E3 2013: Splinter Cell: Blacklist Hands-On Preview – Rain of Terror
Written Wednesday, June 19, 2013 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Well, we've changed our tune. Last year at E3, we had a few misgivings about the direction Ubisoft Toronto looked to be taking with Splinter Cell: Blacklist (we even awarded it Disappointment of the Show), but you can cast aside any doubts you might have had about Sam Fisher's latest outing. Now that we've played it, we can confidently report that it's shaping up to be potentially one of the best Splinter Cell games since Chaos Theory. Big words, yes. But entirely warranted.
Going hands-on with guidance from the game's Animation Director Kristjan Zadziuk, we're presented with the London stage, starting outside a derelict warehouse crawling with guards sporting bad cockney accents. This being England, it's raining (it doesn't always rain here, y'know), and it's dank, gloomy and probably freezing cold. The gloom means there are plenty of shadows to stick to for the stealthy 'Ghost' approach, or indeed the preferred Fisher 'Panther' style.
Sticking cautiously to cover outside the facility, we evade the first guard and scale the side of the building, ascending a drainpipe to reach a small guard house inhabited by a sniper. Oblivious to our presence, we knock him out, resulting in a non-lethal XP reward as detailed at the bottom of the screen. This is a straight-up Ghost takedown, silent and clean. No fuss, no muss. As far as the guards are concerned, Fisher doesn't exist.
Climbing to the rooftop via a ladder, Fisher leaps for a railing only for it to break, alerting another cockney bad guy. Thankfully, Sam's new partner in crime, Isaac Briggs has your back, popping the jumpy guard with a swift sniper bullet to the cranium. Thanks, Briggs.
Making our way to the the other side of the building and cutting across a narrow courtyard, we scurry up another wall with lithe and fluid agility, shimmying around the edge to a handy gap. This gap happens to be where a guard is standing, which has us thinking we'll pull him down to his death. Instead, Sam grabs him and pulls him face first into the concrete ground, knocking him out cold. Ah, of course... it's non-lethal.
Pressing onward, permanently crouching to remain undetected, we knock out another guy from the shadows, arousing mild suspicion from a patrolling guard across the way. We clock him strolling over to our position, so access Sam's gadget menu by holding up on the d-pad. Selecting a shock proximity mine, we throw one at the top of a flight of steps leading to our position, quietly and non-lethally frazzling him in his tracks. All of Sam's gadgets can be upgraded with the XP you accrue back on the Paladin plane he calls home.
There are numerous routes you can take through the level too, and at this point, we can either descend through a skylight and pounce from above, or enter through a window on the side of the derelict building. Equipping Sam's heat vision goggles with a tap of up on the d-pad, we track the heat signature of the guard's patrolling footsteps on the floor below us, before throwing down another shock mine into his path. Our aim is off however, so we choose to equip and throw a noise maker right next to the shock mine to lure the hooded baddie into it. Zap. It works like a charm.
Unsure of who else is lurking below the open skylight, we head through the side windows anyway, just to be on the safe side. In here, there's a jamming signal preventing Sam's NVGs and heat vision from working, meaning we're quite literally in the dark. When you're completely shrouded in darkness, Sam's goggles, watch and other lights are illuminated bright green to tell you that you're hidden from sight. It might not make much sense that you light up like a Christmas Tree when you're in the shadows, but it works nonetheless.
Yet while nipping between cover, we're momentarily caught in the glare of one of the warehouse lights, alerting the guards. We quickly evade and hide, as the patrol searches for Sam's last known position, which is still highlighted as a ghostly Sam apparition in the game. They give up searching after a while, so we send out our tri-rotor drone to do some of the non-lethal electroshock for us. Overdoing it with the aerial electrocutions, the drone is spotted, and tech guards send out ground drones to counter.
Thankfully, you can retrieve your drone quickly for further use later on, although the techie still sends out his little red-lit drones across the floor in a bid to rumble our position. A silenced gunshot puts them out of commission, but they keep on coming anyway, meaning we really need to put whoever's deploying the things out of commission to stop them.
More shock mines combined with noise makers are clearly the way forward, so we put that tactic to use again, this time shocking a guy in a puddle caused by a leak from the roof. Silently slinking through the outer corridors downstairs and through the warehouse, we cut through a sheet of fabric to stick to the darkness, getting the jump on a guy guarding the upper level overlooking some shifty-looking business involving men in yellow hazard suits. Think Walt and Jesse in their meth-cooking gear, but messing with nuclear shit.
We take the upper level sniper as a human shield before marking and executing three guards having a casual chat out of earshot of the nuclear mystery unfolding further away. It's a super slick manoeuvre, or at least it would have been if one of the guards hadn't been decked out in heavy armour. The bullet pings off his helmet and body armour, meaning we need to shoot him in his stupid face. So we do, then snap the neck of our handy human shield to finish.
Oh yeah, almost forgot. At this point we decided to go lethal, using Fisher's nasty curved blade to target nerves for brutal executions, killing enemies fast but silently. This is accessed via the same radial menu as Sam's gadgets, wherein pushing X (square) toggles between non-lethal and lethal takedowns on the fly, so you can change tack whenever you feel like it.
This final section evading the yellow hazard suits is a mandatory stealth section where getting spotted results in instant mission failure, which to be fair only knocks you back to a checkpoint at the beginning of the small room. After an ill-advised ground approach, we try again by shimmying along a pipe across the ceiling, around the steel rafters and onto the top of a truck, dashing into the back where Sam finds what he's looking for.
It's a nasty looking device that's either a biological weapon or a nuclear bomb. Whatever the case, Sam could be exposed to poisonous substances if he's not careful. Apparently, something incredibly cool happens after this bit, according to Zadziuk, but he's not going to spoil the surprise.
Besides, we're surprised enough as it is, by just how good Splinter Cell: Blacklist feels. Ubisoft Toronto looks to be onto a real winner, with Sam possessing a range of tools for whatever play-style you prefer, whether it's the silent and non-lethal Ghost, the quiet yet deadly Panther (the embodiment of Sam Fisher, says Zadziuk) or the all-out guns-blazing madness of Assault.
So when we say that Splinter Cell: Blacklist might be the best Splinter Cell since Chaos Theory, especially when you factor in the return of Spies vs. Mercs and co-op, you can pretty much take that to the bank. Splinter Cell: Blacklist looks good and plays well, and it offers something for the stealth purist and gun-toting maniac alike. Personally, we'll be going pure Panther all the way.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist will be snapping necks from the shadows on August 20th in North America and August 23rd in Europe.