How has Splinter Cell evolved since the first game was created in 2002?
With the newest Splinter Cell game coming out later this year, it’s interesting to see how the game play has changed since its beginnings, over 10 years ago. For anyone unaware of the series, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell follows the activity of Sam Fisher, top NSA operative. So far the story has spanned seven games including the newest offering, Blacklist, which will be on sale in August this year.
The original game utilised some of the most challenging stealth missions I’ve ever encountered, meaning stealth was at its forefront and the most necessary option. You could not complete missions without planning a strategy and executing it with precision timing. You couldn’t simply enter a room, and announce your presence by spraying a fully automatic gun. Above all, you could not kill multiple enemies at one time. Each kill had to be thought out and done at precisely the right time, not just when it suited you. Once discovered, it would take some time before the alarms went down and the enemies stopped looking for you, meaning that every take down had to be done with the utmost discreetness and care.
This changed in the series’ later instalments. People would argue that the first time the stealth was diluted in was Splinter Cell: Conviction, but I would say it began in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. Why? Well most notably, to take down an enemy in the original game you would have launch a surprise attack from behind, otherwise they would fire at you, usually raising the alarm. The only close quarters attacks you could perform were elbow strikes and these were very ineffective. They did not happen in quick succession and it would take at least three to knock the person out. By the time you’d thrown the third you were usually dead or with very little health. The only option was a surprise attack.
This was changed in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. When you approached an enemy you could swiftly slash them with a knife, killing them instantly. This feature, to me, paved the way for the loud and brash approach seen in Splinter Cell: Conviction, where there is no need to skulk around in the shadows to complete the level. However, it must be said that it is really in Splinter Cell: Conviction where the evolution of the whole game has taken its biggest leap. The game play provides a faster paced game experience. Yes, stealth is still the focus of the game, but there is a notable difference between the experience of Double Agent and Conviction.
In comparison to the original where darkness was plentiful, Conviction sees Sam Fisher diving between limited shadows, and even doing missions during the day. He has flashbacks to his time in Iraq which then turn into a mission. In broad daylight, Fisher uses a non-silenced assault rifle as his main weapon and you are then required to infiltrate huge enemy compounds with scarce places to hide and numerous enemies. I played this level a few times, trying to remain undetected, but in the end I had to resort to a loud attack with all guns blazing. The marking feature has also made it much simpler to take down enemies. You can select multiple enemies and Fisher performs a multi-kill attack which can take down up to five enemies, depending on the pistol you’ve equipped. It makes the whole experience too easy.
Blacklist looks to be continue in this style and though it provides a new experience for players, I feel it’s veering too far away from what made Splinter Cell so successful. Although I used to get frustrated by the number of times I’d get caught and fail a mission, thus having to continually start again, there was always a great feeling of accomplishment when the mission was eventually completed. I got a euphoric sense of pleasure when I could take down an enemy completely under the radar.
The Splinter Cell series has evolved within a market that is dominated by fast-paced first person shooters, such as Call of Duty. Yet for those niche customers who adore stealth games I suspect, like me, they feel a little disappointed with Splinter Cell adhering to the shoot-’em up trend of today. That’s not to say Blacklist won’t be a good game. They provide options for those who want to keep the stealth alive in Splinter Cell, creating challenging and methodical stages that encourage its use. I also appreciate that the fast-paced action is aimed at those who feel uneasy with stealth games. By venturing into territory where missions don’t rely solely on stealth, Ubi Soft are widening their target market, including those who aren’t hardcore stealth game enthusiasts.
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