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Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist

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Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist box art.png
Cover art featuring protagonist Sam Fisher
Developer(s) Ubisoft Toronto
Publisher(s) Ubisoft
Director(s) Maxime Béland
Patrick Redding
Gunther Galipot
Producer(s) Jade Raymond
Andrew Wilson
Designer(s) Laurent Malville
Richard Carrillo
Simon Larouche
Artist(s) Scott Lee
Writer(s) Richard Dansky
Matt MacLennan
Composer(s) Mike Zarin
Kaveh Cohen
Series Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell
Engine Unreal Engine 2.5[1]
Platform(s) Microsoft Windows
PlayStation 3
Wii U
Xbox 360
Release
  • NA: August 20, 2013
  • AU: August 22, 2013
  • EU: August 23, 2013
Genre(s) Action-adventure, stealth
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist is an action-adventure stealth video game developed by Ubisoft Toronto and published by Ubisoft. The sixth installment of the Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell series, it is the sequel of Splinter Cell: Conviction. The game was released worldwide for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Wii U, and Xbox 360 in August 2013.

Players control Sam Fisher, a spymaster working for the Fourth Echelon, in a mission to stop the Engineers, a group of terrorists which is trying to coerce the United States into recalling all of its troops stationed abroad. Blacklist's gameplay is similar to its predecessors, with players tasked with completing objectives and defeating enemies. The game endeavors to combine elements of its predecessors, including the action focus of Conviction and the stealth focus of the older games. Blacklist marks the return of the asymmetrical multiplayer mode Spies vs. Mercs, which was introduced in Pandora Tomorrow.

It is the first title developed by Ubisoft Toronto, a studio founded by Ubisoft in 2009. The game was directed by Maxime Béland, who had worked on Conviction, and produced by Jade Raymond. To prepare for this game, Béland studied reviews and feature lists of the latter. Blacklist is the first Splinter Cell game starring Eric Johnson as Sam Fisher, since series veteran Michael Ironside was unable to perform motion capture for the game. The Toronto studio focused on the game's Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions, and its later-announced Wii U version was developed by Ubisoft Shanghai.

Blacklist's pre-release reception was generally positive, despite criticism of its new voice actor. The game received generally positive reviews when it was released, with praise for its level design, story, gameplay, combat and multiplayer mode. However, criticism was directed at its dated graphics, lack of challenge and ending. It failed to meet Ubisoft's sales expectations, with sales of two million copies three months after its release.

Gameplay[edit]

A man hiding from a soldier by hanging from a ledge
Screenshot of Fisher evading enemies by hanging from a building ledge

In Blacklist, players assume control of series protagonist Sam Fisher as he seeks to stop a terrorist group called the Engineers. The gameplay emphasizes stealth, and utilizes the third-person perspective. During the game, players can rotate its camera, run, crouch and leap over obstacles. Since Blacklist intended to continue the "aggressive stealth" of Conviction while retaining the traditional stealth features of the older games, it combines action and stealth,[2] and allows players to use different approaches and methods to complete objectives and defeat enemies. Players can complete levels without being noticed by the non-playable characters' artificial intelligence by taking cover or using other traditional stealth methods. If the player chooses to kill enemies, other enemies are alerted when they see their companions' dead bodies. To avoid this, players can hide corpses.[3] Fisher can also create a strategically advantageous dark environment by destroying nearby lights,[4] and is equipped with customizable night-vision and sonar goggles to detect enemies in darkness and see through walls.[5][6] He also has the Tri-Rotor, a compact surveillance drone which can spy on enemies, create distractions, give electric shocks, and self-destruct to kill enemies.[7]

Players can play a more aggressive run-and-gun game by using gadgets and weapons to eliminate enemies. They can interact with environmental objects, such as ledges and zip-lines, to navigate levels.[8] Conviction's mark-and-execute system returns in Blacklist, with refinements and additions to allow players to mark several targets. When they attack, they can kill all marked targets instantly.[9] Improvements made the system work more fluidly.[10] A variety of enemies (including soldiers and dogs) are encountered in the game, following the protagonist and alerting their companions. Players have the option to kill them, leave them untouched, or incapacitate them,[11] and the game classifies their choices in one of three categories: Ghost (stealthy play), Panther (stealthy, aggressive play), and Assault (aggressive play).[12]

When players kill (or avoid) targets and complete objectives, experience points and money are awarded to buy (or improve) weapons, and upgrade the Paladin airship and Sam's suit and equipment;[13] the upgrades improve efficiency in completing missions.[14] Experience gained depends on the difficulty level and how the game is played; the greater the stealth, the greater the reward.[15] According to Ubisoft Toronto, the system, known as "universal economy", was intended to satisfy players; every action has a corresponding reward.[16]

