Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Splinter Cell: Blacklist Lasting Impressions

I stayed up fairly late last night to push through the last bit of Splinter Cell: Blacklist but wanted to hold off on writing anything resembling a review until I had actually slept. The game is good, there are plenty of review sites out there who will quantify that for you. The lasting impression, however, is somewhat strange.
Blacklist does a whole slew of things beautifully. The animations are fluid, the sound design is great, and the lighting is very strong. There are moments of tension and frustration, moments that make a stealth game powerful.

What I'm left with, though, is questions. In my earlier post I asked "who is Sam Fisher". This is a question that never really gets answered in the game. I mentioned earlier that I thought this was a problem caused by changing the voice actor but I think it goes much deeper than that. The game does little to develop Sam, a shame really. Sam starts out fierce, hostile, and determined...and he ends exactly the same. Nothing about his character changes or grows. He flies off the handle at people for petty things and by the end he's probably pretty pleased that he can't be sued for creating a hostile work environment.

Sam Fisher is also apparently a family man apparently, the game advises that Sam call his daughter Sarah after nearly every mission, something I found myself forgetting and the conversations even more forgettable. The relationship between Sarah and Sam has been brought to the front since Double Agent but I don't think it can sustain enough narrative weight to make it interesting. Sam spent two whole games dealing with issues directly related to her and now it seems old hat.

If the game is supposed to function as some sort of reboot to the series it doesn't seem to be fully aware of it. Grim's new persona seems to point to that, so does the cold introduction of Charlie and Briggs. But the return of Kobin seems to point towards a continuity. The same with President Caldwell, a really ineffective administrator, and references to Tom Reed among others. Blacklist is a game without a proper timeline. It tries to be a faced paced 24-esque adventure but I find myself not running through levels like Jack Bauer. I am slow, deliberate, and I take satisfaction from leaving the scene virtually untouched.

Blacklist nominally seems to understand this style of play by offering three different paths, Ghost, Panther, and Assault. These branching paths work best in games when no one level is particularly suited to any one path. The best execution would be to offer a level where each path is given distinct methods for completion, each satisfying. Instead, Blacklist goes the set piece route and builds whole sequences tailor made to each style of play.

Though many of these moments are contained within side missions, they also infect the single player campaign. Strangely, I actually found it easier to be a ghost than anything else. It had little to do with the combat mechanics, though that was a factor, and much more to do with the fact that many of the gadgets are nonlethal. Since I had trained myself to be sneaky the moments where the game forces that upon me presented no particular challenge, something assault or panther players might find difficult. Furthermore, when I was forced to take on the enemy I had a slew of silent, nonlethal weapons to deploy and managed quite easily.

Don't misunderstand me, I really enjoyed Splinter Cell: Blacklist. The action is good, the script is fairly good, and it handles well. But at the top of the scale, as I look at AAA titles and games looking for top marks, small mistakes become much more obvious.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a strong buy for fans of the genre and the series.

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