Splinter Cell: Blacklist. It’s Conviction, But With Chaff Added Back In

I’d heard plenty of belly-aching about how different Splinter Cell: Conviction was from the previous games. It was. And it’s always a risky endeavour to do something like that, but they nailed it. The series had become so bogged down in pointless chaff that while the core gameplay was a solid stealthier I had to wonder why I bothered since everything they added to the series did nothing to improve it (the exception being spy vs merc, of course.) Enter, Conviction.

Conviction’s crowning achievement was to strip about all the crap. I mean, in previous titles, Double Agent and Chaos Theory, you had a silenced assault rifle, and a silenced pistol. Which meant you had fully 2 different ways to simply head-shot everyone on the level without raising an alarm. Oh? You wanted to do it non-lethally? Perhaps to make it a bit more of a challenge? No problem, you could literally shoot compressed air with enough force to knock guards out. Naturally, you could take everyone down with hand-to-hand (and I think this is what most people did) but that meant: pistol, air-ring, main gun, basically every single gadget… all useless. They even gave you the option of using a lethal knife or just non-lethal takedowns… which of course was a pointless decision.

Double Agent and the knife. Does it actually have a point?

So, Conviction cut through all of that like a laser. You could tear through the level like a thing of nightmares, disappearing dudes packs at a time. If someone stopped to ask, “Huh?” You’d use that as an opening to drop down from above and dispatch him too. Even Conviction struggled to truly make everything count, though. They gave you a wide variety of weapons and each of them could be upgraded with various mods… and the whole exercise was completely and utterly pointless. There was next to no point in ever upgrading your main gun, and all you were interested in was getting more “marks” for your pistol so you could use the awesome “Mark and Execute” better.

So take that minor flaw of Conviction, and amplify it ten-fold. That’s Blacklist. I know why it’s happened: whingers. Those who were turned off Conviction’s focused gameplay because they were long time fans and who knew how to take a middling series and squeeze fun out of it. They didn’t like the idea of tight controls and clean gameplay. Now anyone can have fun! What’s that about?

Case-in-point is the return of the knife. Like most things people whined about, it was an odd thing to request a return. The decision between lethal and non-lethal was always pointless, so Conviction simply took it away. Why not just combine the lethality of the knife into the default hand-to-hand strikes? It was gravy that Sam would throw in brutal point-blank-range pistol shots in his take-downs. Now, in Blacklist, the knife is back, and you can choose lethal or non-lethal. To their credit, they’ve tried to add a reason to use it. There are three ways get through a level: Ghost (non-lethal), Panther (lethal), Assault (You might as well play Gears of War.) There is a little bit of subtlety to each of the modes – for example Panther gives you bonus points for using Mark and Execute on as many people at a time as possible, whereas Ghost gives you bonus points for each guard that was completely undisturbed in a zone. It doesn’t quite work, though, because as a Panther I like killing guys, but if I have no need to kill them, shouldn’t I get a little bit of a kick-back for that? No? I guess our ideas of sneaking into an area (lethally) are different.

Blacklist is for the most part still Conviction, it’s just a shame they didn’t improve on what made it so good, and instead opted to add as much chaff back in as possible (except, of course, spy vs merc which was never chaff.) Now you have tens of gadgets, which alternate between utterly useless (tear gas) and the completely game-breaking (tri-rotor.) The whole game has some real balance issues, actually. Now you can Mark and Execute just as well with any weapon as your pistol. Say hello to Mark and Execute from across the map with a silenced sniper rifle.

To slow down your marks and executions “special” guards have been added in. Guys with helmets, for example. They can present an interesting challenge since a Mark and Execute that includes them will only make them angry – but include a co-op ally and now you can double tap him. Oh, except, the best sniper rifle (which you can get in the first 25% of the game) can just shoot through their helmet. Yay.

