- Developers - Ubisoft Toronto, Ubisoft Shanghai
- Publisher - Ubisoft
- Platforms - Xbox 360 (tested), PlayStation 3, Wii U, Microsoft Windows
- Release date - 23 August
- Price - TBA
Splinter Cell: Blacklist
Splinter Cell: Blacklist is alright, basically. It's fine. From what I've played, it's a perfectly normal, totally acceptable military-spy shooter, the kind of videogame that launches 10 maybe 15 times a year. People will like it when they play it but they wouldn't miss it if they never did. If I had to raise a complaint, I'd say there wasn't much here to get excited over, but that's hardly Splinter Cell's fault: You can say that about pretty much every game at the moment.
You play Sam Fisher, a spy, and your mission is to stop a terrorist plot on the United States. It's the same narrative setup and execution as at least a billion other games, so I won't waste time talking about Blacklist's story. The dialogue's awful, obviously, and none of the characters are even vaguely relatable. If you like technobabble, conspiracy theories and gruff, masculine heroes who get the job done despite personal feelings, Blacklist is for you. Otherwise, from what I can tell, the writing is total flapjack.
Gameplay wise, things are more scintillating. There's still that automated Point Shooting mechanic from Conviction that got up some people's noses. If you earn enough points by pulling off expert stealth tactics or kills, you can slow down time, tag enemies then tap Y or Triangle to one-shot kill them all in a mini-cutscene. It's a bit patronising but to make up for it, the rest of Blacklist is more than challenging.
It has this excellent balance of action and stealth; I can't remember which wrestler it was (it might have been Shane McMahon) but he coined the phrase "abusive, but elusive." That's what you are in Blacklist - you kill a lot of baddies, but the game still encourages you not to get seen.
You use your guns, but they're for scoring headshots from several yards away or quickly dropping a couple of patrolling guards with a volley of rifle fire. I try to contain my excitement when it comes to killing in games. After all, we have Hotline Miami and Spec Ops now - we're supposed to be moving attitudes forward. But hell if Blacklist isn't fun: There was a section where I crept from the basement of a police station right up to the top floor, taking out everyone along the way with my knife and suppressed pistol. I felt like Jason Bourne, or Leon. It was great.
As well as guns, Fisher has at his disposal the usual gizmos and acrobatics. You can dangle off ledges, hang from beams and perform close-quarters melee attacks, and you always have the option to go lethal or non-lethal; accessing the weapons radial and tapping X alternates the lethality of all your attacks, so you don't have to mess around with specific combos when it comes to punch-ups.
It's a good-looking game as well, and there's a great deal more space than you might expect from a sneak-em-up. But one problem though is that you're kind of led by the nose. The voices coming over Fisher's radio always tell you where to go, so the exploratory aspect is minimal. That's a corner the game paints itself into, actually. There's so much magical technology around that, for the sake of narrative consistency, Fisher and his team have to be basically omniscient during missions. That's the chief reason Blacklist feels boring to me: It's like an episode of CSI where they spend five minutes cross-referencing DNA samples on a gigantic touch-screen database, or triangulating voice clips to match phone numbers. Everything's just sort of done automatically for the characters and, also in Blacklist's case, the players. There's no intrigue.
But, as with all previews, it's too early to really tell. Despite some unique charm (really loved those gunfights) Splinter Cell: Blacklist at the moment is indistinctive. It's like Dead Space or Red Faction, the kind of game that feels like it's been printed off by a machine. It's by no means looking bad, but it's difficult to get enthused about. It's out next month. We'll just have to see.