Sneak or shoot? That split-second, do-or-die decision has been at the crux of the Splinter Cell franchise since Sam Fisher first donned his iconic green goggles – and Splinter Cell Blacklist is no different. Do you skulk around in the shadows, ever so patient, meticulously planning out every single move in order to never be detected? Or do you rain bullets down on a wave of evildoers, meting out harsh justice en route to rescuing the world once again? While previous Splinter Cell games have placed the crosshairs directly on covert ops, Blacklist is built to fully accommodate three gameplay styles: Ghost (for the classic, stealthy approach), Assault (for those who want to tackle things head-on) and Panther (the middle path). But here’s a classified bit of intel about Blacklist: It’s secretly a stealth trainer.
According to creative director Maxime Béland, one of the biggest challenges in producing Blacklist is the freedom of choice inherent in the game. “The toughest part with almost any Tom Clancy games is that they’re tactical games,” he explains. “Tactics mean that you think before you act. You observe, you prepare, you get into a good position, and you wait for a good moment. But not all players are willing to spend that time in the shadows looking at patrols.”
Rewarding Sneaky Behavior
Béland goes on to explain that Ubisoft Toronto isn’t making a linear game where character routes are fully scripted, and in which a player can exploit these scripted actions once they’ve mentally mapped them out. “For us it’s important that we’re creating these little sandboxes; we’re putting some A.I. there and then we’re giving all these tools to players. And we’re just saying, Go ahead and have fun, go play with the A.I. It’s stressful and it’s putting a lot of pressure on the A.I. team. It’s like playing tennis against someone. If the person against you sucks, you’re not going to have fun. If they’re too good, you’re not going to have fun. So the A.I. team must hate me so much, because I’m so difficult with them.”
All of which means you really can play Splinter Cell Blacklist your own way – and in one of my early play sessions, I saw that freedom of choice in action. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the biggest stealth pro – patience, alas, is not one of my greatest virtues – but I had a killer time splitting the difference in Blacklist, embracing the Panther style of play by sneaking around until I couldn’t anymore, then letting my guns take over. That said, I noticed something early on in my playthrough of the London level: I felt a gentle, seemingly self-induced prodding to embrace my inner Ghost. Was that something Béland somehow built into Blacklist?
“My secret objective is that the game is going to be a stealth trainer,” Béland smiles. “So the economy system is all tweaked to push players toward Panther or Ghost.” Béland gives an example, careful to point out that the actual in-game numbers will likely change: Say you’re in combat and you kill an enemy with an AK47 (an Assault-style move); you might get 100 points. If you mark and silently execute the same enemy and you’re not detected (Panther), that might be worth 125 points. If you’re in the shadow and you do a non-lethal takedown and you’re not detected (Ghost), that’s could be 150 points. Then, perhaps, you grab the bad guy and put him in a bin so that his friends don’t find him; that could be worth another 50 points. “So we’re definitely going to push players,” Béland says. “If you want to get money and be able to customize Sam and choose different weapons and gadgets, play stealth.”
It’s All Up to You
Béland is quick to point out, though, that you won’t get punished for not being “stealthy enough.” The game’s outcome will remain largely unchanged no matter how you play. “We’re still a story driven game, right? I think we have a cool story to tell, and I want people to experience it and to hopefully reflect on certain elements that are happening in real life, thanks to our story. How you achieve your objective is your choice.”
My secret objective is that the game is going to be a stealth trainer
These choices come together to make Blacklist the best Splinter Cell yet for longtime fans and newcomers alike, Béland promises. “We basically have three types of fans we’re trying to reach. We have the old-school stealth-Ghost players, and we’re doing a lot of stuff for them. We also have a difficulty level that’s exactly for them called the Perfectionist. Not only will the A.I. see you, detect you faster and be more lethal, but we’re taking away mark-and-execute so you won’t be able to execute. You will still be able to mark and track enemies but you won’t be able to execute. Your goggles won’t see through walls. Suddenly, you’re going to really have to take your time. So we’re doing things like that for them. At the same time, we got the Conviction fans, who are like, Holy sh-t, this is the Splinter Cell for me – it’s a little bit faster, it’s more lethal, I like it. Obviously, we have a play style for them. And then, I think there’re a bunch of gamers out there that are like, I like this fantasy of Splinter Cell, but I don’t want to take the time to observe, I don’t want to hide in the shadows – I want to go in guns-blazing. If they play it at an easier difficulty level, they’re going to be able to have fun and experience a version of Splinter Cell.”