During the Microsoft E3 2012 Press conference, Sam Fisher made his long-awaited return appearance with the first ever gameplay footage of the all-new Splinter Cell: Blacklist. The title is the first major production to come from Ubisoft Toronto, who seem to have done a good job maintaining the high standards of gameplay Splinter Cell fans have come to expect. The behind-closed-doors preview we saw was a highly polished and well-designed experience that left us craving more. Coming out next year, Blacklist is certainly aiming to entice gamers with its smooth execution, and we got to take an extended tour of duty that expanded upon what was presented at the Microsoft and Ubisoft conferences.

Taking place months after the events of Splinter Cell: Conviction, Blacklist grows on the idea of allowing Sam to take an action-packed, destructive course if he chooses to. Of course, the game still allows ample opportunity to sneak through levels, emphasizing the idea of player choice. Sam and his team are on the hunt to uncover a terrorist plot known as Blacklist to stop a series of planned attacks on vital United States assets.

The demonstration – which is an elongated and more detailed version of the one shown in the Microsoft conference – begins much the same. A disguised Sam Fisher carries an injured ‘friend’ into a tent, requesting help. Just as the three soldiers begin to realize Sam is not the man he seems to be, Conviction’s beloved  ‘mark and execute’ system returns to play, resulting in two quick deaths and and a broken arm to the surviving soldier. As one of the developers stated, this Splinter Cell will feature darker moments as Sam does what he needs to do to get information. And true to his word, moments later Sam stuck a knife into the shoulder of the surviving Blacklist suspect. Here, the player could use the right stick to twist and turn the knife, torturing the suspect until he caved and gave information. Once the torturing is over, another moral choice is presented: knock out the guard since he told you what you wanted, or leave no loose ends and slit his throat.

Sam now makes his way deeper into the enemy camp, and the developers were quick to show that tactics both new and old would come into play. Sam uses some hefty resonance technology in his suit to see through walls and pinpoint enemy locations so he can plan his route. You can interact with the environment in new ways, like slicing through the side of a tent to take a new path. Later on, Sam climbs to the side of a building and whistles to get a guard’s attention (this can be done with Kinect as well). As the guard approaches the edge of the building, Sam grabs him and throws him over the edge. The hopeless soldier plummets onto a puddle and dies on impact, which attracts the attention of two nearby guards. Seeing this, Sam can switch to a tazer-like pistol, which shoots a a high-voltage electrical burst. Aiming at the puddle between the two soldiers, Sam is able to quickly – and quietly – shock them into submission.

Splinter Cell Blacklist Demonstration

For those who may not have played Conviction, the Third Echelon unit is now shut down, and Sam is the operative in charge over at the newly-formed Fourth Echelon. The trials of being in command also come with some handy perks to utilize throughout the game, which we saw a brief example of in the demo. As shown in the conference, there comes a point when Sam is pinned down by heavy-machinegun fire as soldiers close in on his position. After a quick grab-and-stab on a nearby enemy, Sam is able to run his way to a closer position and authorize an air-strike on the machine gun emplacement. If you have Kinect, you’ll be able to do this with your own voice.

The demo took a turn away from the path of the main preview video when it came to breaching the last, final door. Instead of taking the most direct route, Sam decided he should scale a pipe alongside the building (L.A. Noire style) and climb onto the roof. He rappelled down in front of a large window to left of the door, and crashed through moments after the explosives left on the door detonated, incapacitating the guards who survived the blast just long enough for Sam to both mark and execute them in systematic fashion.

Shortly after, things predictably go awry in the building. There’s another new gameplay element introduced: operating a UAV from the air. Gamers accustomed to the classic Call of Duty UAV interface will feel at home here, as the concept is much the same: breathing targets show up as white hot on your thermal scanner, and it’s up to the player to mow them down before they can overrun Sam Fisher, who is still stuck inside the building. Once you successfully take out what seems like an entire squad, Sam Fisher dashes out for his escape, and the demonstration concludes.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist looks to be well on the way to being a polished and exciting production from Ubisoft Toronto. Sam Fisher has a variety of new tools and tactics to use on the field, and gamers are given a relatively open mindset when it comes to how to complete objectives. Set tentatively for release in the first quarter of 2013, we’re excited to lead Fourth Echelon into combat against the terrorist threat.

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