Splinter Cell: Blacklist puts you back in the shoes of your favorite stealth operative, Sam Fisher. The beginning of the story shows an older Fisher who has taken some time off from the espionage business and has established a life for himself outside of secret government operations. Everything seems to be going well until a military base that Fisher is visiting gets taken over by a mysterious group of terrorists known as The Engineers. During the attack, one of Fisher’s best friends, Victor “Vic” Coste is injured by an explosion. The attack and Vic’s injury light a fire in Sam’s heart, and he is ready to get back at The Engineers any way he can.

After the initial attack, The Engineers release a video listing attacks that will be carried out against the United States if US troops aren’t withdrawn from foreign countries. This prompts the US President to assemble Fourth Echelon, the country’s best covert operatives and intelligence experts. It is Fourth Echelon’s job to ensure that these attacks do not succeed, and they are authorized to use any means necessary.

The story in Splinter Cell: Blacklist really makes the gameplay experience much more fulfilling, especially for American players. The narrative of a terrorist organization targeting key locations in the United States is very believable, and I found myself looking at this story as a future possibility more than a fictional circumstance. Americans are always acutely aware of the fact that we could be targeted by a terrorist organization at any moment, and this fact makes the storyline in Splinter Cell: Blacklist come alive.

Blacklist is also very well paced and compartmentalized, so it is easy for you to sit down for an hour or so, complete a mission, and fill in story gaps. Some games really milk the story and make you wait for the important moments, but Splinter Cell: Blacklist makes you feel like every mission you complete is essential to the progression of the story. There is always an important piece of intelligence found or gained through each mission. This gives the game a cohesive feeling that other mission based games lack; you know why you went on the mission and what you gained from it the moment you get back onto the Paladin.

The Fourth Echelon Team meeting in the Paladin.

The crew of the Paladin is also essential to the story of Blacklist. Anna Grimsdottir, Isaac Briggs, Charlie Cole, and, reluctantly, Andriy Kobin make up Fourth Echelon, and they are essential to the success of every mission. They provide Sam with information that is essential if Sam is stop The Engineers and the Blacklist attacks. Your interaction with the Fourth Echelon members is constant throughout the game. From the Paladin to the ground, there is always a member of Fourth Echelon in your ear giving you information necessary to the success of your mission.

Overall, the story in Splinter Cell: Blacklist is well crafted and well executed. It is definitely built to appeal to American audiences more than any other group, but in this time of heightened security and unknown allies and enemies, it is a story that can be embraced and enjoyed by anyone.

The gameplay in Splinter Cell: Blacklist is executed beautifully. It takes the stealth gameplay that was used heavily in the early Splinter Cell games and adds in some new elements, such as the ‘Execute’ feature, to keep the gameplay fresh and up to date.

There are a variety of enemies that you will encounter through the single player campaign. They range from regular enemy combatants with no armor to fully armored heavy assault enemies that are near impossible to take down head on, there are even other stealth operatives to fight against in some missions. Most of these enemies are pretty easy to deal with; regular enemies go down with a simple shot to the head, and light armored enemies can be taken out through proximity shockers or by shooting off their helmet and using gas or lethal tactics against them. Heavy armored enemies are a completely different story. They cannot be taken out with shockers, and in order to take them out with gas you need to shoot their helmet off, and they can only be melee killed or subdued from behind. It is always interesting to see what ways you can deal with heavys when you encounter them.

The most prominent new feature in the game is the ‘Execute’ feature which allows you to target multiple enemies in an area and execute them in slow motion with your selected weapon. It’s a great way to quickly dispatch enemies patrolling an area.

Most missions give you the choice to go loud and kill everyone in open combat, stealth kill your opponents, or go very quiet and rely on stealth knockouts. These three play styles are broken into 3 different ‘scoring categories’, Ghost, Panther, and Assault, which determine how much money you make at the conclusion of each mission. Each category has a different score multiplier, but it basically breaks down to this, the stealthier you are, the more money you get. Each style is also facilitated by different gadgets and weapons. If you are an open combat type of person, you can use incendiary grenades or proximity mines, and stealth play is facilitated through smoke grenades, proximity shockers, and sleeping gas. You can also use sticky cameras and noise makers to distract enemies. I am personally more of a Panther player. I love using proximity shockers and stealth tactics to kill enemies without beings seen. The Engineers are out to destroy the American way of life and cause harm to American people, so I feel like it’s my duty to kill their minions and followers whenever possible.

