Sneak into the charts

by Shane Dillon

IT’S been a few years since we last saw Sam Fisher out saving the day in the popular Splinter Cell franchise.

For those unfamiliar with Fisher, he’s a stealthy top-secret American agent who likes creeping around in the darkness, using high-tech gear to thwart terrorists’/bad guys’ plans, as well as (optionally) simply shooting them.

It’s been a series that has favoured sneaking rather than shooting to complete levels and achieve objectives, not least as Fisher often proves about as tough as wet rice paper  when shots start flying around – and quite right, too.

Now, he’s back for what’s probably his last mission on current gen platforms in Splinter Cell Blacklist (it’s a multi-format release and, as alway, prices vary at retail, so shop around).

Here, The Engineers are a mysterious group of bad guys who’ve drawn up the titular Blacklist, and promise regular attacks on key US targets at timed intervals unless America brings all its troops back home.

From there, the plot thickens ….

After an explosive opening act to the game, Fisher (and his support team) are on the trail of the Engineers, with his globetrotting missions bringing them hot on their heels. He’s determined to throw a spanner in the Engineers’ works, once and for all. (Sorry!)

It’s entertaining enough, and very much part of the Splinter Cell franchise, which has wobbled a little with some of the games in the series, but has generally remained consistently entertaining.

So, what makes Blacklist different? Well, following the recent and ongoing vogue for character customisation, players can upgrade Fisher along a number of routes, choosing to modify his strengths – and weaknesses – to create a character that suits their play style.

For example, some may wish to use points (well, money, actually) gained during missions to upgrade his high-tech gadgets, or improve his weaponry, or even upgrade his military plane/mobile support base to create on-the-ground advantages.

Interestingly, there are several optional side missions to undertake, while co-op play, whether with a friend or by letting someone drop in online, is a requirement for some of these side missions, further extending the game’s playability.

The game tries to judge and reward your playing style, with “ghost” players – those who master sneaking around, never being spotted – scoring better than would-be Rambo types. In truth, however, any halfway competent players won’t be unduly penalised by their chosen game styles.

As for any criticisms … Well, it’s hard not to feel that it’s just more of the same; even with the tinkering around with the Splinter Cell formula, there’s nothing here that’s truly great – this isn’t the best in the Splinter Cell series, by some way.

As an aside, it also doesn’t feel quite …  right, somehow, as the distinctive grizzled tones of the long-time voice of Sam Fisher, as portrayed by Michael Ironside, have been ditched for Eric Johnson’s anonymous tones instead. (Sorry, Eric.)

Coupled with Fisher’s questionable visual redesign – he’s an agent on the wrong side of 50, yet here looks and sounds like a tired 30-something – and Splinter Cell’s character has been watered down into something of a more anonymous game.

I should also point out that the optional hard disk install (to my Xbox 360) of a few gigs of high-res textures/assets didn’t make it look particularly pretty; many parts have workmanlike graphics, rather than anything that really wows.

Still, it’s a Splinter Cell game all right; there’s lots of stealthy fun at many points in the game, with some decent co-op and versus gaming added onto the standard game.

As such, this Blacklist has earned a place on your shopping list …

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