Splinter Cell: Blacklist features great co-operative play while offering a tougher challenge

If there was one word to sum up Splinter Cell: Blacklist other than “awesome”, it would be “unforgiving”. Even the game’s normal difficulty offers a challenge far beyond anything its predecessor did. In fact, Chaos Theory was probably easier, but that’s probably my co-op-played-solo bias talking. Let’s put things into perspective first, and then you’ll understand the reasons for saying what I just did.

Ubisoft Toronto’s latest stealth/action title, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a direct sequel to 2010’s Splinter Cell: Conviction, even though main protagonist Sam Fisher is voiced by someone else entirely. The “stealth/action” label is enough to put a picture in your head, and if you’re even remotely interested in the genre, there’s enough media on the Internet to give you an idea of what the game’s about. But no video can give you an insight into how seamlessly integrated the cooperative gameplay has turned out. The game starts off with a terrorist attack at an Air Force base in Guam (not dissimilar to the opening scene of The Rock, only it’s a terror strike and not “just” theft), where Fisher and his friend Victor Coste board a chopper, which then expectedly crashes.

During their daring escape (one in which they will need to stealth-kill several evildoers), Vic is grievously injured in a grenade explosion while trying to protect Sam. An organisation known as “The Engineers” takes responsibility for the attack — they demand that the U.S. recalls all their overseas troops. Needless to say, Sam is now put in charge of Fourth Echelon, a counter-terrorist unit that is tasked with bringing The Engineers to justice. This is where things get interesting in Blacklist’s campaign.

Operating out of the Paladin, a military transport aircraft (a present-day version of Mass Effect’s Normandy), Sam Fisher needs to put an end to the threat of The Engineers. He can take on a variety of missions across the world, upgrade gear and weapons, as well as have rewarding conversations with his sidekicks. The mission comes first, however, and Splinter Cell: Blacklist does not disappoint.

Apart from scripted “solo” story missions, Sam can choose to play several side missions either solo or co-operatively online, while some specific missions are co-op only. These optional missions offer a great distraction from the slightly “heavy” campaign missions, but they also manage to stand out on their own. It’s astonishingly easy to find a co-op partner online, while the in-game experience is latency-free and almost as good as having someone playing on the same console or PC. Having chosen to play some solo/co-op missions alone initially, I found the game to be very difficult. Co-op was an entirely different experience altogether, however. In co-op, you get to explore more areas of the map using co-op mechanics like “double boost” and “double breach”, and there’s no doubt that two silenced pistols are better than one. It certainly helps that the core mechanics have been designed to work just as well in co-op as they do when the game is played solo (mark targets for your partner to execute, flanking, distraction and diversionary techniques). Your co-op scores carry forward into your main campaign, while upgraded equipment and weaponry carry forward into all co-operative missions as well. If there were a couple of things worth pointing out as flaws, it’s that the stealth-only missions don’t have checkpoints (it feels intentional, though) and finding a co-op partner using mission-based filters can be difficult on occasion.

On PC, Splinter Cell Blacklist can look stunning — particularly so if you’re running Nvidia hardware.

Their new Horizon Based Ambient Occlusion (HBAO+) tech makes shadows look astonishingly good (and as you’d expect, you will be spending a lot of time in the shadows here), while DirectX 11 Tessellation removes jagged edges almost entirely. Of course, the settings are completely scalable, meaning you can get superb performance with minimal tweaking.

Ubisoft has taken a lot of effort to make you forget that Sam Fisher is not voiced by Michael Ironside this time around, and as much as I hate to admit it, it’s worked. The stealth gameplay has never been better, the co-op as engaging or the experience as unforgiving and rewarding at the same time.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist is available on PC, PS3, Wii U and Xbox 360.