was also a highlight for me. Hearing the conversations they would have with Sam about the stuff happening in the story was pretty cool to me. My favorite dynamic was with his daughter. I had to go check on her every time I completed a mission to make sure everything was still good.
One final thing the game does with choice was giving you the option to kill or spare certain people in the story. I’m not sure if it changes anything up in the story because at the end it seemingly doesn’t matter either way. I will say though that some of the ways that people die in the kill option are pretty brutal. One in particular that I won’t spoil. That’s all for the story bit of the game. Solid, but not mindblowing to sum it up.
So for me this is the most important aspect. And it will kind of tie in with the lasting appeal bit. There is a lot to do in Splinter Cell: Blacklist. Or at least for a game of its nature. Being a stealth oriented third person shooter, you like me would probably expect some linear story telling and as a result a lot of go here and kill this guy type of fights. If you are thinking that is what you’ll get in Blacklist, you’d be wrong. See the main appeal for me in blacklist has been I can play Sam Fisher the way I think Sam Fisher would act. As if I’m literally Sam Fisher. Not in the sense that there is player choice but in that you can go through the whole game much like my game of 2012, Dishonored, without killing a single person. How this is possible, don’t ask me because I don’t do that kind of thing. I do stealth all the way up until the shit hits the fan and then I go in guns a blazing. Then back to stealth. You can choose to do this, you can choose to go full stealth but killing people or you could choose to go the whole game guns a blazing like people do in a lot of games.
The way the game puts you into Sam Fisher’s shoes doesn’t just stop there though. Already good enough for me and it goes further. The entire game is accessed right from the start and every thing that you can do, be it co-op, single player, or multi player they are all accessed from the single player hub. You press the start button and you see it all and can access it all immediately. I think this is a great technique and more games should use it. It’s kind of innovative, never really seen it before. But from that main hub you can leave the screen and walk around on the paladin. Go and upgrade the ship, buy weapons, find other missions that the group gives you and such. This is also a really cool idea I just wish it could have got put to more use. I’d like some conversation options so I could learn a little more about my crew a la Mass Effect. No romance or anything just a little bit more knowledge about the team is fine.
Back to playing how you want to play. You can customize your Sam Fisher to be the best Sam Fisher YOU personally want him to be. Not a lot of options but it’s still a welcome addition. What I mean is you can choose the loadout you go onto the field with. The game never forces you to go into battle using this. It recommends items but it never forces you explicitly to do so. And you can customize Sam’s outfit. And no this isn’t a cosmetic thing either. The outfit customization actually adds added benefits to Sam’s abilities. Such as equipping him with a new pair of pants helps him be more stealthy. I don’t really think I need to understand why that makes sense. It’s a great addition.
So that’s basically all I got to say about letting you play how you want to play. Now I’m going to talk about the core gameplay. What you’ll be doing in blacklist a majority of the time is killing people. Not playing dress up, or customizing your guns. So is the killing of the people fun. And I have to say for me it varies a little. When the game becomes a gun fest it gets kind of boring. But when you are sneaking around trying to find the best way to either take out the enemy without being seen or kill the enemy entirely with as little noise as possible. The most effective way to do this is by melee. Luckily melee gives you your execute attack instantly. And execute is a good way to take out a group of enemies and is the coolest looking thing in the game. Unfortunately I thought the coolest looking thing in the game would be melee kills. All the melee kill animations are repetitive for the most part. Non-lethal takedowns consist of Sam taking the enemy down and either choking him out with his knee or arm, or knocking them out. Cool the first few times but it never really changes as you go on. It’s so on and so forth for the other things. Nothing impressive in that animation department. I’m not saying it’s a big deal though. Sure you will melee a lot in a stealth playthrough but whatever. Meleeing gives you those oh so satisfying execute moves.
So if you don’t know what executing is. I think it was a brand new thing brought in to Splinter Cell in conviction. The basic idea being that you mark a set amount of people and then press a button and it becomes a sort of cinematic moment where Sam kills said amount of people in rapid fashion, most of the time without missing. This is what I would like to call the easy button. If you are struggling to find a way out, kill this group of enemies. Well you can just execute them and move on. It’s never really that simple but still. Mark and Execute is an awesome thing to do. It feels so satisfying to do it and is dependable.