The Paladin is the game's hub. Between missions, players can interact with crew members on the ship and view the game's objectives.[4] Crew members also offer the protagonist side missions to complete.[17] Before a mission Fisher can deploy the strategic mission interface, allowing players to see enemy positions and plan attacks and routes. Players can also use the interface to access multiplayer modes and missions.[18]

Although the game has interrogation sequences involving questioning (or torturing) targets, it does not have Conviction's interactive torture scenes. Players can still decide whether to spare their targets or kill them after interrogation,[19] and these decisions influence the relationship between Fisher and other crew members.[16]

Blacklist has platform-specific features, including voice integration with Xbox 360's Kinect peripheral which allows players to distract enemies before attacking.[20] A player can also use the Kinect sensor to control the protagonist with their body instead of the Xbox 360 controller.[21] In the Wii U version, the Gamepad controller's touchscreen is an interface, accessing gadgets and other features from the protagonist's arm-mounted computer (OPSAT), and incorporating screen and motion controls to highlight enemies with thermal vision when using Killing in Motion. The Wii U version was not shipped with the game's cooperative mode.[22]

Multiplayer modes[edit]

The "Spies vs. Mercs" competitive mode introduced in Pandora Tomorrow again appears in Blacklist.[23] An asymmetrical multiplayer mode, it pits two teams (with different gadgets, playing as spies or mercenaries) against each other. Spies, in third-person perspective, are equipped with smoke grenades and flashbangs and are tasked with hacking computer stations heavily guarded by mercenaries. Mercenaries, in first person, can access lethal and longer-range weapons despite being unable to stealth-kill enemies.[24] The mode has two varieties: Classic, supporting teams of 2v2, and Blacklist, supporting 4v4 action.[25][26]

Blacklist also has a co-operative multiplayer mode, where each mission can be accessed by talking with the crew of the Paladin. Crew members offer a variety of missions and requirements for completing them, and players play as Fisher or his colleague Briggs; both have the same abilities.[27] The game has a total of 14 missions, with split-screen play supported.[28] In addition to co-op and Spies vs. Mercs, Blacklist has other multiplayer modes including Uplink control, Team Deathmatch, and Extraction.[29]

Synopsis[edit]

Characters[edit]

Blacklist again features Sam Fisher, a former Third Echelon Splinter Cell who is now the spymaster and commander of the newly installed Fourth Echelon. The game also sees the return of Fisher's old ally, Anna (Grim) Grímsdóttir, and new characters such as Isaac Briggs and Charlie Cole. Several supporting characters from Conviction reappear, including Victor Coste, Patricia Caldwell, and Andriy Kobin. There is also a cameo from former 3rd Echelon agents Archer and Kestrel.

Main campaign[edit]

Sam Fisher is leaving Andersen Air Force Base when a terrorist organization assaults the base, wounding Paladin Nine Security co-worker and best friend Victor Coste. Soon afterwards a faction known as the Engineers takes responsibility, announcing a series of attacks on the United States, the titular Blacklist, which will continue until the U.S. recalls its troops deployed abroad.

U.S. President Caldwell assigns Fisher, his colleague Charlie Cole, CIA agent Isaac Briggs and Anna Grímsdóttir to Fourth Echelon, a new special-ops and counter-terrorism unit. Charged with stopping the Engineers, the group uses the cargo plane Paladin as its command center. Fourth Echelon first aims to secure Andriy Kobin, a CIA hostage believed to possess information on the Engineers. Fisher extracts him from a safe house in Benghazi, and learns that his associates have ties to the Engineers. Infiltrating an insurgent stronghold, he finds an executed U.S. soldier and learns from a video recording that the executioner is Majid Sadiq; a former MI6 agent, Sadiq demands the Fourth Echelon to stop interfering.

Believing that their next target is a water-filtration plant near Navy Pier, Fisher infiltrates the Engineers and prevents the release of a biological toxin into the water supply. Kobin then tells him that mercenary supplier Reza Nouri may be allied with the Engineers. Sam assaults Nouri's mansion, capturing him for questioning. When he learns about an Engineer sleeper cell in London, Fisher infiltrates an abandoned mill and discovers chemical bombs in a shipping bay. Opening a bomb to plant a tracking device, he is exposed to nerve gas. Incapacitated and apparently dying, Fisher is captured by Sadiq and rescued by Briggs; in the ensuing confrontation, Sadiq escapes while Briggs provides first aid to Sam.

