Splinter Cell: Blacklist (Wii U) Review
Splinter Cell: Blacklist (Wii U) Review
In recent years, big name stealth games have had a troubled existence. Seeing the recent Call of Duty FPS boom big name publishers have started to put more and more action elements in their formerly very slow paced stealth games. This was the case with the previous game in the splinter cell series, Splinter Cell: Conviction. While in Splinter Cell: Conviction the gameplay still stayed in the shadows for the most part, now had a more action oriented focus, forcing you (or at least very heavily insisting) on you killing everyone in the room, not allowing you to move bodies, and the game introduced over powered mechanics like the mark and execute system that made the game very easy, even on the highest difficulty. While the game still had its fans, it also alienated its older fanbase who were used to the slower gameplay. So with their new game, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Ubisoft faced a choice: Go back to the old slow style or keep with the new fast paced action of Conviction? Their answer was to give players the option to choose their own way of getting from point A to point B and, for the most part, they have succeeded.
As in the other Splinter Cell games you play as Sam Fisher. Although, his former outfit, Third Echelon, had to be disbanded after events in the last game – Sam is now head of the newly formed Fourth Echelon which give or take has the same objective. This time around, Sam is strangely different. For starters, he was supposed to be middle aged by now, and had started show his age in the previous game. Here, he shows none of that. Also, the game just completely drops some of the unfinished plot points from Conviction without mention, like the nature of the mysterious Megiddo organization. The story for this game is pretty good by itself though.
The game has an explosive start with an attack on Anderson Air Force Base in Guam and it doesn’t let up from there. The group that orchestrated the attack calls themselves “The Engineers” with the sole goal to force the US to pulls out all of its troops from foreign soil or else the attacks would escalate from there. And boy do they!
The story follows Sam and his team which consists of a few “Third Echelon” vets like Anna Grímsdóttir and a few newcomers as well, as they attempt to discover who the Engineers are, and who is supporting them. There are a lot of twists and turns, and you can catch a bit of the hysteria that could take over people who fear the imminent attacks. For example Sam’s phone calls to his daughter, Sarah. However, I would have liked if Ubisoft explored that a bit more. The environments have a fantastic degree of variety from a desert town to an oil refinery and even inside Guantanamo Bay prison. The variety of locales maintains a level freshness, and finding the unique paths that you can use to sneak around keeps each level feeling different. The story is also quite long with my play though taking me around 25 hours though I did do a few side missions.
I found the main idea of the gameplay was to give players choices on how to proceed. Non-lethal melee takedowns are back in, and guns are too, in the form of tazers and shock darts. This is important because the game scores you separately based on the different kind of moves you use. Things like non-lethal takedowns not letting enemies know you are there as you move through a room contribute to your Ghost score and are reminiscent of true stealth games. Your Panther score has you doing similar actions to Conviction, which include silently killing enemies and evading those that you have alerted. Finally, your Assault score comes from actions like killing your enemies with weapons that aren’t silenced and performing melee kills and knockouts on enemies who know exactly where you are. These scores are added up separately at the end of each mission, and if you get enough score on each of the styles you can “master” them. The score threshold to master each of the styles is high enough that you need to concentrate on each of the styles separately if you want to master them, increasing replayability by making you replay the mission three times at least if you want to master each style of gameplay.
But in addition to guns and knives, you also get a wide array of gadgets to aid you in your missions. Things like sticky cameras, tri rotors and noise makers accompany a wide array of grenades and mines to fit any style of play. For instance if you were going for ghost style play you can use proximity shocker mines to non-lethally shock a guard that comes close to it, and it adds to your ghost score if it successfully knocks out a guard. For more action oriented styles, there are frag grenades and explosive proximity mines, and the great thing about the gadgets is that there are usually lethal and non-lethal types of all of them.
But you have to buy the ones you want. You can’t carry all of the gadgets in the game at once; consequently the game forces you to pick and choose the ones that you want for each mission. To facilitate this, the game also allows you to buy additional load out slots so you can configure and then instantly switch to the ideal equipment for different missions and styles.
But gadgets aren’t the only thing you can buy. You can also buy better suits for yourself. But “better” isn’t simple in this case. You see you can buy different types of suits, but they increase different stats independently of each other. For instance, you might buy suits that better protects against bullets but it will make you noisier, and the same goes for stealth oriented suits which will give you little in the way of bullet resistance but will make you better at sneaking around without getting detected. The same does for the different weapons you can buy and customize with different attachments giving different benefits, and some of the weapons you buy cannot be silenced at all. All of this is really refreshing after the more linear equipment of Conviction.
But how do you buy all of the shiny new equipment? With cold hard cash of course! I was scratching my head why a super top secret ultra-modern government black ops team has to go out and buy their own stuff but in addition to the score you get at the end of each mission you also get wired a certain amount of cash at the end of each mission. This can be increased by performing better and also doing side objectives during the main story, like hacking enemy laptops and recovering important dead drops, but it is never enough to buy everything you want especially because most equipment is locked at the beginning of the game and is unlocked by buying the cheaper stuff. This forces you to think hard about what equipment is important to you, although if equipment is necessary for a certain mission the game will tell you beforehand. You can also do side missions for more cash, though co –op is allowed during these missions for good reason, they are really hard to do alone. The side missions usually don’t really have a complicated objective tied to them usually it is just kill everybody and/or get somewhere, sometimes without being detected.
The multiplayer in general for the Wii U version isn’t really as their is no one to play with. I waited in the online queue to find a game a few times but no dice. But that is ok because the single player more than makes up for it.
As for good Wii U exclusive bits the gamepad really adds to the gameplay in an exciting way. It allows you to switch your equipment on the fly instead of using the more awkward Mass Effect-esque weapon wheel which really makes gameplay easier. Though support for the unique controller starts to feel tacked on during parts that blank out the TV screen like when you are using a snake cam to look under doors and certain story sequences that I won’t spoil. Ubisoft could have put something up on the TV when this happens, but it is just a blank screen with a “look at the gamepad” message. I get they were trying to give you the experience of looking at a camera’s feed, but it feels like a misuse of the screen.
The graphics for this game are better than the last, and you can especially see the difference in Sam’s and Anna’s models. They look better than Conviction, and their faces are more expressive, though it is a concern that there are some frame rate drops throughout the game, which is more noticeable in some of the busier levels like the prologue and the LNG terminal level, though for the most part, it stays at 30 fps, to my eyes at least. I thought with the advent of more powerful hardware, developers would have been able to keep the framerate stable. I guess I will have to wait a little longer. Note that I only have the Wii u version so I can’t speak to the technical prowess of the other versions but both lens of truth (www.lensoftruth.com/head2head-splinter-cell-blacklist-screenshot-comparison-and-analysis-ps3-vs-xbox-360-vs-wii-u/2/) and Digital Foundry (http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/digitalfoundry-splinter-cell-blacklist-face-off) did a few tests on each version so you can go look at their comparison if you are curious.
In conclusion, Splinter Cell Black list is a shining example of what to do in order to appeal to the mass market without alienating core fans. The game has enough options in both difficulty and style to appeal to any type of player and therefore I can recommend it to anyone who liked any game in the splinter cell series. The Gameplay is great, the story isn’t far behind and the graphics are a leap forward to anyone who played the previous games. Buy this game. Buy it to tell Ubisoft, and everyone else that this is how you make a AAA game.
(Images from the official Splinter Cell: Blacklist site)