Now, the hard part about it is, I played through blacklist on normal as I do with most games. And struggled early on. Having never played a Splinter Cell game. Figuring it would be like most stealth games. You now be stealthy and if I get spotted well I’m strong enough to tank some bullets. Not here. If you are spotted you either run or die. That is if you are stealthy. Keep in mind that I didn’t build a “tanky” Sam Fisher. Every time I was seen and I didn’t get away. I was dead within two bullets and was back looking at the dreaded loading screen. Speaking of the loading screen it’s almost nonexistent unless you die a lot. So that’s good. Anyway, every enemy situation you encounter, it will never be just one-three enemies. Sorry never that easy. It will always be in a pretty open area giving you options and forcing you to think especially if you are stealthy.
All this stuff is extremely appreciated from someone like me. I like the challenge that comes from deciding what’s the best way to take everyone out without alerting everyone. But the enemy AI can be kind of bad…and when I say kind of bad I mean pretty bad. In some situations it was understandable but in a lot of them it was just sheer stupidity. For example there was a moment in a side mission where I was hanging off a dock and threw a guy off it right in front of his buddy. Then his buddy who saw it all happen. Walks over to check what happened. Of course you can guess what happened to that guy. Sure it’s good for a laugh but it’s still kind of disappointing that the enemy AI isn’t a little bit smarter.
And while I’m talking about problems with the game I’m going to bring up the numerous bugs that I encountered in the game. To highlight a few. My favorite being an enemy henchman stuck in place walking on top of a piece of cover and never attacking me. I stood up in front of him and he didn’t attack me. So he basically became broken. Every game has this kind of bug. It’s funny, you know it wasn’t meant to be there but you get a good laugh out of it. Then comes a weird graphical bug. One where you melee kill an enemy through a door. So I first encountered this in the same side mission I killed the two idiots by the dock. I lured a guy to a door and he opened it but because I was standing right where the door would open the door shut again right on his face. But I pressed the square button and I killed him. Problem being that we were both on opposite sides of the door. Sound funny? It was. And it happened numerous times to the point where I was practically abusing it. It’s not gamebreaking but it’s still kind of irritating to see. Couldn’t Ubisoft have tested this? Why is this a possible thing. And to further illustrate the stupid AI at times. In those same situations they would open the door and it would close on their face. And then they would open it again and it would close on their face. The process would be repeated until finally I killed them. Problem here is that there are a lot of doors that are double. So if it’s not opening on this side, for one that should probably be investigated, then you should probably go to the other side and check the problem. And one final bug just to illustrate my point. This happened near the end of the game so if you plan on picking it up don’t click the video. My friend recorded this and it was quite funny when it happened. The quality is a little bad but bear with it.
So yea that was just one of the many bugs that happened in game. Pretty funny but also pretty saddening that they didn’t test that kind of thing out.
But the thing that irks me most about this is that the AI is really inconsistent. To the point of frustration. The AI can be really smart in a lot of places. Again using my own example. In a sort of waves and waves mission I was spotted and ran to an area. The people who spotted me went to that area and then their teammates flanked me and killed me. Problem lying here is that you have a last known location indicator if you do get spotted in blacklist that basically tells the AI to keep shooting there because you may still be there. Yet sometimes the AI is somehow smart enough to know you won’t be there and flank you right in the area you are going to be.
On the sound and detail side of things. There are some subtle things that go along way for a gamer like me. You can open doors, windows, and such in blacklist. I know right, innovative thing there. And when you do open these doors and the AI comes back it questions how it got open or if he left it open or something along those lines. It’s really cool to me and goes a long way. Also if you don’t kill an enemy, just non-lethal take them down and an enemy finds them, that enemy will wake up the guy who’s unconscious and that’ll be another head you have to deal with. And banter will happen when this ensues so it’s all cool and kind of frustrating at the same time.
Small complaint that I have is with the controls. Not something I’m used to. Pushing the right thumbstick in to reload, X to run, climb, and everything. R2 marks people, and Triangle I think serves the purpose of just being used to execute. The shoulders being your ADS and shoot buttons. Square being your melee attack and I’m not exactly sure what O does. The meleeing and Shoulder button inputs are fine but everything else just seems weird. I don’t know, maybe I’m just use to using Square as the universal reload button and now that I think about it O not really being used for anything important. Jokes.