Sam Fisher getting mission intel in the field.

Not all missions give you the choice to kill or subdue, though. There are select missions that require you to go through the entire level unseen or without setting off alarms, and these are the missions that bring you back to the old days of Splinter Cell, when you couldn’t be seen or detected no matter what. These missions are spaced out so you don’t feel like you are locked into a strictly stealth gameplay type for too long, but when they come, you have to put yourself in that stealth mindset and stick to it.

The first strictly stealth mission I played was tough. I was so used to the leeway that came with the ability to be seen that I didn’t concentrate hard enough on staying in cover and effectively using my gadgets. I failed the mission 4 times because of simple missteps that I could have avoided if I was in the ‘Ghost’ mindset. But, once you get into that mindset, the stealth only missions are very fun. You get to utilize many different means of terrain traversal, ie: climbing pipes, finding hidden pathways, and using gadgets as distractions. The stealth becomes a small personal mission. Even during regular missions, you find yourself wanting to avoid contact or trying to complete the mission without having to go loud.

The one place that the game stumbles a bit is with the cover system. I personally found it a bit finicky; coming in and out of cover can be a bit sticky, and once you are in cover, it can be odd to move around depending on your camera angle and how you entered cover. But, the cover system does function adequately overall. You are able to jump from cover to cover pretty easily, and the levels are designed in a way to make cover hopping a very effective way to get across the world quickly and quietly.

Aside from the single player missions, Splinter Cell: Blacklist offers a variety of different cooperative missions and competitive multiplayer modes.

Spies vs Mercs action!

In order to access the cooperative missions, you need to speak with Grim, Briggs, or Charlie while on the Paladin or access the SMI to see which co-op missions are currently available. Some of these missions give you the choice to do them solo, but most of the time you will want to bring a partner along with you. I tried many co-op missions without a co-op partner and found out that they are pretty difficult alone. I was only able to complete one by myself, but when I played with a friend, we were able to complete the other 3 I failed. The co-op missions are very fun and don’t feel like a different game when compared to the single player campaign. In fact, the co-op and single player missions flow quite nicely together.

If you are more of a competitive multiplayer person, then Spies vs Mercs is probably more your style. There are 5 different competitive game modes, but some of them are pretty similar. The 5 game types are Spies vs Mercs Classic, Spies vs Mercs Blacklist, Extraction, Uplink Control, and Team Deathmatch. The classic SvM mode pits a team of 2 mercs vs a team of 2 spies; the spies must hack terminals that are placed in the level and the mercs must defend these terminals at all costs. In classic SvM, your players have set loadouts that cannot be changed.  SvM Blacklist is very similar except it is 4vs4, and this mode allows you to customize your loadout. Extraction flips the circumstances of the SvM Blacklist game type and places the spies in the defensive position, as they have to defend intelligence that the mercs are trying to steal. Uplink Control is a 3v3 mode that is a play on the classic point control game type; players must control the uplink station in order to gain points to secure a victory. Team Deathmatch is 4vs4, and as the name suggests, it is a match to see which team gets the most kills.

Each game mode offers a unique style of play and will challenge players in different ways. The SvM game modes require tactical coordination and cooperation between teammates. Communication is very important when playing this mode. It is a nice break from the run and gun style of multiplayer that is prevalent in games today. SvM classic and SvM Blacklist are definitely my favorite multiplayer modes.

Overall, the gameplay in Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a great mix of stealth and open combat that will keep you on your toes at all time.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist is running on a modified version of Unreal Engine 2.5 which was originally released in 2002. Ubisoft has modified that version of the Unreal Engine and kept it up to date with different tweaks and changes, but you can start to see the age of the engine in Splinter Cell: Blacklist. The graphics are still very nice to look at, but they lack the depth and detail of newer games.

Since we are on the cusp of a new console generation, games now will come under more intense scrutiny when it comes to graphics and details. Games now, especially games that release on PC, should bring an enhanced level of detail in both character models and environmental pieces. While everything in Splinter Cell: Blacklist was clearly well modeled and polished, it still lacked the detail that I would have liked to see.

