Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist review

  • Open-ended approach to clearing missions
  • Sam's extensive gadget loadout
  • Addictive multiplayer offering
  • Receiving fewer rewards for choosing certain playstyles
  • Monochromatic personality of the new Sam
  • Occasionally getting spotted by guards even when hidden

After twenty minutes of painstakingly inching through an enemy compound unseen, you come across some terrorists chatting about their day. You set up a sticky camera on a nearby structure to observe their movement patterns and scope out your surroundings. To your left is a ventilation shaft that will let you bypass the group. Or, you could shimmy up a nearby pipe and knock them out one at a time by distracting them with noisemakers. Then there's the guns-blazing method. It's simple to mark your targets, run at them until they're in range, and perform a badass execution mid sprint. If there's one thing you have in Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist, it's the option to play however you want, making this an accessible stealth game that will still appease the hardcore crowd. 

As returning lead man Sam Fisher, it's up to you to stop the Engineers, a terrorist organization intent on bringing America to its knees with a series of attacks known as the Blacklist. This story is one of the franchise's more thrilling espionage narratives; you'll travel around the world in an attempt to uncover the Engineers' plans and preemptively stop them dead in their tracks. Though you can tackle missions at your own pace, the gravitas of your overarching objective creates a mild sense of urgency. And while longtime fans may find Sam's new voice to be a bit jarring (if not a little too passive and lacking in personality), his character is pleasantly convincing.

"...the gravitas of your overarching objective creates a mild sense of urgency."

Best of all, Blacklist places as much an emphasis on stealth as you want it to thanks to its well-designed equipment upgrade system. Completing missions, secondary objectives, and co-op outings scores cash payouts used to buy advanced ops suits and gear. If you prefer the hardcore challenge of earlier Splinter Cell games, you'll want to pick up stealth-oriented equipment; while this kit decreases your chances of being seen, it also makes it extremely difficult to survive a firefight, forcing you to skulk in the shadows. Likewise, those who really enjoyed the action-heavy approach of Conviction can purchase armored suits that will keep you alive when confronting the Engineers head-on.

However, you may take issue with the fact that there's a slight disparity in the cash rewards you'll receive depending on how you play. The biggest payouts are obtained by avoiding enemies altogether, a gratifying but difficult challenge, but if you even so much as touch a guard, non-lethal or no, you're out a few bucks. The run-and-gun players have it even worse, increasing the potential that you won't be able to afford that fancy new gun you've been eyeing without replaying a mission or two. It's one thing to tie an end-of-mission score to your stealth skills--Splinter Cell is, after all, a stealth series--but it's disingenuous to punish players for playing a certain way when they're told from the start that they can play however they want.

"...Blacklist places as much an emphasis on stealth as you want it to..."

Still, Sam has plenty of tools at his disposal to ensure you'll get the most out of your preferred playstyle. There are distraction items for keeping guards busy so you can sneak by, lethal traps and weapons for picking them off, and a number of observational devices ideal for mapping out patrol routes so you can plan a detailed strategy. Even your base of operations can be upgraded to provide additional bonuses in the field, such as a radar that highlights enemy positions, among others. Being able to customize every aspect of Sam's loadout is a neat touch that really makes you feel in control of how a mission will go down, and the sheer number of unlockables and upgrades are enough to warrant multiple playthroughs. It also helps that Blacklist is immensely enjoyable to play.

The stealth and combat here are as graceful as they've ever been. It's incredibly easy to move from cover to cover while guards have their backs turned (though you may get frustrated during the rare occasions in which guards will see you even when you should be hidden), and it's hard not to be impressed by Sam's animations as he knocks out an unsuspecting enemy or climbs a nearby ledge. Similarly, the gunplay is finely tuned, and, should you find yourself in a life or death situation, it's not at all difficult to resort to some last-minute twitch shooting. The Mark & Execute feature is sure to come in handy here, but you won't be able to abuse it as much this time around thanks to the number of enemies who've adopted the latest fashion trend: armored helmets.

"The stealth and combat here are as graceful as they've ever been."