Finally, the game has some nice replay value. It offers a co-op campaign, a competitive multiplayer and multiple singleplayer side missions. Not to mention you can go back and play that single player again on each of the different styles. Those being Ghost, Non-Lethal, Undetected. Panther, Lethal, Undetected and Assault which is basically just F.E.A.S(Fuck Everything And Shoot). Each completed thing has challenges and such that give money to unlock upgrades for Sam or the paladin. This is the stuff for true completionists, sure but it’s still there and it’s still appreciated.
There are also multiple collectibles hidden throughout the single-player and cooperative campaigns. Giving more replay value in going back and finding them. And as I said there are single-player or co-operative optional missions you can do. Never necessary but they are there. They offer a swerve on the normal gameplay though. You have to play the mission a certain way. For example in one you can’t be seen while you are placing a word that escapes me on certain equipment. Again never needed but fun anyway and adds a bit of replayability.
The true replayabilitiy comes in the form of the competitive multiplayer. Spies vs Mercs. Pitting as expected one team against the other with certain match objectives. Sure they say it does stuff for the campaign but I personally don’t know what. Maybe just give you some money to further upgrade the paladin and purchase new weapons and upgrades for Sam. That’s cool it’s welcome and thankfully in at least my time with it Spies vs Mercs was actually quite fun. And it needed to be otherwise the game probably would have lost a population pretty quickly.
Big negative for me and a pretty substantial reason for why the scores not going to be a 9.2 or whatever. The co-op campaign is a massive disappointment. It had a lot of potential to be good but it just wasn’t. For one you can’t play it with an AI which unless you have a friend to play the co-op with is the next best option. We’ve said it on PI. People are assholes over the internet. They don’t care about doing what you want just getting the mission done. So a lot of the time the “randoms” you’ll get paired up with be “rambos” which is to say people who run and gun. That’s fine and all but it doesn’t make the game fun. It might be fun if you have a partner. Emphasis on might. Because in all honesty the co-op bits felt a little like COD to me. You have a partner and he helps you kill and stuff and then you break through an area and move on to the next. Co-op bits felt extremely linear to me and didn’t feel executed on properly. Also at the end of the first mission you and your partner take control of a UAV and provide covering fire for your teammate just like COD has done in the past.
Another negative thing is with the side missions. Not that they are necessarily bad but more so just repetitive. You get side missions from the crew of the paladin. And each crew member has a specific gameplay style side mission. For grim, it was undetected, plant three things in certain areas. And when they say undetected, they really mean undetected. For Charlie you have to fend off waves and waves of enemies till you can extract and let me tell ya. In splinter cell, the waves and waves thing, it don’t work. For Briggs you have exclusive co-op only side missions that work kinda like the single player only with a partner. And then there is one more person that gives you side content but I’m not telling you about that. Point being any side content you could do just boils down to doing the same thing over and over and over to the tune that it gets boring.
So that’s my review of Splinter Cell: Blacklist. Or at least the parts of it you probably don’t care about. The true thing you care about is the score and to be honest I thought the game was great. Game of the year candidate, no, but a fun game nonetheless. Only if though you are into stealth games. I advise if you aren’t into stealth stay away from this one. So the score i’m giving it may not be a great score like other places have given it. I may just have a different opinion. Aren’t that what all reviews are though?
+ Fun but Challenging Stealth Gameplay
+ Tons of Replayability
+ Entertaining Competitive Multiplayer
- Very Poorly Done Co-op Campaign
- Extremely Inconsistent AI
-Repetitive Side Content
-Graphics Aren’t Really That Great
Splinter Cell Blacklist: 7.4/10
*I know I said I wasn’t going to say anything about the graphics and frankly I didn’t I just thought I’d point out at the end that the graphics in the game aren’t stunning. To be honest they don’t really look that good at all. They look like they came out of the early PS3 and Xbox 360. Most games look much better now. Maybe it’s just me but yea. Also I know this may be a little different from how Nooch and Kyle do their reviews but what are you going to do? I also realize it may not be at the quality that Nooch and Kyle do their reviews but hey. I tried. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day!