You can still have a lot of fun by exercising a bit of self-control, though. (Similarly to Double Agent, I guess.) The co-op is just as much fun as it was in Conviction (although the story only gets interesting when it references Conviction) and it is worked into the single-player campaign quite cleverly. They also present 4 different co-op pseudo-campaigns: once again, Ghost, Panther, Assault, and this time also a story campaign that you’re not obligated to do in any particular style. Poor balance rears its head again, though: I usually complete the Ghost missions by just killing everyone. Since it’s supposed to be done “ghostly” there are less obstacles in your way and so it’s incredibly easy. Furthermore, you’re usually supposed to be sneaking in and bugging somewhere without them knowing… you’d think leaving a trail of bodies would be a giveaway,  but nope. If you restrict your weapons, play the missions as they’re probably designed (rather than what is most effective) it works OK. It’s silly you have to self-censor yourself though.

A lot could be said about Sam’s changed voice, too, but ultimately it’s not why you play so I won’t go on about it. The story-line is about on par with previous entries, but Sam’s voice is so bland it carries absolutely no weight. I cannot remember much of what happened in the previous entries – except Sam’s personal developments; I attribute this to Michael Ironsides superb voice acting. Compared to any other game voice actor out there, the new Sam does fine. Compared to Michael Ironsides it’s barely tolerable. If they were to change the actor for the next Splinter Cell, I doubt anyone would even notice, he is so bland.

From everything I have heard, the new Spies vs Mercenaries mode is excellent. I know that played with and against friends I had a ball with the original games’ versus offering. I’m a little afraid to dip into this one though because experience counts for so much – knowing the map layout and map tricks, for example. I should try it out, but at the moment all I can tell you is that I’ve heard it’s pretty good.

If you’re hankering for more Conviction action, like I was, I’d recommend grabbing Blacklist now. It’s fun, and still has much of what made Conviction great. If you’re pining for the good old Double Agent days, and hated Conviction, I’d steer clear (and therein is the irony, since Conviction’s style has been comprised to appease the haters, and it will not help to bring any in.) If you liked Conviction, but aren’t willing to put up with objectively worse gameplay, then wait until it’s on special. It’s worth checking it out, but few of us are used to paying full $70-$90 for a game nowadays, and it’s hard to recommend Blacklist at that price.

Games for a Girlfriend

My girlfriend doesn’t play games. Neither the video nor board variety. I’m always trying to get her to join me, though, and I have the occasional success, but not too often. Well, for my birthday one of her presents to me was to play any game I wanted. Moo ha ha!

I went easy on her. There are my current-favourite games, of course (Wargame Airland Battle at the time of writing, and I’m also playing a lot of Splinter Cell: Blacklist, although I hesitate to call it a “favourite.”) but they wouldn’t suit her personality so they wouldn’t be a good idea in any case.

A casual game, like BeJeweled, could garner a passing interest, but it’s not really what I’m looking for anyway. I once thought maybe “artsy” games (such as Flower or Journey, both by Thatgamecompany) would be a good gateway to full-time gaming, but actually she tends to find them boring.

So! I needed games that were simple, quick to pick up, but fun and exciting.

First up I chose Ikugara.

Such a classic. I described it to her as “pew pew pew.” “Let’s play Pew Pew Pew,” I’d say. We lasted until the first main boss. It ticks all the right boxes, and it even has the advantage of having quite a lot of depth to it if it happens to sink its claws in. So, while fun, it didn’t quite last.

Next I suggested “chop chop chop!” Which you might know as Castle Crashers.

This is a game I hadn’t even heard of until it hit Steam (massively discounted of course) recently. Have I mentioned that I don’t play consoles much? I don’t, but that’s a post for another time. Well, this game was fun. We chopped, and we chopped some more, until eventually we had to fight over the red princess. It reminded me very much of Double Dragon – ah, the good old days.

It was simple, fun and had just the right level of humour but our fingers got sore. I can see the appeal: that’s a fun little co-op game.

Well, what now? I had time for one more, I figured, and I had a game I thought she’d actually like if she gave it a chance and today… she couldn’t say no.

