Sam Fisher is back – younger and with a new voice. Yet Splinter Cell: Blacklist is embracing history by returning to the shadows. Does it pull it off or is it a ghost of its former self?
Splinter Cell: Conviction angered many long term fans because of its action-orientated approach and its story, which saw Sam Fisher go off the reservation and on a one man revenge spree. Yet it also attracted the attention of some fresh eyes with its lesser emphasis on stealth. Now, Blacklist has the unenviable task of trying to appease both. As a result, Fisher is back in loving arms of the US Government and has somehow found himself with the rather amazing job as the head of newly formed Fourth Echelon. He’s also its lead Field Agent. Oh, and he has a new voice box.
Sam’s sneaking and shooting will be immediately familiar to anyone who played Conviction, but be prepared to have all of your choices questioned because Fisher’s old MO is back. It is entirely possible to navigate your way through a level avoiding guards so no one will even know you’ve been there. If you do have to take someone out, you can do it without causing them any lasting harm too. Most importantly, you feel damn clever when you get through an area and not one person has a clue you were even there.
Killing everyone in sight is still a completely viable tactic, sure, but the game does hint that you should really be trying to be quiet about things. Every level ends with a score based on three types of play: Ghost, Assault and Panther. The first two are fairly self-explanatory, the last is about killing people but being relatively quiet about it. Ghost earns you by far the most points and all these points convert into money, which you can use to upgrade Sam’s gear, the Fourth Echelon HQ and your multiplayer characters – because apparently the US Government’s black operations provide performance based pay. The single player alone will not give you enough cash to upgrade everything, so for that you’ll need to play the side missions.
Yes, believe it or not, Splinter Cell has side missions. These are set-up as various leads your team find about Blacklist that they then investigate. They are split into various types depending on which member of Fourth Echelon tackles it and it’s here that the differing play styles really come to forefront. Briggs has more traditional missions that form the main co-op campaign. Grim’s offer pure stealth where even one guard spotting you causes you to fail. Kobin’s follow an elimination style – much like Conviction’s Hunter mode – that has you taking out everyone possible, Panther style, as going loud will double the number of people looking for you. Finally, Charlie’s are basically Splinter Cell if it had a Horde Mode. Other than Briggs’ all can be done on your own or in co-op and they don’t pull punches. Take the wrong equipment or make one wrong move and it’s all over.
Sam, you sound a little different?
Going into this review I promised myself I wasn’t going to make a big deal out of the change in voice actors for the hero. Unfortunately, it has had quite an effect on Fisher. His personality is mostly the same, but he’s a bit of a dick here. While the story does frame this attitude in a way to make sense, the new voice makes it hard to accept. With Michael Ironside’s voice, he’d still be Sam Fisher, and we’d have a connection to the character that might help us excuse some of his actions.
The voice change probably would have worked better at the time of Conviction’s story, where Sam was going rogue to avenge/save his daughter. That was a much more personal story and would have ingrained the new voice to us easier. Though, I can understand why it wasn’t done when so much else about the game was different – the voice would probably have made matters worse.