Splinter Cell Blacklist preview – welcome to Forth Echelon

Splinter Cell: Blacklist ps3 screens

Splinter Cell’s thrown out a few surprises over the years, but its core tenets have remained as practised as a CIA agent’s morning routine. It could just as easily be named Tom Clancy’s Breaking People’s Necks, and that’s no bad thing – Sam Fisher makes spine-snapping a veritable artform. Blacklist takes those slick mechanics, the gadgetry and the anti-terrorist hyperbabble and does it all again, but more.

Splinter Cell Blacklist preview

Case in point – the ‘mark’ mechanic Ubisoft also used in Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. Sam’s long been able to mark a group of insurgents in his field of view and then spill their brains in one slo-mo sequence. In Blacklist, the system remains the same, but the animation’s taken a big step forward. Fisher moves around the room, manoeuvring between obstacles as he takes the shots, leaving you feeling much more like a trained killer than the quick camera angle changes in Xbox-only outing Conviction did.

As far as the required Tom Clancy hyperbabble, the eponymous Blacklist refers to a group of Middle-Eastern terrorists who have access to some crucial government information that the Western world would really rather they didn’t.

Fisher, now in charge of Fourth Echelon, is heading a task force in charge of getting those carelessly misplaced documents back from a rather familiar Middle-Eastern desert setting. Expect double-crossing, whispered conspiring and more power at your fingertips since you’re now boss: Fisher even called in air support at one point during our first look, although he spent most of his time using just a pistol or his bare hands.

Character animation has had a huge upgrade to keep up with modern expectations. Ubisoft claims it’s “connecting face, body and voice like never before”. In declassified terms, that means more mo-capping using better technology, and a new actor playing Sam Fisher [braces self for volley of projectiles]. Micheal Ironside is gone and instead he’s replaced by Eric Johnson, a young hotshot with the athletic frame and physical prowess to also take on Fisher’s motion capture duties.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist ps3 screensIt’s a shame, we know. But Sam really does look all the better for it. He’s a more agile agent in Blacklist, able to sprint, dodge and dip into cover with more fluidity. When there are men to kill along the way and you see that fluidity in the transition from movement to combat and back again… well, that’s what Splinter Cell’s all about, isn’t it? In the same way action heroes must never observe the explosions going on behind them, Sam Fisher doesn’t stand and watch his enemies die. He’s either scurried back into whatever dark corner he came from, or setting off towards his next kill.

That’s why we’re excited about Blacklist’s almost cautious approach to furthering the series. Rather than throwing out a slew of new ideas and seeing what sticks, Ubisoft Toronto just wants to make the slickest Sam yet, with the ingredients – the stealth, the gadgets, and the fluidity of movement and combat – that fans expect. Ubi has a preposterously exciting espionage project in Watch Dogs that promises to take hi-tech stealth gameplay to the next level, which leaves Blacklist with the task of perfecting Splinter Cell’s popular formula to make it the best yet. We like that strategy, and its high standing on this list says you do, too.