So I fired up Civilization V.

The real beauty behind Civ is that its depth and complexity is hidden behind a simple, streamlined interface. Basically all you have to do is click the messages that pop up on the right-hand side and make a choice – and at the easier difficulties you can’t even make a mistake. You just pick whatever appeals. Do you research Pottery, or Writing? What does your little tribe of people believe in? Do you build an archer or a monument? This is something she approves of too – she doesn’t play games to be challenged, like me, but to build things for the most part. A quick, easy, game of Civ is just right.

So we played that for a while – well, she did, but I helped. This was the biggest success I think, and although eventually she declared she was bored, she did concede that I “could save the game… if I wanted.”

If she does come back to it, she has a lot of stuff Civ can slowly reveal (something else it’s good at) and if she gets into it, the multiplayer is top notch too. I could see us having quite a bit of fun with it and in particular its latest expansion, which is getting rave reviews.

Wish me luck!

Steam Sale Ends With A Last Hurrah

Well the Steam sale is technically over. However it’s doing an “Encore” day where they’re bringing back the most popular deals.

As such, there’s nothing new, but you should probably cast your eyes over the store page one final time in case you missed one of the deals I mentioned in my previous posts. I noticed Dishonored, is back, for example. 75% off Tomb Raider, Chivalry, and Civilization V; all excellent, excellent, games.

 

I might just spend a quick moment to explain why I haven’t recommended Bioshock Infinite yet, though. It’s 50% off and had many, many rave reviews.

To me, Bioshock is a series that – like Halo – is mostly redeemed for being a half-decent shooter on console. Console just doesn’t do FPS very well, so when one that is pretty good comes along it gets a lot of attention. The original Halo was like that, and has spawned a very long-running series. Who knows? It might have actually got pretty good by the end, storyline-wise, but I never saw anything terribly inventive when it came to the actual First Person Shooting to make it stand out.

I was excited to try the original Bioshock. The world of Rapture was pretty interesting, and the storyline not to shabby at all. The gameplay though… eh. As an example, everyone was so excited about the magical powers called plasmids. Do you know what plasmids were? Weapons. There was absolutely no difference between a plasmid in Bioshock and picking up the rocket launcher in Doom. Just a different tool to shoot enemies with. You know who else took the idea of “rebranding a weapon as a spell” ? Hexen. 1995Do know which game did it better? Hexen II. 1998.

So, OK, Bioshock had a cool world. Do you know what’s a quicker way to experience a cool world than playing through a so-so shooter? Read wikipedia.

I heard Bioshock 2 was significantly worse than the original, so I certainly didn’t pick it up. I have heard that Bioshock Infinite has an excellent storyline with many interesting twists and turns… but even by console shooter standards the combat is pretty so-so. So – once again – a so-so shooter with a good story and world.

One day, I might tear through the game on easy just to see the story and experience the world. I don’t think reading the wiki is going to quite do it justice. Having said that, I’m surely not going to pay $80 for a pretty poor game. With Steam Sales knocking games down to less than $10 regularly, I’m not even going to consider it at 50% off (which it is right now as part of the “Encore.”)

Maybe next year. I tell you what, Bioshock Infinite. I’ll put you on my wishlist, and if you drop below $15 like Dishonored, I’ll pick you up to see what the fuss is about. I even promise to avoid spoilers online.

Steam Sales Steam Sales Steam Sales

Ok so. Prison Architect. If nothing else is on sale today, this is a game you have to get. It’s awesome. Look! The devs are funny https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDDzSOS0vzc

Worms Revolution: As good as the original!

FTL: A kickstarter success story, and just a fun bite-sized game all-round.

But you know what? I’m seeing more games to avoid than to get today. Except Prison Architect. You should totes play that.

Steam Allows You to Remotely Install? Since When!?

Steam summer sales. Wallets everywhere cry out in pain. I was not surprised to find myself making yet another purchase (from work. Shh.)

