Sam Fisher is facing the most challenging foe of his career in Splinter Cell: BlackList for Nintendo Wii U. The Engineers, a deadly terrorist group hellbent on abolishing the US, has made a simple, but chilling demand – America must withdraw all its troops from abroad or key military installations will be targeted by the ‘Blacklist’ protocol every seven days. As Sam explores the dark, murky world of terrorism, he makes an unlikely alliance with someone from his past. With his associate Anna ‘Grim’ Grímsdóttir and new characters Isaac Briggs and Charlie Cole, they must unravel the mystery behind The Engineers.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist introduces a new gameplay mechanic to the series while also reviving an old one. Known as ‘Killing in Motion’, the player can highlight enemy targets and kill them in quick succession without performing it manually. The feature requires Sam to stealth kill an adversary to build an ‘Execute’ gauge. Once this gauge is filled, enemies that are close by can be selected with the R button and executed by pressing Y. Depending on the distance between Sam and his enemies, he will either snap their necks, slit their throats or shoot them in the head. Additionally, gamers familiar with the series will be surprised by the return of ‘Spies vs Mercs’ – a competitive mode first introduced in Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow.
A growing trend in newer releases, Blacklist supports gameplay on the Wii U’s Gamepad. Some missions, like the Insurgent Stronghold, have you flying through the night skies of Iraq using night vision. The object is to insure that Sam can land safely by sniping all guards within proximity of the ‘landing’ zone. You must tilt the Gamepad in different directions to aim your sniper rifle. The ZL trigger button is used to zoom in on your target, while pressing the ZR button will fire your rifle. While Blacklist’s gameplay is less stringent and doesn’t punish the player for breaking ‘stealth’, some sequences – like the one described here – requires the player to be meticulous about their sniping skills.
Mission briefings occur at Fourth Echelon Headquarters, a customizable cargo plane with the codename ‘Paladin’. After being shown a brief in-game cinema regarding the current situation, you are then sent to the SMI to plot your next move. The SMI system (or ShadowNET as it’s known) is where you can select any available missions. The system also gives you the option to ‘Start’ a mission, Play Online and receive ‘Additional Details’ about your chosen mission.
Before deploying, the player can customize Sam Fisher’s Load Out. You are given three Load Out slots – labeled A, B and C - to equip Fisher with different accessories and weapons. This reduces the time needed to prepare Sam for stealth missions. One Load Out can be dedicated to stealth gear such as a ‘Sticky Cam’ and ‘Smoke’ grenades, while a second Load Out can contain more lethal gear (i.e. an MP7A1 and PX4 Storm .45) for missions that have no ‘stealth’ restrictions. A Load Out gauge is located to the right of the screen, indicating the equipment’s overall armor, stealth and weapon handling.
The game includes three difficulty levels to accommodate gamers of varying skills. Rookie includes slower moving enemies that inflict less damage when they attack; Normal requires a moderate use of stealth and a slight increase in difficulty during combat; and Realistic requires a higher degree of stealth, your enemies inflict far more damage, and the ‘Execute’ gauge fills much slower. Plus, Sam’s Sonar Goggles cannot see through walls like in the previous two modes. If you’re new to the series, choosing the Rookie difficulty the first time through is strongly recommended.
The gameplay is the best ever seen in a Splinter Cell game. With the occasional stealth mission aside, you are given enough freedom to interact with the environment and your enemies as you choose, so breaking stealth doesn’t end the mission like it would in previous installments. In fact, Blacklist rewards the player for incorporating the following play style(s) – Ghost (Pure Stealth), Panther (Silent and Deadly) and Assault (Open Combat).
These ‘play styles’ are based on how you play the game and interact during certain scenarios. For example: gamers who like to ‘stealth’ missions, use non-lethal methods and leave no evidence behind will receive a score in the ‘Ghost’ category. If you begin a mission with stealth and non-lethal methods – and eventually decide to ‘kill’ your enemies – you will be scored in both the ‘Ghost’ and ‘Panther’ categories at the end of the mission. Moreover, you can take the direct approach by assaulting your enemies without using stealth and be scored in the Assault category. Regardless of your play style, Blacklist rewards the player for experimenting during missions, which is an added plus.
Blacklist’s ‘Cover’ system supports both ‘automated’ and ‘manual’ control over Fisher. Veteran gamers can still control how Sam hides behind cement pillars, walls and vehicles, if they so choose. The ‘automated’ cover system works a bit differently, and reduces the ‘leg’ work to a single button press. For example – if additional cover lies ahead, you can Press the A button to make Sam crouch, roll or lunge (depending on the distance) for the new cover location. When this happens, no further intervention is required by the player. Additionally, you can ‘break’ Sam’s cover by pressing the B button.
The controls are intuitive and feel more streamlined thanks to the Wii U’s Gamepad. Aside from the face buttons and the Left Analog stick being used for movement, the Gamepad’s touch screen is used for Sam Fisher’s weapon inventory. You can select a weapon by just tapping on it with your finger. Any challenges available for the current mission can be viewed by tapping on the ‘Shadownet’ tab.
While on the Paladin, the player can use the SMI to access Blacklist’s online multiplayer feature. When connected, you can choose to play Spies vs Mercs (i.e. team deathwatch ), Co-Op and Clan Tag. As of this review, the online community for Blacklist is relatively small. A ‘Quick Match’ feature is available to connect players to the same match, but there are times when it’s not successful.
Blacklist’s graphics are clearly ‘Next Gen’ as no details were spared. The backgrounds contain high-res textures; the enemies are just as detailed as Sam Fisher; and the frame rate never seems to falter. The overall presentation is impressive to say the very least.
With that said, Splinter Cell: Blacklist is simply one of the best games currently available for the Wii U. Gamers who already own Blacklist on Playstation 3 or Xbox 360 may not find the additional Gamepad functions worth the extra money, but Wii U gamers will find that Ubisoft’s latest offering takes full advantage of their favorite console.
Platform: Wii U
ESRB: M (Mature)