Splinter Cell Blacklist PS3 preview: Ubisoft Toronto “share authorship with the players”
Sam Fisher has always been better at snapping necks than spinning a yarn, and Splinter Cell: Blacklist’s creative director Maxime Béland knows it. “As developers we are making games – not movies,” he says on the subject of gameplay vs narrative in the latest espionage-tinged sneak-’em-up from Ubisoft Toronto. “This means we share authorship with the players. There is no reason to make a game without letting the player express themselves.”
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That in mind, the plot framework makes a lot of sense. With cloak-and-dagger intelligence outfit Third Echelon closed down, Sam’s appointed chief of… yep, Fourth Echelon. An even more cloak-in-dagger intelligence outfit staffed by elite murderers, they’ve been given the sign-off to do whatever the frick they like to ‘protect the greater good’ since the government granted them the ‘Fifth Freedom’, a terrifying and fictitious policy not even Dick Cheney could have snuck through in the Bush years.
Blacklist’s hugely impressive melee animations and fluid ‘killing in motion’ takedowns are possible not just by clocking in the hours in the mo-cap studio, but by adopting a more forgiving approach to stealth – “a little bit less brittle and less punishing,” as Béland puts it. What happens is you’re given just a touch more breathing room when marking targets – which in turn provides a sense of Fisher-sharp control over any situation.
If he wants to sneak at all, that is – he’s equally free to go in guns a-blazin’. “The game will fully support players’ choice to play ghost, panther or assault through the economy and customisation systems” explains Béland. “The economy system rewards players [who] choose their preferred style and master it.”
The ‘ghosts’ Béland’s referring to are the players who hit the load screen as soon as they’re detected. The assault ones are those who want to break seismographs with the level of gunfire they unleash, calling in air support whenever possible and generally acting like the horrors of war are going out of fashion. In the middle, the panther is the player who dabbles with both, as the situation dictates.
Blacklist’s AI needs to cater to all three to satisfy, and it has a strong chance of achieving that. The series has had its ups and downs, but it’s remained one of the most mechanically immaculate third-person titles around. You only have to watch Blacklist in motion to testify how strong a chance it has of retaining that accolade.