For the most part, AI-controlled enemies are consistently challenging, and sometimes change things up when you least expect it. You may hide in the shadows to get a feel for their patrol routes only to have them take an unexpected turn every now and then. These situations don't happen too frequently, but they'll keep you on your toes--as will the terrorists' use of guard dogs and RC-sized drones. That's not to say guards won't stumble across an unconscious body (don't forget to hide them) and say loudly, "huh, he's knocked out," before cautiously continuing along their path, but they're some of the more unpredictable opponents out there.

And if you want to change things up, there are plenty of optional co-op missions to try, some of which can be taken on solo. These encompass a variety of objectives; some are centered around taking out waves of enemies while others are grueling stealth missions that fail the second you or your partner alert a guard. Playing with a friend is a great way to build up your cash reserves without progressing further in the main story, and no co-op mission feels too similar to another.

For those looking for a bit of competitive action, Blacklist's Spies vs. Mercs mode is as tense as it is addictive. There's a two-against-two mode akin to Pandora Tomorrow's original, in which two spies have to hack a series of computer terminals while two merc players hunt them down in first-person, as well as a four on four version of the same mode. You'll love the shift in perspective depending on which side you're on, and a variety of customizable loadouts for each drastically change the flow of each match. Avoiding the searching eyes of four human opponents is far more of a rush than staying hidden from AI-controlled opponents in the single-player campaign.

"...Blacklist's Spies vs. Mercs mode is as tense as it is addictive."

Blacklist is a well-designed game from top to bottom, one that is both accessible and flexible. It doesn't force you into playing a specific way, and it provides all the tools necessary to accommodate your playstyle, retaining the agility of its predecessor without its restrictions. With a great single-player campaign and multiplayer offering, there's a lot here to love, even if none of it will particularly blow you away. 

The single-player campaign was reviewed on Xbox 360, multiplayer on PS3.

More Info

Release date: Aug 20 2013 - Xbox 360, PS3, PC (US)
Aug 23 2013 - Xbox 360, PS3, PC (UK)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Genre: Action
Published by: Ubisoft
Developed by: Ubisoft Toronto
Franchise: Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Strong Language



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  • jiro-nakamura - November 22, 2013 2 a.m.

    Good game tho I mainly play Simulators like DSC's A10, Steel Beasts Pro PE, FSX and ARMA 2&3. I play with my former and current military buddies as I'm still in the reserves and I'm a Fed LEO/rotor pilot with a Fed LE agency. So I play what I do or did so to speak if that makes any sense. Tho I do sometimes play with my kids haha kids all are in their 20's and I have an all female family my wife is a Cardiologist and I have my eldest in her residency, one in 3rd year med school. And my youngest though I love all my kids and wife. Our or my baby girl who just started college is the only one not following in her moms foot steps ;) She is going into graphic design. Two of my favorite hobbies are guns (we own a 40+yr collection) won't say what or how much as I hate showoffs and my 2nd are Porsche's I own a 2010 997 base and 2013 991 4s and my youngest daughter is the only one who is more like her dad, by that I mean she likes 911's and loves to help me maintain em, like to shoot as she competes in 3 gun and loves to play video games and she atm loves this game tho she likes PC games more as to her these games are console ports as she started her game on the hardest level and she said it was so easy. Any pardon the rant I use voice as I hate typing but we play coop together and I can never get the perfectionist rank on some levels like the Abandon mill level I pass everyone or I stealth knock em out but Im always short and don't get the gold. Any know what I'm missing I know one level I don't remember which but I shot of a loud gun and got more bad guys to come out, waited till the stealth level came back down and won that way. Is it that way with the mill level as well. As Ive tried that level even coop and we could never get a P gold yet. Any advice would be great. No offense but I think if this were not on the PC we would never have played this game as console games are way overpriced and does anyone notice that console games seem to be getting easier every time its like they hand walk you thru the game with those giant hologram hints of what to do next etc. Or popups that tell you how to open the door or what you can climb I mean its crazy. In most of my Simulators like ARMA with mods its has over a 100 controls and you need a fairly powerful PC which is my 3rd hobby I like to build very high powered PC's anyway its way ARMA would never be able to run on consoles heck even FSX isn't on consoles. But anyway we or I have nearly all missions done on Perfectionist its just this darn Mill level. Oh yeah is there a way to tell what mode the enemy is in like combat or normal mode? Thanks in advance and Ive asked this question on many forums. But again no offense but all I get are rude wise ass or foulmouthed kids with wise crack replies hope its different here. Its why my kid doesn't even want to ask on forums etc in fact she hates the web or social media sites I do to a point as well we mostly use the web to buy things haha.
  • Inthedistrict - September 2, 2013 10:44 a.m.

