Splinter Cell: Blacklist Review (PC) – A Return to Stealthy Form
Hopping between different tactical approaches within a given stage is a sound option too, allowing you to adapt to each situation as it unfolds. While certain stages do shoehorn you into a particular approach, the vast majority let you test things out on your own. Things do start to rattle off the hinges, however, when you throw stealth to the wayside completely. Going full-blown “Assault” mode with unsilenced weapons and explosives can be cathartic during the tougher missions, but it ultimately creates a lot more trouble for you than its worth. Even with smart use of cover and heavy ordinance, fending off swarms of troops and guard dogs closing in from all directions is a real bear. Multiply that exponentially when you throw more heavily armored foes with riot shields, helmets, and bulletproof vests into the mix. This can make Blacklist feel a little uneven for those who favor the heavier action of Conviction — there’s definitely a more classic stealth-focused slant this time around, but it strikes a reasonable balance.
Conviction’s mark and execute system makes a return here too. Far from being a “win button” as some players have amusingly pegged it, this handy mechanic lets you mark several nearby foes within range and then take them all down in one swift motion. The clincher is you have to first pull off stealth kills to activate it. As such, it’s a cool reward for sneaky takedowns, and there are instances where you can still get smoked while setting it in motion. It isn’t really a crucial maneuver, but man is it satisfying to pull off. I used it only very sparingly through most of my playthrough and didn’t find it tipped the scale in either direction.
On PC, Blacklist looks gorgeous and plays beautifully. With the visual quality dialed up to its higher limits, the many subtle nuances and details of the background really pop, as do the interplay of light and shadow across the varied landscapes you explore. Things look crisp on lower visual settings, so you can still enjoy the action even if your graphics card isn’t quite up to snuff. While some may opt for a controller, I found using the old PC gaming vet stand-by of keyboard and mouse a great combo that made for quick, precise aiming and fast maneuvers in the third-person perspective.
With a glut of unlockable gadgetry to suit just about any taste in play style, Blacklist offers ample incentive to experiment with your loadouts and approach from mission-to-mission. Trigger happy players have a wide ranging arsenal of customizable shotguns, pistols, automatic rifles, and explosives to play Rambo with. The gear gets more inventive on the non-lethal side, with sticky shockers, taser guns, sleeping gas, knockout crossbows, EMP devices, noise-makers, cameras, and even a roto-copter rounding out your stealthier options. Hand-picking your loadouts for different scenarios can make or break a given run, and it’s fun to experiment with replaying missions using a completely different approach.
Sprawling stages prove a marvelously fitting playground for tactical tinkering. Levels are exploding with branching paths and nooks to use to your advantage. You can sneak under buildings, climb up gutters, smash through windows, run from one spot of cover to the next, hide in shadows, use night vision and radar goggles, and much more. It’s a blast to be able to test out different pathways and strategies until you finally overcome a tough area. Liberally spaced checkpoints also take some of the sting out of trying a wild tactic and failing miserably. Optional objectives also let you earn extra coin by hacking laptops and locating hidden drops tucked away in hard-to-find spots.
Between multiple difficulties and ways to tackle each stage, Blacklist’s campaign and co-op missions pack a sizeable amount of content and replay value. Teaming up with a friend can make for some additional moments of mirth too, particularly when one of you decides to get daring without warning, causing utter chaos in the process. Competitive multiplayer is a fast-paced and fun diversion too that extends the time you’ll want to spend in Blacklist. The asymmetrical Spies vs. Mercs mode returns with its neat twist on traditional multiplayer setups. Here, Mercs play in first-person and are tasked with defending terminals, while Spies use stealth and a third-person perspective to hack them. It’s an inventive way to play, and several additional variations on this core setup give you even more match styles to dig into.
Blacklist sees Sam Fisher and his covert posse returning to the series’ sneaky-happy roots in good form, and it’s easily one of the best stealth offerings I’ve delved into in a long time. Sporadic cliches in the story and a few weak characters don’t have a huge impact on the overall experience once you get sucked into the highly scaleable spy action.
- Great return to stealth-focused gameplay
- Lots of tactical options and gear to play around with
- Strong co-op and competitive multiplayer
- Looks gorgeous and plays beautifully on PC
- Taking offensive-heavy approach feels punitive compared to stealth options
- Some characters and story elements fall flat
Final Score: 91/100
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