Game Mode Final Thoughts
Back in 1998 I purchased my first-ever PC video game: Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six. It was a difficult game with colorful (albeit flat) graphics and lots of ambient sounds that gave you noise cues. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Blacklist doesn’t seem far removed, despite the difference of fifteen years. The Unreal Engine (UE2.5) is from 2004 vintage, and despite NVIDIA’s best attempts at adding some modern effects the game still doesn’t look very fresh. Breaking-down Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Blacklist means pointing out the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Single-player ‘Solo’ campaign missions are at the heart of Splinter Cell Blacklist, and offer the best view of Tom Clancy’s clandestine operator’s world. These missions allow players to outfit Sam Fisher with much more gear and weaponry than available elsewhere, most of which is not available in multiplayer ‘Spies vs. Mercs’ game play. These solo missions take Sam to various locations on every continent, and require him to employ different tactics to successfully complete each mission. Campaign maps are richly detailed and diverse, with very little repetitious scenery or setting. The game developer uses modern-day news headlines and topics to form the story, honing-in on controversial real-world events to grab your interest.
One key aspect of the game is stealth, and while multiplayer ‘Spies’ depend on this tactic the solo missions incorporate it as a means to balance predictable computer AI. Despite the adjusted tactics to complete each mission, computer AI tends to only pose any real challenge at ‘Perfectionist’ skill level. Many missions can (or must) be completed online with a second ‘buddy’ for Co-Op mode. This is helpful for missions where the game’s preferred ‘Ghost’ path are not so evident, and require cooperation to reach tall ledges or bait and clear enemy.
Most new games are expected to have a few small bugs discovered after launch, which weren’t found in the alpha- and beta-testing phases of development. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Blacklist seems to have used the retail launch as their testing phase, because two full update packages have been released in just as many weeks after debut. My experience with the PC version is that even after the updates, most mechanical aspects of the game are broken. Game crashes are far too common and uPlay occasionally doesn’t report bonus equipment purchases to the game, but my personal favorite was when I completed the final solo campaign the game’s ending cut-scene videos only produced sound with no cinema movie displayed. Bravo, Ubisoft, bravo!
Online multiplayer mode features a peer-to-peer networking system that is just plain broken. There are times when the SMI (Sam’s menu interface) offer players an opportunity to assassinate a rogue agent for bonus XP, only to be joined onto the losing team of a match with literally one second left on the clock and no chance of earning the bonus. If you’re lucky enough to join into a game that has just started and manage to kill the rogue agent, everything still depends on the original ‘host’ player to decide if that game continues to its end or not. If the game’s host is someone on the losing team, chances are your game won’t reach the match’s final conclusion where points are handed out. The message “Host has changed. Migrating Match” is all too common.
Spies vs. Mercs has several fun game modes in concept, the best being 4 vs 4 team death match, but actual SvM games can be harshly skewed. I discovered that the game’s match maker system doesn’t take rank, skill level, or point standing into consideration. It also doesn’t keep track of how often your team is down a player to keep things even. Matches where a team with three level 1-9 players are arranged to compete against four level 40-51 players happens more often than you think. Since even new players can be good at the game this shouldn’t be a real problem, except for that many ‘elite’ gear items and weapons become available only after a player reaches rank 51.
The online system also seems to be lacking a working balance system, since matches that start 4 vs 4 can become and remain 4 vs 1. I’ve played in matches, even after the 1.02 patch, where team Spies lose three players and team Mercs loses one, only to have the next joining player fight with the Mercs in a 4 vs 1 battle for the remainder of the match.