The Splinter Cell series took an especially edgy turn in 2010 with the release of Splinter Cell: Conviction, and judging by what I saw here at E3, Splinter Cell: Blacklist looks to continue in that vein while doing just enough to be its own game. Put simply, it’s going to kick ass.
The story of Blacklist is relatively typical Tom Clancy material: a new terrorist organization in the Middle East has a blacklist of targets — U.S. interests — that they intend to attack if America does not pull its troops out of the region. The protagonist of the Splinter Cell series, Sam Fisher, is called in to help save the day and is told that he’ll be calling the shots as the head of the brand new, top-secret organization, Fourth Echelon. Fans of the series will notice that this is, impressively, one whole Echelon higher than the organization featured in previous Splinter Cell titles.
So I got to watch as a demo of Blacklist was played through by one of the reps from Ubisoft Toronto (which is developing the title, the studio’s very first game). The mission featured in the demo had Sam infiltrating a terrorist camp in search of a man named Jadid, who supposedly has information regarding the blacklist.
Things got started pretty quickly, with Sam entering a tent in disguise and using the Mark And Execute system introduced in Conviction (in which he tags targets and, with a single press of a button, automatically nails all of them with one shot kills in slow motion) to take out everyone but one man. The last man standing probably wished he had been shot in the face though, as a particularly brutal interrogation took place immediately after the room was cleared.
Now, interrogations are not new to the series, but there’s a little more to them this time around, and they’ve gotten a little more…grisly. After punching the guy about for a bit (and slamming his head on a table at one point, I think), Sam whipped out his combat knife and buried it to the hilt into the poor guy’s shoulder. By twiddling the left thumbstick, our guide was able to actually move and twist the knife around inside his victim’s shoulder in order to extract information from him about Jadid’s whereabouts.
After getting the info he needed, our guide was given the choice to either knock the man out or kill him. It was explained to us viewers that there will be quite a few of these “moral choices” to make throughout the course of the game, but nothing was mentioned regarding the significance of said choices or what they mean in the long run. At any rate, our guide finally showed some mercy and spared the interrogation victim’s life before moving on.
As Sam left the tent, I couldn’t help but notice how much he stood out in his sneaking suit (he had apparently pulled a Superman and instantaneously changed out of his disguise before exiting). And that’s when it occurred to me that this was a drastic change of scenery for the Splinter Cell series. Most of the previous games have taken place at night and either indoors or close-quarter spaces when parts of the map are outside (with the exception of the flashback sequences in Conviction). Here, we were in the mountains in broad daylight, looking out on a sprawling landscape. I’m sure Blacklist won’t be taking place entirely outside or anything like that, but it was still a nice change of scenery to have at least one of the missions take place in an outdoor environment, even if the backgrounds of the mountains in the distance did look laughably flat.
Then, after securing “marks” to use Mark And Execute again by performing a silent kill from behind on an unaware guard, our guide pulled off something he referred to as “killing in motion,” which I was first impressed by yesterday when watching the demo of the game during Microsoft’s press conference. The appeal has yet to wear off, it seems, as I was still in awe as he triggered the execute, but continued to run forward in slow motion while doing so, vaulting cover and even sliding over the hood of a truck.
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