We start in Guam. You know the shit is hitting the fan – there’s low lights, guys in uniform, silence. And the situation quickly deteriorates into one seriously bad PR mishap for the US. Meanwhile, Sam – man of all things stealth – Fisher is doing his usual and then gets caught up with the guys who like low lights.
For a moment, I thought we were about to be launched into one of the Mandarin’s speeches from Iron Man 3 , but we’re saved from that level of theatre, but only by a smidgen. This is Splinter Cell: Blacklist and this was my first time playing a Splinter Cell game. And guess what? I was playing the Wii U version, well – someone had to.
I <3 stealth
I’m surprised that this is the first time I have played a game in the series. While unable to fully appreciate the nuances of character that the events of the past games had clearly provided, I got that Fisher, Grim and the rest had every reason to act the way they did. Meanwhile the game’s stealth left me smiling, though perhaps frustrated at times.
It wasn’t quite like the boss situation in the first iteration of Deus Ex: Human Revolution whereby if you had played in a stealthy manner up until encountering significant resistance you were screwed. Here your choice of play style was mainly respected, however I couldn’t help feeling that if you did try to play as “Assault” (the three styles the game scores and rewards yo on are “Ghost”, “Panther” and “Assault”) then you would probably find yourself unable to get through the game in any sane manner.
The last full-on stealth game I’d attempted before this was Dishonored , and with the bizarre array of tools for dispatching enemies in that game and whether to leave them dead or alive… I was glad that you could play the game in a non-lethal, stealth manner, a.k.a. “Ghost” style. And, to be honest, that led to more creative solutions for dealing with levels. Having to figure out how to avoid enemies as much as possible, or otherwise take them out in as inconspicuous manner as possible – it was fun having to work out these niggling puzzles. Your characters were also better paid if you left enemies undisturbed, so it had an in-game fiscal advantage too.
Terrorists, US interests – it’s all a bit iffy
“America. This is the Blacklist…” Declare The Engineers after leaving the US with its collective trousers around its ankles having destroyed that US air base in Guam. Desperate, the US president brings on board seasoned covert operative Sam Fisher and a team of spooks to thwart The Engineers’ plans. This is how the game starts out and this is perhaps one of its greatest weaknesses.
Releasing Blacklist at this time, while the game has obviously been in development for several years – the context of its release makes its story even harder to swallow than you might usually find. Revelations from the files leaked by Edward Snowden, and events outside of the US means that the game’s starting point puts non-US players in a difficult position. The idealised interpretation of American foreign policy limited my ability to fully empathise with the concerns of Fisher and the rest of his crew.
There are also moments where you must decide whether certain characters live or die. This happens several times over the course of the game. I think the game would have worked better without these as they try to make you think that player agency is fundamental to the game’s story, but your choices affect nothing.
What worked/didn’t work on the Wii U
Clearly the Wii U version of the game was never going to be a tour-de-force of stunning visuals, with breathtaking views of air ducts and the undersides of vans. Actually, the surroundings look pretty reasonable, it was the character models that left me feeling a bit on the iffy side of uncanniness. For instance, conversations with Charlie left me constantly wondering if his eyeballs would pop out of his head and the hair on the models looked a bit strange, like clumpy spaghetti, especially on Grim.
One of the main reasons I wanted to play the Wii U version was using the gamepad for certain weapons and gadgets. The tri-rotor mini-copter was awesome on the gamepad, launching it and then looking down at it in order to navigate levels to ascertain enemy positions and patrol routes, or stealthily removing enemies from play – it gave the feeling of being there in the game. Where the gamepad was less helpful was when you had to control heavy weaponry with it, like sniper rifles or missiles – it felt like you were beign forced to work against the gyros in the pad as you tried to get the sights lined-up.
But the most disappointing aspect of playing it on the Wii U was the multiplayer and c-op aspects of the game. Unlike the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game, there is no offline co-op, so you have to play those parts online. And that’s fine, I’ve got a connection that can handle those kinds of demands, but there was never anyone online. I tried more than ten times over the course of a week to find people to play co-op or multiplayer with and was never connected to anyone. This wouldn’t have been so frustrating if co-op missions had been offline too. So, I can’t tell you how any aspect of this part of the game works on the Wii U.
Worth a play?
I can’t outright recommend the Wii U version due to the lack of people online, however I am told that the PC, PS3 and 360 versions have healthy online player numbers. However, should you pick up this version of the game, then let me know if you want someone to play with online, I’m not trading it in any time soon. And despite all this online nonsense, the game is definitely fun to play for the main story and the offline versions of the side-missions.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist is out now for PlayStation 3, PC, Xbox 360 and Wii U. We paid for our own copy.