The original Spies vs. Mercs multiplayer component in Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow was an ambitious attempt at 2v2 cat-and-mouse. ARGUS mercenaries, fitted out with heavy hitting rifles and offensive weapons, were pitted against swift and stealthy SHADOWNET spies, who were in turn armed with tasers, flashbangs and diversionary items. Battles could turn either way; either the Mercs would steamroll relentlessly with well-placed explosives or sustained fire into air vents, or the Spies would constantly harass with Chaff grenades, foil traps placed by Mercs, or coordinate a stealth kill from above.
It’s a shame that the game mode never really took off and Ubi shut down the servers after some time, but it looks like it’s making a resurgence in Blacklist. