A lot of changes were made to Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell saga with Ubisoft's forthcoming release in the series, Blacklist. The main hero, Sam Fisher, is much younger and no longer possesses the deep, growling voice of series’ mainstay Michael Ironside; he also works alongside a team in a mobile headquarters, including his old ally Anna "Grim" Grimsdottir, tech genius Charlie Cole and government operative Isaac Briggs.
However, don't let these changes fool you. The Fisher we've come to know and love over the years is still as lethal as ever. Ubisoft gave us the chance to see this firsthand with a behind-the-scenes single-player demo.
In addition to Fisher, the game also shoves his primary target into the spotlight, a terrorist group initiating an anti-U.S. plot known as The Blacklist. With the help of his team, he sets out to stop them at all costs before millions of lives are lost.
These missions take him all over the world, starting with an army base that falls under attack by terrorists, forcing Fisher and a cohort to sneak in quietly before engaging, to Chicago, where Blacklist operatives take over a water distribution center while hiding under the cover of hostages.
This time around, however, players have an advantage similar to what Square Enix did with Hitman: Absolution. You can take the sneaky route, Fisher's specialty, to get around targets and quietly subdue them, or kill these guys outright if you prefer, since there's no moral judgment here. Shootouts can be costly if you're surrounded, as enemies can see your last position through a lighted white silhouette – similar to the one introduced in Splinter Cell: Conviction – to try and get the jump on you. However, since you're Sam Fisher, you have plenty of mobility, as you can go behind someone or even over them by climbing a pipe.
Some enemies are tougher than others in this game, as a few don body armor that allows them to take a few shots. Fortunately, you can shoot them in the head a few times, knocking off their helmets and allowing you to finish them off. Other defenses can also be dealt with, such as exploding remote control vehicles, which blow up with one shot. If you're good enough, you can even activate this maneuver to take out some thugs with it.
If you prefer stealth, Blacklist feels like vintage Splinter Cell. You'll sneak around the floorboards of an outdoor camp, only to pop up on the other side and subdue guards one-by-one or avoid them completely if you feel like sticking to the mission. Just remember, if you leave them alive and somehow trip an alarm, they'll run back to your position to cause trouble.
One new move that Fisher can use is mark-and-execute tagging, which allows him to mark several men in one shot, then kill them with the press of a button. Some might think this is a little arcade like, but it's quite effective, especially if multiple men stand in your way.
Technical tools of the trade are also available and can be upgraded in Fisher's mobile center with the help of Charlie. His traditional night vision goggles, for example, can be switched out for sonar goggles, which read sound waves when activated. He can also use a flying drone to pick up conversations, and when necessary, act as a mobile grenade to take out groups of enemies. Finally, if you prefer the cautious route, you can use the wire cam, which lets you peek under doors before barging in, possibly avoiding a lethal confrontation with guards on the other side.
Once you complete each stage, you receive points in different categories, depending on how you've played. If you went undetected, your Ghost count will go up. If you went all-in and killed everyone in the room loudly and violently, your Assault skills will increase. There's no wrong way to play Blacklist unless you run everywhere in the open, where you'll take a lot of gunfire.
From what we've seen so far, Blacklist has no trouble living up to the Splinter Cell pedigree. Sure, Sam Fisher's new appearance may not be for everyone, but his role is as strong as ever, and his sneaking and shooting talents still come in handy.
You can find out for yourself when Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist ships for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U and PC August 20th.