    I'm so caught up with this game. I remember playing the original SC and getting frustrated because of the lack of physical combat (back then, it took the stealth approach to an entirely new level) and I could never understand how a special forces operative would go behind enemy lines without at least carrying a knife (or a box cutter at the very least). That takes me to SC: Chaos Theory, which I honestly believe to be the pinnacle of the SC series. Chaos Theory had a great (and somewhat plausible) story, the right balance of stealth and action, and a main character who was a bad ass without the Assassin's Creed jumping, Batman sky-hooking (see Blacklist), Knight Rider giant-airplaning, I'm a bad-ass superhero taking it all on by myself. Blacklist has no story, and like so many other great games, Blacklist is solid proof of a great series that has been completely watered down in substance and game play to appeal to a "wider audience" (I assume that means a younger audience). No longer are the days of quietly breaking into a defense contractor's office to bug a server farm which adds to the foundation of a solid story, but instead, Rambo-ing your way into an abandoned Mill, smack dab in the middle of London, inhabited by snipers and armed forces (whom supposedly, the London authorities are completely unaware of their presence), to download data off of a generic laptop, which warrants no further explanation other than "you're doing stuff" and "hacking computers" and killing shit. SC: Double Agent was no Chaos Theory, but I give that story a superior rating over Blacklist. If you want to make a game that appeals to a wider audience, why not make a standalone game? Instead of milking the success and name of SC and removing most of the game play elements that made the original 3 games so great, and that players enjoyed so very much, why not make a brand new game and turn it into its own success? I don't think Blacklist is terrible by any means, but it's not SC, just like Bioware's Mass Effect isn't EA's Mass Effect. The only issue is, I don't see the SC series turning back. If you now offer so much in terms of what the player is able to do (double back flips from buildings like you're Spiderman), why would you then remove those elements going forward? The creative director wants SC to be as big as James Bond? I fear Ubisoft is sending the series to the gutter for bigger profits and "broader appeal." Regardless of all of the bugs and/or rough edges around SC game play, the series most certainly HAD substance.
  • Waldo - August 30, 2013 9:56 a.m.

    I fail too often in Stealth games for me to spend money on them. Being able to try to be stealthy, but then still have a hope to get through the level after I screw up, is a big draw for me. It's a good move to add that alternate path for us "idiots".
  • Waldo - September 6, 2013 7:02 a.m.

    Playing through it now. Great game. The playstyles are easier to learn than I thought, although, Assualt might actually be the hardest way to get through a level.
  • GamerGirl1717 - August 17, 2013 1:20 p.m.

    I love the stealth games. So i was little pissed off when i found out that it's more of a 3rd person shooter like many others. Don't get me wrong it's still a cool game just not the Sam Fisher i came to know and love.
  • jackson-venza - August 18, 2013 7:19 a.m.

    There's stealth... just not a lot of it.
  • N7Spartan95 - September 4, 2013 7:47 a.m.

    I went Ghost through almost the entire game, what the hell are you talking about?
  • jiro-nakamura - November 22, 2013 2:23 a.m.

    Sorry don't agree most of the game besides Transit is all stealth. The crap things in the game is the 1st person mode its freaking horrible, Charlies missions are nothing but hoard modes and the solo game is a mere 3hr or less game and like most console games today made for ADD or OCD kids as the game tells you with freaking words on where to go or how to open vents or doors etc etc man even on the hardest level and its so damn easy. Try ARMA 3 and you'll see why the PC is still imo the king of (not games) simulators not consoles which no offense are nothing more than gloried bluray players. And the games are way over priced. You buy several newly released games and it'll cost more than the player. This game is great tho too dam short and you can have the slowest PC and you can run this game of full. But I build very high powered PC's as a hobby like one is an i73970x with quad 7990's and heck I only used one card. our slowest rig is a i7960 with dual 6970's and same deal only need on card. Crossfire or SLI isnt need for these games even Ghost Recon FS was the same.
  • DragonLord23 - August 15, 2013 6:07 p.m.