Due to files recovered by Fisher in London (and made public by the president), the American public and Congress both believe that Iran is funding the Blacklist, and The United States and Iran are headed towards war. Looking for more solid proof of Iran's involvement, Fisher infiltrates Quds Force headquarters in Tehran(previously a U.S embassy). Inside, he discovers that Iran has nothing to do with the Blacklist, and that the files he recovered were planted by The Engineers in order to lure The United States into a war. Fisher narrowly escapes Tehran by using a Predator Drone to blow up the Iranian vehicles chasing him, causing an international incident.

The fully healed Fisher and Briggs then deploy to Philadelphia. When they find four bombs being loaded onto trains, they follow the bombs to a rail yard and disarm them. Boarding a departing train of Engineers, Fisher fights his way through the cars and pursues an Engineer leader (who escapes into a station and is killed by a police officer).

Briggs uses his CIA credentials to have Fisher sent to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, allowing him to continue interrogating Nouri. Nouri confirms that Sadiq is head of the Engineers, and says that Sadiq knows the identities of the Fourth Echelon leaders. Escaping from the prison, Briggs and Fisher reach the Paladin in Yucatán and escape when the plane is attacked by a Mexican drug cartel. Fourth Echelon restarts the plane with Kobin's help, and Sadiq executes a Blacklist attack on the largest U.S. gas reserve in Louisiana.

As the president begins continuity-of-government procedures, Fisher shuts down the burning plant and averts a chain reaction to the next reserve. When he captures another senior Engineer, he learns about Sadiq's final plan: to disclose all U.S. military secrets. Sadiq kidnaps the Secretary of Defense and holds them at the Site F government bunker under Denver International Airport. Disregarding the president's order, Fourth Echelon infiltrates the base. Despite Cole's infiltration of Sadiq's team, Sadiq's men capture Briggs and torture the secretary of defense into authorizing the transfer. Briggs intervenes, killing the secretary and halting Sadiq's plan.

The Engineers try to flee Site F, using Briggs and the hostages as human shields. Fisher, disguised as an Air Force hostage, helps Delta Force marksmen open fire on Sadiq and his men. Sadiq escapes on foot, and Fisher disarms and seriously wounds him. Sadiq boasts that he has already won; if he dies twelve nations supporting the Engineers will declare war on the U.S. and if he is tried, he will leak U.S. information. Although Fisher spares Sadiq, he detains him. President Caldwell publicly covers Sadiq's imprisonment by announcing his death, and the game ends as Fourth Echelon continues its operations; in a post-credits scene, a recovered Coste and Fisher prepare to interrogate Sadiq.

Co-op missions[edit]

Intertwined with the main plot, the co-op missions begin with Fisher and Briggs infiltrating Kashmir. Finding a group of smugglers linked to the Engineers, Fisher and Briggs discover intelligence connecting them to the Russian intelligence organization Voron, before they escape during a drone attack.

Following a lead to a friendly missile base in Bangalore, they find the Indian inhabitants dead and Voron agents stealing the warhead from a missile. Securing the missile and learning that the agents are led by a man named Cherski, Fisher and Briggs escape as the building is destroyed and Indian authorities arrive. Unaware of Cherski's identity, Fisher and Briggs track him to a Voron base in Chittagong and find him living in a nearby apartment. They breach Cherski's panic room and find two people; uncertain which one is Cherski, they begin interrogating both and learn about a secret base in Russia.

Fisher and Briggs reach an abandoned naukograd, surviving a drone attack, and find a secure medical facility said to contain an OpSat (satellite uplink device used by Fourth Echelon operatives) with vital Voron information. Instead, the base contains a comatose man. Rescuing the man, Fisher and Briggs narrowly escape as the base self-destructs and return the patient to the Paladin. Grim identifies him as Mikhail "Kestrel" Loskov and Kobin confirms his identity, noting that they have a history (detailed in Conviction). When he questions Kobin (who asks if Kestrel's gunshot wound has put him into a coma), Fisher notes that no one had told Kobin how Kestrel had been incapacitated.

Development[edit]

Young, seated woman with long dark hair
Ubisoft Toronto founder Jade Raymond is the producer of Blacklist.

