Redefining Splinter Cell: How Blacklist Stands Apart
Since Splinter Cell: Blacklist was originally announced, it’s been clear that it’s attempting to merge two concepts: the pure stealth of the original Splinter Cell games with the fast-paced action of Conviction. While classic modes like Spies vs. Mercs have returned, they’re married to modern concepts like mark-and-execute that create a whole new type of Splinter Cell experience.
During the Game Developer’s Conference last week, we had a chance to sit down with Ubisoft Toronto managing director Jade Raymond to discuss the evolution of the franchise, changes to the E3 demo’s torture scenes, the possibility of next-gen versions and much more.
“The term I like that the team has been using is ‘innovation through the roots,’” Raymond told IGN. “No matter what, any franchise, you have to keep on innovating, because otherwise you’re making the same game over and over again, and who wants to play that? Why bother buying a new game if it’s not innovative? The things at the core of the franchise that made it popular from the start and that we feel make it special and define Splinter Cell. How do we bring those back, but in a more modern way? The more action-oriented elements – the killing in motion, the fluidity, being able to traverse the environment in a seamless way – are all things you expect as a default these days in games. But how do we get that to mesh with the Splinter Cell experience and still deliver the non-lethal takedowns, the ability to ghost through levels, all the gadgets that people want to see? How do we evolve those gadgets in this gameplay that can be faster at times? It was an interesting challenge.”
You have to keep on innovating, because otherwise you’re making the same game over and over again, and who wants to play that?
“A lot of the changes that we have in the game, we wanted to create a seamless experience,” she continued. “We wanted the ability to traverse the environment quickly. Everything needed to be integrated and be the same, whether you’re playing with a buddy in co-op, whether you’re playing multiplayer, or whether you’re playing single-player. We wanted a seamless, integrated experience.”
That integration was a major focus for the team at Toronto, as this time around co-op and multiplayer and the single-player campaign are all meant to feel like part of one cohesive experience.
“Whether you’re playing in multiplayer or co-op or single-player, you have the same base,” Raymond explained. “You’re not feeling like, ‘okay, I’m booting up a different game for multiplayer.’ You can see on the map where your friends are playing. Do I want to jump in and join them on a multiplayer mission? ‘Oh, my buddy’s online. Maybe we want to do a co-op mission together. Or I can play single-player. I see that someone beat my score in this other thing, so I’ll jump into that mission.’ You see all of these things lit up on the map as options that you can play. All of the economy system is linked. Stuff you do in one mode can affect the others. You can invest in your multiplayer, invest in leveling up Sam, or invest in leveling up the plane, which affects all of your missions. All of it is fully integrated.”
We asked Raymond about Splinter Cell’s quickly approaching August release date and its close proximity to next-gen consoles. Is there any concern about releasing so close to launch?
“There’s a bit more pressure to make sure that’s the date and stuff like that,” Raymond said. “There’s ultimately also a lot of other great games that are coming out on the current generation, too. That’s another thing that always plays into your release date and the thinking about that. It’s a hot time to be coming out.”
360, PS3, and PC. Those are the three that we’re focused on right now. The next ones, we’ll just have to see. Let’s get these out the door first.
As for the possibility of releasing both current and next-gen versions (like Double Agent did back in 2006), Raymond simply said “we have a very good PC version coming out that’s been announced. So I can’t say that’s not something we consider, obviously. The PC version has a lot of optimized graphics and a lot of other optimized features. It’s also a version where we’re planning on some additional features for online. There’s some additional community and other online features we won’t have in the console versions. It’s 360, PS3, and PC. Those are the three that we’re focused on right now. The next ones, we’ll just have to see. Let’s get these out the door first.”
Finally, we asked Raymond about the torture scenes seen in Blacklist’s E3 2012 demo. The scenes proved controversial at the time, and Raymond said they’ve been changed since then for the game’s final version.
When you’re dealing with things like interrogation, it’s very touchy.
“Those concepts are still there, but the way they’re executed has changed a little bit,” Raymond explained. “At Ubisoft we want to make games that are making a statement and have meaning. But I think that when you’re dealing with things like interrogation, it’s very touchy. As you’ve seen with Zero Dark Thirty, it’s in a movie, so it’s not even interactive, and that created a lot of controversy. People are like, ‘what is she saying? Is she supporting this? Is she saying the ends justify the means?’”
“In video games, where you’re playing with the interactivity and it’s the player who is doing this, it’s hard to pull off in a way where it’s respectful and doesn’t cross that border of sensationalism,” she continued. “You don’t want to be doing it in a way where you could be thinking that you’re trying to gain publicity around these sensitive topics. It’s one of those things where we did change our initial path. We initially thought that those scenes would be much more interactive. As we were playing through them, we were feeling a little bit queasy about it.”
Splinter Cell: Blacklist hits Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on August 20th.
Andrew Goldfarb is IGN’s news editor. Keep up with pictures of the latest food he’s been eating by following @garfep on Twitter or garfep on IGN.