E3 2012: Splinter Cell: Blacklist First Look Preview – The Next Echelon
Written Monday, June 11, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Where Splinter Cell: Blacklist lies within the overall Splinter Cell saga, we're not entirely sure. And having been shown a demo of the game – the same sequence wheeled out for Microsoft's E3 press conference – we're still none the wiser. Firstly, here's what we do know. Sam now seems to be inexplicably younger than before, with Michael Ironside now off voice duties and old man Fisher getting a dye job and an injection of youth serum. It doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense.
Fisher is now also leader of the newly formed Fourth Echelon - appointed by the US President no less - and as such is able to call the shots out on the field, when we thought he'd be pushing pencils behind a desk somewhere. The set-up for Splinter Cell: Blacklist is the standard Tom Clancy hokum, with a mysterious terrorist network targeting US interests on US soil. And so, Sam Fisher is back on the scene, donning his iconic goggles and a grey stealth suit that makes him look a lot like Metal Gear Solid 2 era Solid Snake. But with goggles.
Like Snake, Fisher looks to be lethal in close-quarters situations, as the demo mission sees Sam infiltrating an enemy encampment at the Iran-Iraq border, enrobed in a disguise. He brings a body into the base camp and things immediately start to get tense. Sam spies his terrorist target, and sets about marking each enemy in the first aid tent before making his move. He pops the two marked targets in quick succession with silenced shots before beating the third into submission, breaking his arm and sticking his knife into the terrorist's collar bone. It's interrogation time, as Sam twists the knife to make the terrorist squirm in pain, before he gives up the location of the terrorist leader, Jidad. Nasty. You can knock out or kill the terrorist, as a binary moral choice, which will presumably lead to consequences further down the line.
Moving quietly through the camp, Sam comes upon a tent where he can use x-ray vision to scope out any enemies behind the khaki fabric. Cutting through the cloth entrance, Sam sneaks into the tent, grabs the guard on the other side and stabs him without making a sound. From the relative safety of the tent, Sam marks out his next plan of attack, using the mark and execute earned from silently taking down the previous guard. Pouncing from the tent, Sam slides over a crate shooting one, then two, then three soldiers in quick succession, before grabbing the fourth and slitting his throat in one fluid motion. Grabbing the fifth soldier as a human shield and bending his arm, Sam plugs the other guy with a shot to the head before kneeing his hostage away and shooting him to death.
Fittingly, Ubisoft Toronto is calling this 'killing in motion' rewarding you for mastering Sam's abilities with mark and execute. There's more fluidity in evidence as Sam springs onto a cliff face, climbing the sheer rock like Ezio on steroids. Finding himself edging ever-closer towards his target, Sam tiptoes his way through another encampment, grabbing a guard, stabbing him and dragging him behind a low wall. Clearly, Sam doesn't mess around.
There's more killing and creativity at work as Sam hangs from a ledge whistling a guard over, before jumping up to pull him over the edge. Landing in a puddle below, the falling soldier attracts the attention of nearby enemies, which Sam sees as an opportunity for a multiple takedown, launching an electrifying taser shot into the water surrounding the investigating troops. Sam's kicked the hornet's nest now though, and an armed escort pulls up nearby, scouting for his position. Using his leader status, Sam calls in a Fourth Echelon drone strike to destroy the escort in one fell swoop, and swiftly moves to the building where Jadid is operating from.
In the E3 gameplay video, Sam set a breach charge, blew it and stormed straight through the door, marking and executing everyone inside. In our presentation, we're shown an alternate approach, where Sam uses his mini snake camera to peek under the door to mark the soldiers in the building before climbing to the rooftop, where he's able to rappel through the window, blowing the charge as a distraction.
What follows is an extended interrogation sequence with Jadid, as Sam pushes his face towards a shard of glass, having slammed his head through it. Jadid reveals a plot twist to Sam before shooting himself with Sam's own pistol as it's pressed against his jugular, prompting Fisher to quickly formulate an escape route in collaboration with Grimsdottir over their comm link. Bringing his UAV online, the view switches to the drone's perspective, allowing Sam to rain rockets and cannon fire down on targets using infrared vision.
Rocked by explosions, the terrorist hideout starts to crumble around Sam, meaning it's time to make a quick exit. Diving from rubble as the building falls, the demo ends on a cliffhanger and our first look at Splinter Cell: Blacklist draws to a close. And we're left with mixed feelings regarding this latest entry in the Splinter Cell series. On the one hand, Ubisoft Toronto's apparent effort to inject more gameplay variety into this latest instalment is admirable, and there appears to be a natural evolution of many of the game mechanics introduced in Conviction.
But then on the other hand, it looks like Splinter Cell: Blacklist has lost something too. First and foremost, the absence of Michael Ironside as the iconic voice of Sam Fisher is a blow, but it's the typical sandy Middle Eastern setting that makes Blacklist look like practically every other modern day military shooter out there. Killing in motion also seems to have transformed Sam into something of an automated killing machine too, able to execute multiple targets with a fast and brutal efficiency that looks to take a lot of control away from the player. Mark and execute worked well enough in Splinter Cell: Conviction, but whether Ubi can repeat the trick for Blacklist, we're not too sure.
It's with some trepidation that we look forward to seeing more of Splinter Cell: Blacklist in the near future then, but based on this first showing, we're somewhat conflicted about Sam's new direction. Whether that will dissipate over time remains to be seen, but Blacklist just doesn't feel like Splinter Cell at present. Perhaps our fears will be allayed when we get the chance to go hands-on with the game.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist is pencilled in for spring 2013.