Splinter Cell: Blacklist Impressions: Bloody Chaos

In terms of Sam’s gear, there are a number of old gadgets returning, as well as several new one that are mostly targeted at stealth players interested in going non-lethal. I wasn’t shown many of these new gadgets, but I did see one that was very interesting: the tri-rotor drone. A small, remote-control drone that Sam can deploy, the tri-rotor lets you squeeze into tight spaces, and with a few upgrades, take out the enemies you find there. You can also use it for exploration, but since enemies can see and detect it, you’ll have to be careful.

Thanks to having a plane as a base, Sam can now partake in missions all over the world. I saw two partial missions in my demo. The first was set in Benghazi, as Sam was working to locate Kobin. One obvious point of emphasis confirmed by Lee was Sam’s movement animations. While the cover-to-cover movement of Conviction is still here, Ubi’s team has refined Sam’s movement into something they call “Active Sprint.” Basically, it streamlines Sam’s movement so that progressing across the environment is extremely fluid. Running, jumping, climbing, and sliding into cover blend together seamlessly. It’s vaguely reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed’s free running, but it actually looks more fluid in practice.

The second mission took place in London, and the obvious takeaway from this one was the upgrades that have been done to the graphics and the engine. It was dark and rainy, and realistic puddles were everywhere. The interplay between light and shadow was excellent, and since every light in Blacklist is dynamic, shadows behave exactly as you’d expect them to. The other thing I learned from the London mission is how open the new levels are. Splinter Cell has always been a pretty linear game, and in terms of story, that’s not really changing. However, to support multiple play styles more, the team decided to build in multiple routes through every level, and to reward players for exploration. As Lee put it, the team, “Didn’t want you to get bottlenecked.”

One more takeaway from London: being detected by the enemy is a really, really bad thing. As Lee played through the mission, a guard caught a glimpse of him. Literally seconds later, he was reloading to try again. That’s not to say the AI is omnipotent. A bit later in the level, a guard spotted him as he hung outside a window, so Lee quickly executed a takedown to toss the guard out window. As no one was around to hear him scream, no uproar was raised. Lee then talked a bit about the AI and the challenges it raised. “Our AI is live,” he said. Sometimes the AI might engage in a conversation with another guard, sometimes they might wander alone. It’s not regimented. He also commented on how their new open level designs made programming the AI far more complex. Additionally, enemies are varied, with each of them speaking a language consistent with their locale.

A few other notes on gameplay. First, you’ll need to hide the bodies of the enemies you incapacitate, as they’ll be revived if found by other enemies. Seeing Sam pick up an unconscious guard and heave him into a dumpster reminded me of Hitman in a very good way. Second, Sam’s Mark & Execute skill has evolved from Conviction. Now you can use it to chain together shooting, hand-to-hand and even navigation.

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