What DID surprise me, however, was this screen:

remotely install

You see, I happened to leave my home computer turned on this morning. I had often bemoaned any new games I bought during the day wouldn’t be installed by the time I got home. If I planned well enough, I could remote into my home PC and kick off the install.

No longer required! I will probably leave my computer on more often now, so if I make a purchase I can install games from work – ready for me to jump into as soon as I get home. (Unless it is Anno 2070 which merely installs the Ubi installer which then installs the 4 gigs of actual game later. Pfft. Ubi.)

 

Steam Sales Bounce Back

Some good looking deals today…

Farcry 3: Farcry had an annoying protagonist, terrible storyline, and what must be the most over-hyped villain of all time (I was surprised, after playing, that people actually thought Vaas was a good bad-guy.) Having said that… the game was a lot of fun. Not the gunplay, it was ho hum, but the wingsuit and open world were pretty decent. The stealth machete kills are what elevated this game from average to pretty damn fun. 40% is a damn good price (though I would forgive you for waiting until next year when it’ll probably be 75% off.)

XCOM: Didn’t this pop up a few days ago? I’m pretty sure yes. If you missed it, don’t miss it now. Seriously. Don’t.

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing: Hmm. Diablo clone. Looks pretty good though, I have to say. It was already a budget-priced game with high-price quality. Now it is less than $10 I think I better find out how good it is for myself. (And 3 mates.)

Torchlight II: Speaking of Diablo clones… Torchlight is arguably the best of the lot. The only problem for Torchlight II was releasing after Diablo 3. It was a good game, I know some of my friends even liked it better than D3, but it suffered from “Action RPG burnout.” We had flogged D3 so hard, we couldn’t make it past the first chapter of Torchlight II. It was not the fault of the game.

Magicka: Another game I burnt out on, but boy did I love it before I did. The magic system is one of the best in gaming, and the guaranteed hilarity that ensues from the emergent systems makes the $2.50 a ridiculous bargain. The best description of this game ever is here: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/01/24/spell-check-5-mistakes-to-avoid-in-magicka/

Left 4 Dead 2: I’ve been playing this lately and loving it. I played the hell out of the first one, but refused to buy the second because it is censored in Australia. Now Australia has the R18+ at long last, and L4D2 was a ridiculous $4 (now $10) I decided to bite the bullet. Unfortunately even with the R18+ rating we are still lumped with the “low violence” version. Fortunately it is only a matter of changing one value in a text file to get gore back. Unfortunately this means you can’t play on Australian servers. Fortunately, I was only planning on playing on a local server anyway. If you’re Australian, and don’t have 4 friends you will definitely play with, avoid. Otherwise, get!

Antichamber: I have bought this game. It is less of a game and more of an “experience.” Well, perhaps that isn’t fair. It’s definitely a puzzler… but not really puzzles like you’ve experienced before. It’s a trippy, mind-bending experience that I certainly can’t describe here. I picked it up cheap and consider it worthwhile as something different.

Another Day Another Deal (STEAM!)

Today on special we have…

Batman Arkham City: Look, if you haven’t played this yet – what the hell is wrong with you? Get it now while it’s 75% off. That’s so criminal that Batman… something-something justice joke.

And… that’s all I can recommend with a clear conscience. Look, Mount & Blade is good, and at less that 5 bucks a great bargin, but it’s a massive time-sink and is certainly not for everyone. Deus Ex everyone else loved, but I thought was middling-to-good at best… having said that at $3.50 even a middling game is a steal. Bastion is less than $3 right now, and it’s a game that has been raved about. I played it for an hour or two. It was definitely different and interesting, but couldn’t compete with all the other games I want to play.

Gunpoint is brand new, so only 10% off. It’s an indie game I’m somewhat interested in, so I thought I’d mention it. Since it has to compete with the rest of the Steam sales I’m going to pass on it this time.

 

Better luck tomorrow, Steam!