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Games on the AVE: Gamespot Reviews Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist Review
Also on PS3 & PC
Sam Fisher is different nowadays. His gruff voice has smoothed, and he's not always keen to stick to the shadows. Sam isn't worse for the wear, but he isn't always the man you remember. Nor, for that matter, is Splinter Cell.
Just as Splinter Cell: Conviction represented a metamorphosis for the stealth series, so too does Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist. Blacklist nudges Sam further into action-hero territory; where Conviction's story was personal, Blacklist's narrative is about what Sam does, not who he is. As in its predecessor, your mission goals appear as text projected into the environment, but that text no longer reflects Sam's state of mind. Blacklist is all business, and the Tom Clancy-inspired, jargon-heavy dialogue of its early hours reflects as much.
The boilerplate story focuses on a group of terrorists seeking to annihilate a series of targets in the United States, though the overfamiliarity of the setup is frequently trumped by tense story beats that rival those of any good political thriller. A confrontation between Sam and a colleague signals an overall increase in narrative tension, and the real-world locales you sneak through communicate the high stakes by the very nature of their political importance. Returning operations manager Anna Grimsdottir rattles off technospeak at a faster clip, resident hacker Charlie Cole gets even more annoyingly precocious and hyper, and the secretive Fourth Echelon team grows more and more desperate as the finale draws near. This isn't a story about Sam, but rather, a story about surreptitious warfare. Information is power.
Perhaps it's appropriate, then, that Sam Fisher's presence isn't as commanding as it's been in the past, in part due to the replacement of longtime Fisher actor Michael Ironside. New actor Eric Johnson does a creditable job as Sam, though he doesn't possess Ironside's gravel-throated urgency. Nevertheless, the entire cast effectively communicates Fourth Echelon's calm-under-fire efficiency, as does Blacklist in general. Snazzy digital displays and computer terminals fill out the group's airborne headquarters, the Paladin, and each mission begins with the camera rotating into position above the base's main map before zooming into it. It's a fitting transition into a gadget-filled escapade across a dreary rain-drenched rooftop, or through a heavily guarded trainyard.
You need to get used to Sam's new digs; everything you do in Blacklist is performed there, from upgrading your gear to initiating multiplayer. Rather than accessing menus, you explore the aircraft and speak to your comrades, making the Paladin as much your interface as it is Sam's. The entire scheme feels unnecessarily convoluted and disjointed at first, and the game doesn't do a very good job of introducing you to its structure, though curiosity (and a bit of trial and error) should get you up to speed. But the player-as-Sam logic soon clicks into place, giving even the stand-alone cooperative missions context within Blacklist's fiction, rather than treating them as distinct and unrelated tasks.