Top critical review
10 people found this helpful
on August 29, 2013
When the first Splinter Cell came out on the original Xbox, I instantly became a fan. It was one of the first (if not the first) game to use light and shadow as part of the gameplay, not just for visual effect. I was impressed with the enemy AI, the robust gameplay, the responsive controls, interactive environments, and impressive real-time shadows. At the time it was released, it was all very cutting edge. The sequel, Pandora Tomorrow, was a decent game, but did nothing to progress the series forward. Then came Chaos Theory, the (still) best game in the series, and one of the greatest games of last gen. Chaos Theory improved in every area, from the AI and graphics to the story and level design, and was a significant leap forward for the series.
Double Agent, the next game in the series, and the first SC game developed for next-gen, had some high standards to live up to. Unfortunately, it did not live up to expectations, and although it wasn't a bad game, it did nothing to move the series forward and did not feel like a next-gen game. Conviction, the 5th game in the series, was a drastic change for the series, but that change was not for the better. All of the stealth elements that I enjoyed were tossed out the window for a manic run-n-gun approach. As SC games go, this was the worst in the series. And that brings us to Blacklist.
Blacklist has been described as a cross between Chaos Theory and Conviction. The truth is it's a cross between Double Agent and Conviction. That is to say, it combines some of the action elements of Conviction, like automatic Execution kills, and cover-to-cover run, and the stealth elements the series is known for. Unlike Conviction, however, you don't have to use or rely on these gameplay mechanics. If you prefer to go in quiet and use stealth, you can take out enemies one by one, quietly, lethal or non-lethal. Or, if you're really good, you can sneak by enemies unnoticed, and never even touch them. Of course, you have to option to go in guns blazing, but you probably won't last long. I appreciated the freedom of choices I was given, and only during a few moments did I feel like the game forced me play a certain way.
The gameplay has almost everything you'd expect from a SC game, from climbing upside-down on pipes to peering under doors with fiber-optics, you really feel like a super spy. Unfortunately, the level design wasn't very impressive. Each level felt like the same thing over and over. Yes, there are multiple paths and approaches for each mission, but from level to level I never really felt challenged to change my thinking. I found the most effective approach for me was to hide in a doorway, make a noise to lure in the nearest enemy, then subdue him when he got close. This worked 99% of time, and the enemies wouldn't really care much that their friends were disappearing one by one. Even if an enemy comes across one of the bodies you left behind, they'll search around a 10 foot radius and if they don't find you in 60 seconds, they'll assume everything is fine and go back to not caring. Granted, I was playing on Normal difficulty, but I played previous SC games on normal as well, and I don't remember enemies being so careless. The AI felt like a step back from Chaos Theory.
The controls feel a bit stiff and unresponsive when compared to most modern games, and although it's been years since I played Chaos Theory, I remember the controls in that game being more intuitive and responsive than Blacklist. In previous SC games, how far you push the control stick had a direct effect on Sam Fisher's movement speed. Push the stick 35% of the way, Sam moves at 35% speed. Push it 89% of the way, Sam moves 89% speed. Not in Blacklist. Sam has two speeds: slow and fast. Push the stick anywhere between 1% and 50%, Sam moves 50% speed. Push the stick anywhere between 51% and 100%, Sam moves 100% speed. WHAT THE HECK!? Analog sticks have been around since the N64 days, I'd think we'd move past this two speed crap. The fact that previous SC games had 1:1 movement responsiveness makes Blacklist's controls unacceptable. Besides that there were moments where buttons would not respond, and moments where shooting over obstacles would not respond until I released the Aim button, which caused me to inexplicably miss shots and give away my position. None of this made the game unplayable. The game is playable. It just felt dated and awkward for a big budget game from a major publisher in the year 2013. I expect better.
The graphics in Blacklist are also disappointing. They're not terrible, but they're not as good as you could reasonably expect from a big budget game in 2013. Characters look plastic and shiny, shadows often look badly pixelated, and frame rate hiccups and screen tearing are frequent. Textures are a bit blurry and some of the poly-counts looks a little low. The animations during cut scenes are really, really good, but during gameplay they look stiff.
Sound design is the best aspect of Blacklist. The music is great, and fits with the tone and mood of the game. It reacts to your situation and heightens the tension, whether you're sneaking up on a group of terrorists or running for your life from a firefight, the music enhances each moment of your adventure and never sounds mismatched or out of place. The sound effects are also well done, and many of the classic sounds like the start-up buzz of your night vision goggles return from previous games. The voice acting is great as well, and each actor plays their character with complete believability. When the excellent voice acting combines with the excellent animations in the cut scenes, it really brings the characters to life and made them compelling to watch. The sound balance is perfect, too. I frequently notice weird audio balance in games and I have to go into the audio options to balance the music, sound effects and voice levels. Blacklist does not have separate levels for the audio, but does have settings for Headphones, Stereo, and 5.1 Surround. All three are perfectly balanced for whatever your home audio setup.
Blacklist's story is pretty good. It's basically an excuse to travel around the world fighting bad guys, but the plot makes just enough sense to not make it feel arbitrary. What really works in Blacklist is the dialog. The interaction between the characters is strong, and the technical jargon is plausible yet not confusing. Each character has a strong personality and a good reason for being in the story. Even the villains felt like human beings with motives instead of just being evil for the sake of being evil like so many videogame badguys tend to be.
The multiplayer component of Blacklist is strong, with the co-op being a highlight. They don't always utilize cooperation like the co-op missions in Chaos Theory did. You can pretty much play like two lone wolves and still get through the missions, but playing cooperatively will make some parts easier. Unfortunately, the graphics, animation, controls, and frame rate all have the same problems in multiplayer that are present in single player. The whole time I was playing I couldn't help feeling like it should and could have been better.
It's a shame that the good parts of Blacklist don't outweigh the mediocre parts. The gameplay, graphics, animation, and controls all fail to impress, and feel like a step backward. The sound and writing are great but can't save what is ultimately a forgettable game.