After much anticipation by fans like me, Splinter Cell: Blacklist hit stores six days ago. Six days of playing through the story is actually more than I get on some single-player games, but there’s plenty more to impress and amaze and very little to complain about. Let’s make our way stealthily through, and be careful. There’s sure to be a couple of spoilers in here, so tread carefully.The game starts with our brooding hero Sam Fisher and his best friend Victor Coste (Vic played by returning Howard Siegel) getting on a helicopter getting ready for a mission. We meet Charlie, a computer whiz and tech guy, as he’s telling us the mission requires a complete lack of weapons. As they climb on the chopper and head out, the view changes to somewhere else, with bombs being placed, soldiers dead on the floor, and a plan about to be carried out. As the helicopter holding Sam and Vic flies over the Air Force base they were leaving, the base explodes, the helicopter is down and our entire mission just revealed itself. Looks like the original mission is cancelled…The Blacklist is a list of targets, vague in nature to keep them open to attack, that a group calling themselves the Engineers will attack every seven days until their demands are met. Their demands: to remove every single American soldier from every country hosting them and bring them all home. As leader of the new 4th Echelon (having blown up 3rd Echelon during Conviction), Sam is given The Paladin, a plane as high tech as you’ve ever heard of, and a small team including our favorite bad-ass young woman Anna Grímsdóttir (Grimm), Charlie who luckily survived the bombing of the Air Force base, and Isaac Briggs, a CIA officer on ‘loan’ to 4th Echelon temporarily until the current crisis is resolved. The story is solid, with a couple of added elements I feel like they borrowed from the Mass Effect series. First of all, you can walk around The Paladin between missions, talk to your teammates, and upgrade the Paladin’s systems to unlock certain perks, weapons and customizations. Each character in your team also has side missions for you to do. Those side missions are key to unlock things like specific weapons and armor, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. I tried to do one early in the game, not knowing the goal wasn’t just snatch-and-grab, it was also surviving a minimum of 20 waves of enemies. Considering I was out of practice, you can imagine I didn’t make it through the first time. Or the second time…When it comes to the customization options in general, they added quite a bit. Each part of your suit is separate and customizable, from your torso/armor to your gloves and shoes. You can even change the color of the goggles, and there are at least 7 different pairs of goggles to unlock with different properties to each one. I think I stopped at the 4th pair, but only because they worked very well for me. The weapons are also customizable with differing ammunition types, sights, scopes, red dots, and body customizations to increase control, accuracy, damage and maneuverability. When it came down to the graphics, I must say that while it was time consuming, the High Definition Textures install is worth it. The game is beautiful, the world around you is sharp and crisp and I have no complaints anywhere when it comes to how awesome it looks. They kept it consistent to the series while raising the detail level quite nicely.The gameplay is as good as ever, though they changed the controls a bit from what I remembered. It wasn’t a huge change, so it wasn’t jarring, and the new interface makes for simplicity when choosing your weapons, gadgets and take-down style between lethal and non-lethal. I’m strictly a non-lethal takedown kind of guy myself, but that also depends on the situation.In the single-player campaign, there’s also a couple of opportunities to play as Briggs, which turns the game into a first-person shooter type while you’re playing Briggs. This makes sneaking a little more difficult and makes a point of having a (literally) different perspective when you’re different characters, but gives a uniquely close-up look at the takedowns. The game also grades your performance on three different playing styles: Ghost, Panther and Assault. Ghost consists of non-lethal measures or leaving enemies completely undisturbed while getting the job done. Panther implies a more deadly approach, scoring for silent kills and such. Assault scores your abilities in open conflict. The scores are based on a differing curve, so Ghost scores higher than Panther and Panther higher than Assault, making Ghost your best course of action for higher scores and more money to spend on upgrades and customizations.Now we come to music and sound and here comes the griping. Since the beginning of the series, Sam Fisher has always been voiced by Michael Ironside, who is an amazing actor in his own right and has done a TON of stuff we love as geeks, including Seaquest (wow, remember Seaquest?) and Total Recall. For many of us, his voice is the voice of Sam Fisher in our heads and to suddenly have that gone was the most jarring experience in the game. Also disconcerting is the change of voice acting for Grimm from Claudia Besso (who always did an awesome job) to Kate Drummond, who (don’t get me wrong did an awesome job in the game) at least sounds enough like Claudia Besso that the transition is much smoother. And our bad guy is voiced by Carlo Rota, which you might recognize from Boondock Saints. So, who’s the new Sam Fisher? Does he have a deep, raspy dark voice for the broody Sam Fisher? Well… not so much. Sam Fisher’s voice is now Eric Johnson, who us geeks know and like from Smallville, where he played Whitney, and more recently we loved him on Orphan Black where he played Chad Norris, the cheating neighbor husband guy. And again, don’t get me wrong, he’s awesome, he did an amazing job… but the voice is so different that every time he spoke, I expected a lower raspier voice and got his instead. And it’s not like I expected them to use sulfur hexafluoride to make his voice deeper or anything (maybe put a tiny bit in the A/C? lol) but I think that casting guys should have at least had Michael Ironside voice clips from the earlier games to compare with the guys they were casting so that it was less of a shock. With that, I’ve said my peace, because the game was truly awesome in every other way.For you Multiplayer fans, there’s plenty of fun to be had here too, since the return of Spies vs Mercs, cooperative play, and there’s always the competition of who can ghost a certain level better.
Story: 10/10Graphics: 9/10Sound: 8/10Gameplay: 9/10Replayability: 8/10Multiplayer: 8/10
Den Of Geek Score: 8.6 Out Of 10 / 4.5 Out Of 5 Stars