When choosing Sam’s outfit before each mission, your suit is noticeably blurry and aliased due to low graphic fidelity and lacks a certain depth that would make the suit pop. As a result, it looks like you are just wearing a black leather one piece instead of a tactical covert ops suit. Also, the faces of the characters were very well modeled, but lacked the detail to really make them jump at you. Sam Fisher is clearly older in this game, but it seems like the graphics engine lacked the ability to bring out the necessary wrinkles and facial details that are usually used to convey age. So, instead of facial features, Sam has an abundance of grey hair to bring out his age.

Loadout screen before missions

I know this may seem like a nitpicking, but other games, so much smaller than Splinter Cell, have these graphics features in them, and I feel like a marquee franchise like Splinter Cell should have cutting edge graphical abilities. I am not saying that the graphics of the game are bad; they just feel outdated for a game released in late 2013.

The lack of detail does not break the immersion factor of the game or pull you out of the well-crafted environments, in fact, one of the stand out features of the game is the level design. Each level is crafted to allow players to explore a host of different exploration options that could be used to complete the mission; I just think that overall the game could have looked better.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist is the first game in the series that does not feature Michael Ironside as the voice of Sam Fisher. Ironside was replaced by Eric Johnson who is most known for his roles as Whitney Ford in Smallville and Steven ‘Flash’ Gordon in the short lived Sci-Fi TV series Flash Gordon.

The change from Ironside to Johnson took place because Ubisoft decided to go with a full performance capture production style instead of just voice over work. Since Michael Ironside isn’t exactly a spring chicken at 63 years old, a younger actor was needed. This is also the reason that the voice for Anna Grimsdottir was changed.

I was very skeptical of this change when I first heard about it before the game released. Michael Ironside was known for his strong and distinct voice, and I knew that they wouldn’t be able to find someone to replicate his style.

You can notice the change as soon as Sam talks for the first time. Ironside’s voice had a very gruff and militaristic tone to it, and Johnson’s voice just does not have that same bass to it. But, you quickly adapt to the change and realize that Johnson embodied Sam Fisher perfectly. It may be a different voice, but it is still the same Sam Fisher that we know and love.

Anna Grimsdottir also has a new voice actress, Kate Drummond. She replaces Claudia Besso who had portrayed Grim in the original Splinter Cell, then again in Chaos Theory and Conviction. The vocal difference between Drummond and Besso is not as drastic as the difference between Johnson and Ironside, but it is still noticeable if you are a fan of the series. Drummond actually portrays the character of Grim quite well, and I found myself preferring her over Besso early on in the game. She was able to bring more life and intensity to Grim and her chemistry with Johnson was excellent.

Where is Kobin?

Andriy Kobin is again voiced by the inimitable Elias Toufexis, who is famous for his portrayal of Adam Jensen in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The only problem I had with Toufexis’ performance is that I kept thinking of Adam Jensen every time I heard his voice. He is a great voice actor, and he is the only voice actor that worked on both Splinter Cell: Conviction and Splinter Cell: Blacklist.

The main cast is rounded out by Dwain Murphy as Isaac Briggs and David Reale as Charlie Cole.

These four actors together are Fourth Echelon, and they did a great job portraying the different personalities of each character. There was a noticeable chemistry between the actors that came out during the round table discussions, some of which were more like round table arguments.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the changes that were made in the series, and I thoroughly enjoyed the performances that were given by all the actors and actresses.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a great entry into the popular covert ops series. It adds new features into the series in order to keep the gameplay interesting and tells a very compelling story that is very relevant to current world issues.

The execution of the new gameplay features goes off without a hitch, and other than a finicky cover system, the game plays better than any other stealth action game out there.

Although it can feel a little dated because of a lack of high fidelity graphics, it is still a title worthy your hard earned dollars.

If you are a fan of Splinter Cell games, or stealth action titles like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, you should definitely pick up Splinter Cell: Blacklist.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist Review
Story9.2
Gameplay9.2
Graphics9.2
Voice Acting9.2
9.2Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)
9.5

About The Author

Nick C
COO/Podcast Host

I’m Nick, a proud nerd and gamer. I rock my Star Wars tattoos like I’m a real Jedi, and I hope I will be making games first and playing them second in the future!