Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist Preview from E3 2012 -- A Leaner, Meaner Sam FisherBy Adam Rosenberg - Posted Jun 12, 2012
Ubisoft Montreal introduced a bold, new vision for the Splinter Cell series with the action-stealth hybrid gameplay that formed the core of 2010's Splinter Cell: Conviction. Now, two years later, the Tom Clancy series is in the capable hands of Jade Raymond's Ubisoft Toronto studio, which is working on Splinter Cell: Blacklist, a Conviction follow-up that continues the trend of putting more of an action-packed twist on Sam Fisher's stealthy stabbings.
Blacklist made its debut during Microsoft's E3 2012 press briefing, and the same mission that premiered there was also the subject of a more detailed, behind-closed-doors demonstration at Ubisoft's booth on the show floor. The new game picks up sometime after the events of Conviction, with Third Echelon having been shut down and replaced with the Fisher-run Fourth Echelon. In this new tale, Sam is on the hunt for the Blacklist, which details plans for a series of terror attacks against U.S. interests.
The mission shown off in the demo appears to be pulled from an early moment in the game, with Fisher apparently still in the dark about everything other than the existence and basic facts of the Blacklist. The mission opens in the Middle East on the Iran-Iraq border, with Fisher posing as a member of a terrorist group in his search for information.
The very first sequence in the demo sees his cover being blown in spectacular fashion. After helping to bring a wounded soldier into a triage tent, the apparent leader of the three-man squad begins to question our hero. It appears that players have a limited amount of control during this sequence, as we see crosshairs move to mark the two soldiers flanking Sam's interrogator, confirming the return of Conviction's Mark and Execute feature. It's been expanded, however, with Sam now able to perform these maneuvers on the go in a stylish display.
The flurry of action that follows leans heavily on the slow-mo as Sam snuffs out the two onlookers and grabs the interrogator in a choke hold, plunging his combat knife down into the man's shoulder. A table-turning interrogation sequence follows in which players must move the right stick around to dig the blade in deeper and force the captive to share what he knows. A choice to either knock out or execute the man pops up once the interrogation is complete, though it's not clear what sort of ramifications choices like this will have.
The demo continues with Sam working his way deeper into the camp, using a mix of returning tactics and new ones to get the drop on his enemies. One futuretech toy offers a magnetic resonance image of the surrounding environment, allowing you to spot and mark enemies through walls. Another is a less-lethal weapon that fires an electric burst, a trick which comes in handy when Sam uses it to stun a pair of enemies standing in a shallow puddle.
Of course, with Sam now running the show at Fourth Echelon, he gets to enjoy some of the perks of having a command. At one point during the demo, a large group of baddies roll in, including one operating a fixed machine gun turret mounted onto the back of a pick-up track. From cover, Sam marks the location and calls an airstrike down on the superior force, snuffing out his opposition.
Eventually, Sam reaches the room where his target awaits, a high-ranking member of the terror organization who supposedly has hard info on the Blacklist. During the MS press conference, you got to see Sam perform a fairly standing breaching procedure as he stormed the room.
Ubi's behind-closed-doors demo went in a slightly different direction. After scoping out the room using his under-door camera and marking the enemies inside, the demo driver guided Sam up to the roof of the building he'd soon be breaching. He then rappelled down to a window and set off the breaching explosive at the door; the blast was enough to take out one enemy while the other two fell to Sam's Mark and Execute command.
The cutscene that unfolds next is the stuff of spoilers, so I won't ruin it for you here. If you really want to know, re-watch the MS presser. Suffice to say, Sam doesn't quite get what he wants and incoming enemy forces soon necessitate a hasty retreat. The show floor demo ends with one last slice of gameplay that didn't make it into the press conference: Sam operating a UAV armed with a chaingun, using it to take out enemy forces and fixed anti-air emplacements, to clear the way for his extraction.
Ubisoft Toronto has a lot to live up to in repeating Ubi Montreal's efforts on Splinter Cell: Conviction. What we've all seen so far of Blacklist definitely points to an improved experience, with Sam's deeper toolbox complemented by more of a cinematic flair driving the action. We're looking at a spring 2013 release for this one right now, so you can expect to hear plenty more in the coming months.