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Ubisoft Toronto
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Release Date:
August 20, 2013

Splinter Cell is back. Many fans of the esteemed franchise will tell you that Chaos Theory was the best entry and that the previous installment, Conviction , went off the rails a little. With Blacklist , the developers remember precisely what made this series so damn good; they put a premium on stealth, give us back all those nifty gadgets, add depth via customization and upgrades, and provide us with diverse, satisfying missions. As a huge bonus, the gripping, original multiplayer enhances and diversifies an already rewarding experience.

The production values allow the latest Splinter Cell to shine. I found some of the character models to be somewhat off-putting but besides that, we enjoy a highly detailed environment and a slick, refined visual presentation. The animations are numerous and fluid, the level design is excellent, and the graphical variety borders on outstanding. The exotic locales are quite immersive and allow the player to appreciate his surroundings. Factor in a dynamic structure that takes advantage of such visual flair, and you end up with an immensely effective backdrop that keeps us riveted.

The sound reaches similar heights in terms of technological excellence and diversity, as the soundtrack keeps the intensity pegged. The designers keep that great score on the down low during periods of stealthy silence, but it swells with insistent urgency when the action hits a new octave. There are some top-notch voice performances as well, but I definitely miss good ol’ Michael Ironside as Sam Fisher. Eric Johnson does a good job but nobody can properly replace that gruff, appropriately gravelly tone of Ironside’s. Still, with outstanding balancing and variety throughout, the audio excels.

Being a fan of this franchise since the original launched back in early 2003, I know one incontrovertible fact: At the center of Splinter Cell beats a heart that encourages, rewards and ultimately adores stealth. This is why I was disappointed with the direction Ubisoft took with Conviction ; Sam turned into more of an action hero, much of the stealthy greatness of past iterations mystifyingly disappeared, and I was left with a merely average third-person shooter. Sure, stealth was an option at times but it felt bland and uninspired; it played second fiddle to heavier action.

And while the developers can’t help but make Sam an action hero again (guess it’s a requirement these days), the aforementioned heart of the franchise has returned. Stealth isn’t simply an option; it’s the recommended play style. You get more points – and consequently, more cash for purchasing upgrades – by playing as a Ghost; i.e., non-lethal enemy takedowns, hiding bodies, never getting spotted, etc. You get the second-most points for adopting the Panther style, which is also based around invisibility but includes lethal attacks. You can go full-on Assault if you wish, but it’s clearly not the focus.