LONDON / NIGHT
Kobin reveals in the between-missions scene that he'd turned himself in in Bengazi because a relationship with a particularly nasty customer—Kobin's an arms dealer now—went decidedly sour. He's thrown in a cell in the Paladin's brig, and you can talk to him if you like (he's even got a side op you can embark on, though it wasn't accessible during the preview).
The story gets a bit muddled here, but the next mission sends Fisher off to a midnight-black London, and it's much more a return to form for the series. It's night. Rain splashes all around, obscuring vision and sound. You'll take full advantage of Fisher's night vision goggles, popping them on for seconds at a time before moving between cover. His radar (provided you've upgraded the Paladin) and silenced weapons—include a badass shock crossbow—prove invaluable as well.
You begin on a rooftop and have to sneak your way down into the bowels of a decrepit mill crawling with surprisingly well-equipped and perceptive bad guys. One bastard had an endless supply of exploding RC cars, and though I thought I was well-hidden, once he knew I was there he kept searching until he found me. He got me with those things more than a few times.
Not that Fisher isn't well-equipped too. The myriad upgrades and versatile loadout system aren't the only thing Blacklist borrows from last year's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier; if you played that, you'll recognize the flying drones that you can deploy in Blacklist to do your recon for you. They're equipped with nice shock darts, though if they're seen enemies will go on full alert. Other gadgets from Conviction, like the sticky camera and EMP grenades, return as well.
The best part of this mission comes right at the end: you've got to sneak into the back of a truck to investigate its cargo without alerting any of the guards or workers that you were ever there. That means no killing or interacting with them in any way—no smoke grenades, no shooting out the lights, nothing. Just a cleverly-timed noise here, some patience there while a guard turns his back, and a bit of luck.
Naturally, Fisher discovers some sort of chemical weapon in the truck. It wouldn't be Splinter Cell without a threat to national security, right?
There's one more thing I wanted to talk about, and that's Perfectionist mode. For all the Splinter Cell fans who complain that the games have become too easy, that they're focused too much on action and not enough on stealth, that new moves like mark-and-execute ruin the challenge, Perfectionist mode is for you.
On Perfectionist, you can't resupply or change equipment during missions. what you start with is what you have to work with. You can still mark targets in order to track them, but the quick execute function no longer works. You have to take enemies out the old fashioned way. That's made even more difficult by their more acute senses—they'll hear you and come investigating much more frequently. To top it off, Fisher's signature goggles don't even see through walls anymore.
I had trepidation when I cranked the difficulty up to this mode, but after crouching and creeping my way through the nighttime mission for a second time, this one on Perfectionist, I was sold. This is the only way fans will want to play once they try it out.
I can't say for sure that Splinter Cell: Blacklist will strike the perfect balance between stealth and action, or challenge and fun, but from what I've played it has a decent chance. If the single-player game proves longer and more replayable than Conviction's, and with multiplayer and co-op more well-integrated with the rest of the game, Blacklist may be the return to form—and the return to fun—that fans have been waiting for.