Splinter Cell: Blacklist PS3 review – polished prowling from the old man and the CIA

However you feel about the Tom Clancy depiction of global politics – which likely depends on your proximity to the Bible belt and whether you thought Team America was an insightful documentary – there’s a profound and redeeming truth in Blacklist, and it’s that being Sam Fisher is really, really enjoyable. You may not want to vote as he does, but his considerable toolset and agile body make for a meaty stealth experience even bleeding heart liberals can’t resist.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist PS3 review

For a change, Sam’s daughter is in absolutely no peril this time. The catalyst for all the neck-snapping is a terror threat called The Engineers who vow to commit an act of unbridled evil every seven days until America pulls its troops out of all foreign territories. Naturally the bigwigs on Capitol Hill decide the best course of action is to assign a single man to the job, put him on a spy-plane with some familiar faces, call them Fourth Echelon and give them the power to do /literally anything/ in the name of anti-terror. An unashamed American power fantasy, but too preposterous to take genuine ire with.

“The considerable armoury available means you can tool up to play it like a veritable Ghandi if you want (Ghandi used tranq darts, right?)”

Your flying base of operations, the Paladin, gives Blacklist an inter-mission downtime area like Mass Effect’s Normandy in which you’re free to shoot the breeze with Grimm, customise your loadouts or call your daughter just to check she hasn’t fallen down a well before heading out into exotic climes to sprain wrists and take names. It’s also host to all manner of 24-esque ‘no time to talk but let’s talk in unfathomable technobabble anyway’ cut-scenes that are generally excellently voiced… except for Fisher himself. We miss you, Ironside.

Blacklists’ scoring system rewards three distinct play styles: Ghost (staying undetected, keeping takedowns non-lethal), Panther (Ghost, with killing) and Assault (Tony Montana), with your prowess in each style yielding currency, unlocks and leaderboard position. Its resolution to shape itself according to your whim is pulled off confidently. Levels are more multi-pathed than ever before in the series, and the considerable armoury of gear available means you can tool up to play it like a veritable Ghandi if you so desire (Ghandi used tranq darts, right?) while also offering a very real possibility to complete missions like John McClane on bath salts.

It is, of course, the stealthier path that serves the richer gameplay. Even early on with a basic loadout, you’re armed with sticky cams that release sleeping gas, smoke grenades and tri-rotor drones that fire darts. If you kill two enemies in exactly the same way on a mission, it’s because you got lazy. AI behaves predictably enough to let you toy with them without making you feel like you’re shooting fish in a barrel, announcing their movements, waking up unconscious comrades and saying ‘let’s go find who knocked you out.’ They’re readable and consistent, and very often it’s possible to sneak past without engaging them by discovering a tunnel or popping out of a window to shimmy beyond their patrol route.

Going Rambo has its own rewards, like chaining melee takedowns using Sam’s increased parkour skills and the always-entertaining mark and execute system, but whatever your approach the game’s cover system, controls and UI do a great job of telling you what moves are available to you at any given second without drowning the screen in prompts. Very rarely do you botch an altercation for pressing a button while standing in slightly the wrong position – a vice even the best third-person titles fall prey to at times.

Where Blacklist slips up though is in trying to give you constant variation for its own sake. Ghosting a level is all well and good, but it feels a bit futile when you’re literally forced into an unavoidable shootout against twenty men because Ubisoft Toronto decides it’s time to spread some shell casings on the floor. Likewise its impromptu platforming sections and UAV thermal cam shooting galleries only add breadth, rather than quality, to the core experience.

Splinter Cell’s return to PS3 builds upon a legacy of slick mechanics and crafts an empowering experience whether you choose to pull it in the direction of stealth or action. If you can bear its unironic plot, which gives you the same feeling as watching Fox News, it’s more than worthy of your to-do list.
Sam’s learned new tricks, gained an almighty toybox and feels righteously superhuman to control, but spreads himself thin in an effort to impress.

Our Score

Score: 8
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