    Love the new review format. It feels less formal.
  • Arabacus Fox - August 15, 2013 10:18 a.m.

    I don't suppose you guys have tried out split screen and can tell me how it looks? The empty space seen in RE6 and others is aggravating.
  • Rhymenocerous - August 15, 2013 8:28 a.m.

    This is Splinter Cell - stealth shouldn't be a choice, it should be the focus. Why hide in the shadows when you can just gun everyone down now? In the early, "true" Splinter Cell games, you had to sneak through, bide your time, and be smart, otherwise you got FUCKED (for want of a better term). Blacklist seems as though you could just try stealth for a bit, then, going by what the review mentions with all the upgrades, break out the guns when you screw up (similar to how idiots play Hitman).
  • Godzillarex - August 15, 2013 12:14 p.m.

    Amen, brother. I agree 100 %
  • N7Spartan95 - August 15, 2013 3:10 p.m.

    You know the game isn't MAKING you shoot everything in sight, right? From what I've seen, a big part of this game is giving players the option to play however they want, including whether or not they want to go through missions without alerting or even touching anybody. Just because the option to go Rambo is there doesn't mean you have to take it or that the stealth aspects have been neglected. If anything, the fact that you're rewarded more for going completely Ghost (which the review painted as a negative, but is actually a good thing in my opinion) tells me that this is still primarilly a stealth game. You seem to have an issue with players having the option to bust out the firepower if they screw up, saying it's how "idiots" play. Why is it any of your concern how someone else plays THEIR game? If you get enjoyment out of sneaking around without alerting a single guard, then by all means go play as a Ghost on Perfectionist difficulty. But if someone else wants to screw around or would like to be able to fight back if they get caught, why does it matter to you? If that's how they want to play, let them. Does it miss the point of Splinter Cell to go guns blazing on anything with a face? Sure, but it's still their game, so they can do whatever the hell they want. You shouldn't judge them or call them idiots just because they play differently than you. Maybe I'm saying all this because I'm not a "hardcore" Splinter Cell fan (though I did play both Chaos Theory and Conviction and enjoyed them both), but I just don't see what the problem is. The game looks pretty good, and I'll probably have a lot of fun playing it once I get the chance.
  • Rhymenocerous - August 16, 2013 4:27 a.m.

    Again, I see your point, and I respect that, but I just feel a certain level of realism (which was a big draw for me) achieved in the early games has been sacrificed for a mass market appeal.
  • CombatWombat101 - August 15, 2013 6:13 p.m.

    I don't really get why it's such an issue to you that players have the option of fighting back if they're seen. Sure, it's Splinter Cell, it's a stealth game -- which is why the rewards for playing stealthily are better, I'd imagine -- but let's not forget the character you're playing as here. I kind of like the idea that if I screw up, I still have a chance; it sort of lends credence to the fact that, no matter where he is, Sam Fisher is the deadliest man in the room, no?
  • Rhymenocerous - August 16, 2013 4:25 a.m.

    He may be the deadliest man in the room, but he's still just a man. I see your point, and I respect that, but I just feel a certain level of realism (which was a big draw for me) achieved in the early games has been sacrificed for a mass market appeal.
  • Inthedistrict - September 2, 2013 10:46 a.m.

    Right on. The first 4 games had a certain level of realism that the last 2 games certainly did not have.
  • Inthedistrict - September 2, 2013 10:45 a.m.

    Couldn't agree with you more.
  • FoxdenRacing - August 14, 2013 2:29 p.m.

    I'd have to play it for myself to judge for sure, but you make it sound like the mechanics were designed around "Screw being true to the franchise, we need more mass market appeal". A shame, if it's true. I love the spy thriller stories, loved that Conviction wasn't ball-busting about stepping out of the shadows the way the earlier games were...and appreciated that it made your life extremely difficult if you couldn't be bothered to be stealthy in a stealth game.
  • GoldenEagle1476 - August 14, 2013 12:20 p.m.

    Really happy that you can go full stealth if you want. I'll probably pick it up in a few months; hopefully they'll still be people playing the multiplayer.