by Brian Robbins

 Military lingo? Check. Super secret American spy? Check. Real world influenced tools and gadgets? Check. Incredible gameplay, graphics and creative mechanics? You bet. Thanks to Ubisoft we now have one of the best games of the year with Splinter Cell: Blacklist. I’m so happy that the Splinter Cell franchise went back to its roots and revived the original innovative gameplay that made the other games so successful. Sam Fisher is back, and we should throw him a party.

As you may know, the game centers around a super secret American spy network called the Fourth Echelon. Basically, this team represents the best of the best in American intelligence, war fighting know-how and James Bond-like swagger. Without giving away too much, your team is tasked with stopping a very dangerous terrorist cell called “The Engineers.” Basically, as Sam Fisher, you’ll be tasked with stopping their attacks on American assets throughout the world. The story at times felt a bit cliche and all too familiar but it was still thoroughly entertaining.

One aspect of the game that took time to get used to is the replacement of the original Sam Fisher voice actor, Michael Ironside. This was a huge disappointment when the developers announced that piece of news. Mr. Ironside WAS the character of Sam Fisher, with his growling line delivery. The new voice actor for Sam Fisher (played by Eric Johnson) did a wonderful job but it did feel like we lost some of the feel of the old Sam.

This pretty much all falls to the sidelines once you actually play the game. Once you’re bounding across Iran’s military buildings or knocking out guards in South America, you’ll be completely consumed with the polish of the gameplay. The name of the game with most Splinter Cell games is stealth but in Blacklist you aren’t punished for following the rules. In fact, you get rewarded on how you choose to play the game. You can sneak by enemies, or kill them in the shadows or even go Call of Duty on them and kill them as loudly as you can.

A really interesting change from previous installments is where you actually accept your missions. Instead of a bland mission select screen, you’ll find yourself aboard a huge C-130. Here you’ll find various members of your team to talk to, you can access Co-Op missions and even upgrade the plane yourself. It was really cool to add this sort of immersion to an already captivating experience.

The overall campaign felt pretty short though, even if it does come on two discs. One of the major gripes I had was the insane loading times for various levels. Don’t get me wrong, they were all worth it but at some point it became a little ridiculous. Also, don’t plan on playing as soon as you put the first disc in. The game will promptly inform you to put the second disc in so it can install a HD texture pack. Of course it’s optional but otherwise you’ll be playing a pretty bland looking game. The install took around 10 minutes, so plan on playing on your phone while waiting.

As much as I loved the campaign despite its various flaws, the multiplayer portion was even better. In 2004’s Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, the game introduced Spies vs Mercs. It was the first foray into multiplayer gaming for the franchise. Basically, it’s the stealthy Sam Fisher-like Spies against the Rainbow Six first-person shooter style of the Mercenaries. There are plenty of different gameplay modes here but the main one you’ll want to play is the Spies vs Mercs classic. With this, there are only two spies and two mercs, that way there’s a bit of urgency and suspense to the matches. If you’ve never played a Splinter Cell multiplayer I highly recommended checking this out as it’s decidedly different than your standard Call of Duty or Battlefield experience.

What’s really cool about Blacklist is the fact that your progress in single player and multiplayer carry over to each other. For example, every time you finish a campaign mission you’ll earn cash to spend on upgrading Sam Fisher along with either the Spies or the Mercenaries. After finishing the campaign I had enough money to buy all the classes for multiplayer. It was a great idea for both modes to intertwine as they do.

With the next generation of consoles coming out so soon, a lot of people may not buy this game in order to save up for next-gen software. You’re honestly making a grave mistake if you don’t check this game out. I feel like this is one of Ubisoft’s best titles in the last couple of years, it’s fully worth the price tag and its strengths greatly outweigh its flaws. Let’s give Sam Fisher a hero’s welcome back to our consoles.