We traveled to Ubisoft Toronto earlier this week to preview the young studio’s first title, Splinter Cell Blacklist. The presentation and hands-on demo were strictly focused on the single-player experience, aimed to highlight the new offerings Ubisoft aims to deliver with the franchise’s sixth installment.
Ubisoft Toronto is now the home of the Splinter Cell franchise going forward and even though the studio is brand new, it was staffed with senior team members from around the company and industry. The presentation began with Creative Director Maxime Beland and Game Director Patrick Redding introducing the game to journalists in a room surrounded with PCs setup with a playable demo of the game, all featuring a Sam Fisher desktop background, Xbox 360 controllers and SteelSeries headsets.
The introductory hands-off demo first began however, with a sizzle reel comprised of real-life footage of terrorist attacks, foreign occupation, riots, etc., emphasizing the state of the world, with an intimidating voiceover. The end of the video reached a climax with the mysterious and powerful phrase “We are The Engineers.” The video represents the “opening salvo” of the Engineers’ agenda and serves an introduction to the narrative of Splinter Cell Blacklist.
The Engineers are a new international shadow terror network that formed in response to the fact that the United States has a presence in two-thirds of the world’s nations. It’s backed by unknown parties who for their own interests, need the U.S. to pull their troops out, and is led by one “super terrorist” figure modeled after the infamous political terrorist Carlos the Jackal. They have an ultimatum with set deadlines, backed with an organized series of escalating terror attacks (“The Blacklist”).
In response to the crisis, President Patricia Caldwell – who dismantled corrupt Third Echelon after the events of Splinter Cell: Conviction – covertly puts together a new organization that’s, as Redding describes, “blacker than black, very small, extremely mobile, self-financing, utterly deniable and will be able to go after the organizers of the Blacklist behind-the scenes while she deals with the more public reaction.” And the one man qualified to lead such a team? Sam Fisher.
The core team we saw from the demo includes familiar faces Anna “Grim” Grímsdóttir, a staple of the franchise and Fisher’s old handler; Isaac Briggs, an ex-CIA operative who joins Fisher on the field; Charlie Cole, the tech nerd who helps with weapon and gadget mods. At least one other character joins team in an unexpected capacity, and we expect there could be a few other guest members along the way.
The creative drive behind Splinter Cell Blacklist was to get Fisher back in his iconic special ops suit and back in the field, but in a way fans haven’t seen before. Many of the game design choices, new features, Fisher’s new role as a team leader instead of lone wolf – and even the redesigned Sam Fisher character – are all evidence of this.
The first and most exciting feature of the game is how it rewards player choice in terms of play style. Splinter Cell Blacklist caters to true stealth players and fans of the original Splinter Cell, but it also allows (and actively rewards) gameplay styles from players who may have entered the franchise with the last installment, Conviction, and shooter fans who may jump in as newbies for Blacklist. It does this by rewarding three styles of play. Where stealth games like Hitman: Absolution often punish players for taking a non-stealth approach, Splinter Cell embraces it with a dynamic scoring system that ranks players on three different playstyles:
Ghosts are the players who traverse an area and complete objectives without anyone knowing they’re even there. Assault is for the run and gun players who suit up with bigger weapons and heavier armor for direct confrontation. We’re told that players likely start playing one of these two styles but as they master each, they become more of a panther, someone who can lethally and quietly take out opponents in the most efficient way possible. The game is able to reward points based on metrics involving lethal vs. nonlethal play, detected vs. undetected, etc.