CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Who says you can't go home again? Certainly not covert ops agent Sam Fisher, the star of Ubisoft's "Splinter Cell" franchise. It's taken eight years, but Fisher and his iconic night-vision goggles have finally returned to their rightful home -- in the shadows.
After eschewing the stealth-focused game play that made the series such a hit in the first place in favor of a more action-heavy experience in 2006's "Double Agent" and 2010's "Conviction," Fisher has gone back to his stealthy roots in "Splinter Cell: Blacklist," the latest installment of the long-running series.
For long-time fans like myself, it's a change that long overdue.
"Blacklist" finds Fisher, now voiced by Eric Johnson instead of Michael Ironside, tasked with stopping a group of terrorists known as The Engineers who are targeting America. Several familiar faces - both friend and foe -- from past "Splinter Cell" games make appearances, helping to maintain continuity within the series and providing a nice nod to returning players.
In addition to the core campaign missions, Fisher can tackle side missions he picks up from other members of his Fourth Echelon team aboard their airborne headquarters, the Paladin. The Paladin serves as a central hub from which players can choose their next mission, upgrade their gear, customize Fisher's arsenal, track stats and engage in conversations that help to fill out the story. It's a neat way to pull together all that "Blacklist" offers without taking the player out of the experience.
The story that drives "Blacklist" is one of the best in the series' history, but it's the game play that really sets this apart from any other "Splinter Cell" game to date.
Stealth is a focus, but unlike those original "Splinter Cell" games, it isn't the only viable way to complete a mission. Indeed, "Blacklist" allows for a multitude of play styles, from pure stealth to an all-out assault and everything in between. Players are scored and receive cash after each mission, and while the stealth approach garners the biggest payouts, every action is rewarded.
It's a good thing, too, because even though I began each mission with a Ghost rating in mind -- remaining undetected and using only non-lethal force -- more often than not I had to abandon that approach during the heat of the moment. I would progress nicely, shimmying up poles, crawling through air vents and hiding in the shadows until, inevitably, I would be spotted and forced to act quickly. The Mark and Execute command from "Conviction" came in handy during these tense scenarios, though admittedly it felt a little like cheating. Still, it was better than the alternative.