Any time a game gets a sequel, the fans have to deal with two competing reactions. The first is “Awesome! A new game in my beloved world!” The second is “Please, please, please don’t screw it up!” Splinter Cell fans have been feeling both of those a lot for the last few years, as the perfect stealth experience of early Splinter Cell titles became increasingly action-oriented. The E3 preview of Splinter Cell: Blacklist, which featured protagonist Sam Fisher younger and more trigger-happy than ever before, had dedicated Splinter Cell fans worrying that the patient, cerebral gameplay they loved would never be seen again. So Ubisoft has recorded a whole new trailer, showing how the the exact same level as the E3 preview can be played in a much stealthier style.
Ubisoft Montreal set out to make a game that’s enjoyable for both lovers of the patience-rewarding stealth genre and more conventional shooter fans. If you want to race through the game blowing away any dude who steps forward, there’s plenty of nifty guns, contextual cover commands, and gory physics effects to welcome you in. But it’s equally amenable to playing “ghost style,” where no shot is ever heard.
Both trailers showcase a daylight mission, which requires Sam Fisher to make his way through a terrorist training camp full of heavily armed bad guys. The camp was carefully laid out so it would make a good cover-shooter, and the first trailer focused on the upgrades to the mark-and-execute feature; the ability to shock enemies who step near water; up-to-the-minute drone attack technology; and the “killing in motion” combat, which lets Sam run up to an enemy, slash their throats, and move to the next without breaking stride.
The new trailer demonstrates how the very same level could be moved through with hardly a drop of blood on your hands: the ability to silently slice through tents has returned, the ultrasonic goggles have been upgraded, and the designers have carefully placed ledges and crates to allow aspiring phantoms to hide in plain sight. Another new addition are the enemy guard dogs; players who feel no qualm about making terrorists’ heads go pop might be more inclined to let adorable Rottweilers live in peace, creating an extra stealth challenge.
The eagerness to let gamers choose between stealth or action is reminiscent of the great Deus Ex, and its worthy sequel, Human Revolution. The challenge in making a game work in either mode is coming up with levels that are consistently playable whether you’re running or creeping; mazes where you can lure guards with a careful whistle need a different layout from killing floors. But Ubisoft Montreal definitely has the personnel and the talent to make it work, and Splinter Cell: Conviction proved that the series could incorporate faster action without turning into Rainbow Six. Long-time series star Michael Ironside will still be missed. But overall, Splinter Cell: Blacklist is shaping up to be a worthy addition to the series.