‘Cell’ satisfies with sandbox play

Nevin Jones

Gamers love receiving choices. With choices, the experience becomes your own and allows you to execute your unique play style. Whether it is tearing through a room with guns blazing or sneaking past in a ventilation shaft, “Splinter Cell: Blacklist” gives players the freedom to save the world how they see fit, and dang is it satisfying.
When a terrorist group calling itself The Engineers attacks an Air Force base on the island of Guam, the president creates a secret unit called Fourth Echelon with Sam Fisher as its head. Sam and his crew must stop The Engineers from executing what they call “the blacklist,” a series of escalating attacks against America every week unless they remove all soldiers from foreign countries.
Let’s make this clear: Eric Johnson is not Michael Ironside. While the motion capture performance of Johnson is admirable, it can’t compare to the grizzled sarcasm that Ironside brought to the role. Sam’s younger appearance also feels out of place. He should be in his mid-50s by now, yet he looks and sounds like a 30-year-old. It makes conversations with his daughter awkward when she sounds the same age.
Weird Fountain of Youth Sam aside, “Blacklist” features the sandbox of a stealth player’s dreams. The level design caters to everyone. Whether you desire the lethality of slitting throats from the shadows or the stealth of a ghost, Sam will accommodate. Each mission offers an exciting dose of freedom that has been missing from the series for a long time.
Every action performed gives Sam currency points to three different styles: ghost (non-lethal stealth), panther (lethal stealth), and assault (explosions everywhere). The currency buildup allows Sam to upgrade everything from his gadgets and suit to the mobile command center from which the Fourth Echelon operates. It gives meaning to every action and keeps the action from getting stale. The only problem this creates is making Sam too strong. About halfway through the game, you could be a walking tank.
While the gameplay satisfies, “Blacklist” features glaring technical hiccups. Rampant screen tearing, glitchy body animations, and muddy textures are all over. The graphics don’t look like a game coming at the end of a console generation. It makes the game lack the kind of polish you would expect from such endearing gameplay.
The campaign also features 14 co-op missions for splitscreen or online that tie into the main story. If co-op doesn’t tickle your fancies, the heavily lauded Spies vs. Mercs has returned. Featuring frantic 4 vs. 4 matches or the tense 2 vs. 2 matches of the classic, the same addictive gameplay remembered from previous installments will keep players addicted for hours on end.

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