Ubisoft Montreal's success inspired the company to continue its Canadian expansion, and a new studio, Ubisoft Toronto, was announced on July 6, 2009.[30] Headed by Jade Raymond, the studio focuses on the creation of triple-A video games and intellectual property.[31] It worked on a new installment of the Splinter Cell series, which was in parallel development with an unnamed project,[32] and the Toronto team was made up of Ubisoft Montreal's core Conviction team.[33] Maxime Béland, who had worked on Conviction, was the game's creative director,[32] and in November 2010 Raymond confirmed that her studio was developing Splinter Cell 6.[34] Ubisoft Toronto was the game's lead developer, with assistance from Ubisoft Montreal.[35] Ubisoft Shanghai developed the game's co-operative multiplayer mode. The Toronto studio focused on the game's Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions, with the Wii U version developed by Ubisoft Shanghai.[36]

In 2010, the series' fifth installment, Conviction, was released. Although it received generally positive reviews, it was criticized by series fans for lacking some features. Béland considered Conviction a "stepping stone" for him when he prepared for the development of Blacklist.[37] The development team studied Conviction's reviews and feature lists, deciding to discard its "black-and-white" stealth approach, and also deciding to bring back the Spies vs. Mercs mode introduced in Pandora Tomorrow. Béland called the mode's return "the easiest decision of [his] life", since the team considered its absence Conviction's greatest misstep.[38] Ubisoft sent questionnaires through Uplay to thousands of players to collect feedback on Conviction's new features.[39] When players called Conviction's campaign weak and short, the team added a stronger storyline and greater character depth by introducing the Fourth Echelon and Fisher as a leader (a series first).[40] To encourage repeat play the team introduced the aircraft hub and the strategic mission interface, a player menu.[41]

Even though we do have core fans who are like, "Oh, I want to have more of this experience", when you play any other game that has stealth elements, they're all a lot more forgiving than Splinter Cell.

— Jade Raymond

According to Ubisoft Toronto founder Jade Raymond, the series had become too grueling and complicated for modern gamers, and its popularity had suffered relative to Ubisoft flagship franchises such as Assassin's Creed and Far Cry.[42] The Toronto studio hoped to introduce the franchise to a broader audience, while remaining tactical and hardcore for long-term series fans.[39] It introduced a perfectionist mode, significantly increasing the game's difficulty by removing some of Fisher's abilities.[43] The team also introduced accessible, action-oriented gameplay segments which would suit new players,[44] crafting open-ended levels which could be reached with different approaches to broaden the variety of play.[45] The developers re-worked the controls to increase gameplay fluidity, allowing players to automatically leap over objects and traverse a simplified environment.[41]

During Blacklist's development, its team faced a variety of challenges. The first was to create stealth which was satisfying and fun for players. According to the team, players gain satisfaction from stealth with freedom and choices which allow them to develop a plan. Players must experiment, with each decision having consequences. Game director Patrick Redding compared it to the development of an ecosystem; the team designed a dynamic artificial intelligence which would react differently to players' actions, making levels feel alive and adding randomness. Encouraging the "panther" style of play (aggressive stealth), the team incorporated elements from the original Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell (where one mistake would abort a mission) and Conviction (where stealth seamlessly becomes combat). This approach, the team thought, could help players to feel like elite, silent predators.[46]

Series veteran Michael Ironside did not reprise his role as the voice of Sam Fisher. His part was played by Eric Johnson, who also performed the motion capture.[47] In a Blacklist developer diary, Ironside said that he was passing the torch to another actor. According to Ubisoft executives the change was made to take advantage of new performance-capture technology to enrich the game experience, and Ironside assisted Johnson with the role.[48] Elias Toufexis, voice and performance-capture actor for Andriy Kobin in Splinter Cell: Conviction, said that he would return for the new game.[49]

Unlike Conviction, the game would have no interactive torture sequences. Instead, players could choose whether to kill or incapacitate a target after interrogation. The system was not complex, and it was hoped that players would choose based on instinct. According to Béland, every player choice is gray and there are no right or wrong choices.[19] However, the game demo has an interactive torture scene in which players can decide how deeply a knife penetrates a person's shoulder.[50] After a mixed-to-negative response, Ubisoft removed the scene from its final product.[51]

Marketing[edit]

Splinter Cell: Blacklist was introduced at E3 2012's Microsoft press conference on June 4, 2012, for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.[52] In February 2013, a Wii U version was rumored to be in development,[53] and Ubisoft confirmed the report two months later.[54] Originally scheduled for release in early 2013, the game was pushed back to August on January 16, 2013.[55] On August 3, 2013, Ubisoft confirmed that the game had been declared gold, indicating that it was being prepared for duplication and release.[56] Splinter Cell: Blacklist was released in North America on August 20 and in Europe three days later for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Wii U, and Xbox 360.[57]

