Ubisoft isn't exactly a stranger when it comes to rebooting franchises. It changed up Prince of Persia at the height of its popularity to something more adventure-based in 2008, and looks like it may be doing it again next year, according to leaked art. And Rayman came back in a big way with last year's hand-drawn Origins, a huge leap past the typical 3D adventures we've come to know him in.
Now it's Sam Fisher's turn. Following the release of the brutally wonderful Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Conviction, which featured a grizzled Fisher fighting to find out who killed his daughter, Ubisoft felt like the series needed some sort of fresh start. So, they redesigned Fisher for Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist, a game first revealed a few months ago at E3. It's still a bit early to make a judgment call, but this is a title that action fans are likely to appreciate.
The game followed the events that unfolded after Conviction, with president Patricia Caldwell officially ending the Third Echelon, with all their missions coming to a halt and operations ceasing to exist. Patricia just couldn't take the corruption, and instead launches a new Fourth Echelon to replace it, featuring an elite team of operatives, taken from various agencies around the world, that operate in a more stable, mobile environment. They travel the world looking for missions to complete, and a younger-looking Fisher is heading them up, ready to do his job.
And he's got quite a job ahead of him. In the midst of cleaning up the Third Echelon's mess, a group of rogue terrorists come up with an agenda of their own, known as "the Blacklist". They've launched a number of devastating attacks on American soil, with some sort of countdown in mind. What this countdown relates to, no one knows – but Sam Fisher and his team need to find out before it gets down to zero.
Fisher and Caldwell aren't the only ones featured in Blacklist. Returning vet Anna "Grim" Grimsdottir is making her return, and joining up the crew are a pair of newcomers, Isaac Briggs and Charlie Cole, who can help Fisher out in his time of need. In the players' eyes, however, it's all about what Fisher can get done on the mission.
A lot of Fisher's familiar toys make a return, including some new gadgets that will prove useful over the course of the game. A cool little robot mini-cam enables Sam to look further into rooms he can't access without giving himself away, though he can still use his traditional snake cam (to peek under doors) and stealth, such as hiding behind walls long enough to distract guards, then snap their necks or knock them out.
The game is a little more action-based, however, along the same lines of Conviction. While it's still cool to play it safe in certain sections of the game so you don't immediately give yourself away, Sam's a lot more determined to complete the mission this time around. One great new technique that Ubisoft introduced with their demo is "killing in motion". With this, you can highlight certain targets that are making the rounds on patrol, then, in a quick dash, shoot them while you're on the run. This looks like a sweet technique, one that will have you moving forward in a level in no time flat.
Xbox 360 owners will be pleased that Blacklist also makes use of the Kinect device, as they can shout out timed voice prompts to distract guards, making them get closer to you so you'll do some damage. It's optional, of course, so if you prefer the old-fashioned style of distraction, you can still do it.
Now, one startling change that you'll need to accept with Blacklist is that this isn't the same old Sam Fisher. Michael Ironside, an actor who's been voicing the character for years (including in Conviction), isn't present this time around. Instead, he's replaced by Nolan North, who's previously been heard as Nathan Drake in the Uncharted games. This is a shocking change-up of sorts, but it does fit the younger mantra of Fisher, and gives him a little more mobility than in his older Conviction version. Still, not everyone is likely to be pleased with this. Give it time.
Along with a single player campaign with a twisting storyline and plenty of enemies to kill, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist will also bring back the competitive "spy versus mercs" mode, so you can play against others on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. Though this wasn't detailed just yet (we'll know more soon), it's good to know that it's returning.
We'll have further coverage of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist in the months ahead, so be sure to check back and see if Sam Fisher still has what it takes to get the job done. It releases in spring 2013 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.