Splinter Cell really turned a corner with multiplayer. It was Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory that introduced it in its infant form, and it was really pretty good. As with all the games since Chaos Theory the single player portion of the game has been decent, but I’ve enjoyed the multiplayer more. In the early days the co-op was limited and the VS was a little bit ahead of its time. I mean – a shooter where one side isn’t even in first-person? Where the sides are totally disparate? This is in the days of Counter Strike, mind you, so such things were a tough sell. Combined with no match making (or what match making existed was painful to use cough gamespy cough) there were a few diehards you could match up with, but not many. I got my friends to play it a few times but never for long. I, however, luurrrvvved it.
When they overhauled the gameplay, feel, and design with Splinter Cell: Conviction the new flow and speed really lent well to multiplayer. It was a great shame to lose the “spies vs mercenaries” but I found there was plenty of action there to keep me busy without it. The main reason for that was because co-op is cool.
Whereas in previous iterations the co-op was more tacked on and the VS mode was the primary focus Conviction polished the co-op portions nicely. It took quite a while for that to grow stale. Once again, the single player portion was fine, but it was the co-op that sold it. It looks like Blacklist is going the same route and that’s just fine by me.
In fact, my biggest concern with Blacklist is Ubisoft caving in to the complainers that railed against Conviction‘s new design.
The original Splinter Cell games succeeded due to a lot of things that were done well: The interesting main character; great technical achievements with regard to graphics; great environmental graphics and design; well-captured “Tom Clancy” theme; excellent animations and voice acting.
The areas where it was actually weak, was the gameplay. It was welded to an already-outdated idea of what a stealth game should be and to try and spruce things up it then fell into a puddle of feature creep. I mean, the first game already suffered from feature creep so you can imagine how things looked by the 3rd.
A typical, old-school, Splinter Cell game gave you a silenced pistol, a silenced assault rifle, a knife, and the ability to knock people out. So 4 different ways to stealthily remove someone – not counting a wide variety of gadgets that could do it as well (such as a sticky camera that could blow knock-out gas in a passerby’s face.) What was the point? Obviously the easiest thing to do was just to sneak up to within 20m of the victim, and shoot them in the head. If you wanted the extra challenge, perhaps you’d want to use melee… but what is the point of lethal vs non-lethal? There was essentially no point. If you’re running around knocking people off with melee attacks and decide to break your rule and shoot someone … well, you’re not non-lethal now so you might as well shoot everyone. Yes, still silently – you don’t want to get into a gun fight after all – but still you might as well just pluck people off with your guns.
So rather than having a tool for every job, you instead had 1 useful tool and a huge collection of crap that never got used. Depending on whether you wanted to feel like an assassin (pistol only, knife, fists, etc. all useless) a ninja (knife only, all other items useless) an honorable ninja (non-lethal strikes only, all other items useless) or a soldier (super-rifle and attachments heavily used, silent moves, knife, etc, all useless) you’d have 1 item or move you’d use, and everything else was just pointless fluff. They gave you the ability to hang from pipes, split-jump, half-split-jump, shoot while upside down – you name it – and it was all useless because the only reliable way to silently remove everyone non-lethally (the way I believe most players would want to play through the game) was to walk up behind them slowly and take them down.
Now look at Conviction. All the crap stripped away. I’ve literally seen people complain that you can no longer get through levels non-lethally. If you melee someone now, it’s silent and combines using your pistol a lot of the time. Wham! Bam! Pew in the head! It’s impressive to behold and really makes you feel like a modern-day spy. Then they go one step further and grant you an awesome game-play benefit: You could then mark and execute an entire room of guys in one smooth animation as a reward.
Pew! Pew! Pew! Pew! Room cleared. In what way does non-lethal take-downs make sense or fit into this picture? What does it matter? The only point to non-lethal was for the challenge, and it made exactly zero difference whether you used a knife or an elbow. Now, they simply remove the elbow. Bam. Fantastic.
The prior Splinter Cell games typically boiled down to leaning against a wall and watching a dude patrol. Around, and around. Until you find a window of opportunity where you can sneak up behind him and dispatch him. Compare that to Conviction … sure, there is a little bit of that but your “window” is usually just everyone looking away from you so you can sprint (silently) up to way guy, take him down, mark up everyone else and send them to permanent sleepy-town in a matter of seconds. Very lethal. Very cool. Very much what Splinter Cell should have been from the start.
So what’s this I hear of Blacklist bringing old moves back? They better have a point. They better not be feature creep.
I’m sure I’ll play through the co-op though. Conviction was good enough to justify just playing through a new campaign with the exact same mechanics. If they’ve actually improved the co-op experience (and it looks like they have) then I’ll be there with bells on.