The Paladin Collector's Edition, a limited edition of the game, has a remote-controlled plane, the graphic novel Splinter Cell Echoes, a Billionaire's Yacht co-op map, an Upper Echelon pack with a Dead Coast map, gold sonar goggles, and a limited-edition poster.[58] Splinter Cell: Blacklist - Spider Bot, a 2D puzzle game tie-in, was released for Android and iOS platforms on June 10, 2013 and is available on Google Play and the App Store respectively.[59] Homeland, downloadable content for the game, was released on September 26, 2013. It added a crossbow, several new costumes, and two new missions which can be completed alone or with another player.[60]

Reception[edit]

Before release[edit]

Although Joystiq's Mike Schramm praised Blacklist's early screenshots and videos for removing Conviction's monochromatic visuals,[61] its new voice actor was not received well by some fans.[62] Ubisoft responded with a statement that Ironside was not returning as Fisher because an actor "physically capable" of a motion-capture performance was needed, and Johnson was hired for the role.[63]

Critical reception[edit]

Reception
Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings (PS3) 85%[64]
(X360) 84%[65]
(PC) 80%[66]
(WIIU) 79%[67]
Metacritic (PS3) 84/100[68]
(X360) 82/100[69]
(PC) 82/100[70]
(WIIU) 75/100[71]
Review scores
Publication Score
Eurogamer 8/10[72]
Game Informer 9/10[73]
GameTrailers 8.7/10[74]
IGN 9.2/10[75]
Joystiq 5/5 stars[76]
VideoGamer.com 8/10[77]

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist received positive reviews. The review aggregator websites GameRankings and Metacritic rated the PlayStation 3 version at 85% and 84 out of 100,[64][68] the Xbox 360 version 84% and 82 out of 100,[65][69] the PC version 80% and 82 out of 100,[66][70] and the Wii U version 79% and 75 out of 100.[67][71]

The game's design was praised by most reviewers. Ryan McCaffrey of IGN praised the gameplay's variety and player options, which he thought made Blacklist the best installment in the series since Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. According to McCaffrey, the game was a satisfying stealth experience and an excellent, capable shooter (increasing its replay value). He noted that several segments forced players to use the Mark and Execute feature, frustrating players who favored stealth over action.[75] Ben Reeves of Game Informer praised the return and refinement of Mark and Execute, which he found satisfying, and praised the game's intense, varied mission design.[73] Tom Bramwell of Eurogamer disliked the game's direction, particularly its action elements (which he compared to 2012's Hitman: Absolution).[72]

Blacklist's campaign was also generally praised. According to IGN's McCaffrey, the game's story is superior to those of its predecessors: well-balanced and believable. He criticized Sam Fisher's new voice actor, who he thought failed to replicate Ironside's charm. Ben Reeves praised the story's plot twists and sympathetic characters.[73] On the Joystiq blog, Xav De Matos liked the game's narrative urgency and engaging plot twists but criticized its rushed ending.[76] Simon Miller of VideoGamer.com called the game forgettable and boring, with Fisher's new voice actor failing to bring personality to the character.[77] Eurogamer's Bramwell also criticized the game's lack of character development.[72]

Its multiplayer features were praised; according to McCaffrey, the co-operative multiplayer mode had enough content for a separate game. Although he appreciated Spies vs. Mercs' faster pace, he found the mode less innovative than its predecessor.[75] Reeves partially agreed, describing the revived Spies vs. Mercs mode as refreshing, intense, and bloody.[73] De Matos wrote that it was one of the best multiplayer modes he had ever experienced, and the Blacklist version had evolved and modernized while remaining creative.[76] Daniel Bloodworth of GameTrailers praised the game's satisfying co-op design, which tasks players to plan and coordinate strategy.[74]

Blacklist's graphics and lack of difficulty were criticized. McCaffrey found the visuals unimpressive and most character models to be ugly; he also noted technical problems, such as screen-tearing and frame rate issues.[75] Bloodworth criticized the game's invisible wall and unresponsive controls in certain segments, although he thought those minor issues did not drag down its overall experience.[74] McCaffrey noted that even when the game is played in perfectionist mode, it is less challenging than its predecessors. He thought Blacklist gave players too many rewards, making its universal-economy system a useless feature.[75] Bloodworth was puzzled by the game's unlock system, which he said hindered its credibility.[74]

Sales[edit]

Ubisoft hoped that Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist would sell at least five million copies.[78] The game debuted at number two on the UK retail software sales chart in its first week of release, behind Saints Row IV.[79] It was August's fourth-bestselling game in the United States.[80] On October 16, 2013 Ubisoft announced that Blacklist had failed to meet sales expectations,[81] and on November 13 it was announced that the game had sold two million copies worldwide.[82]

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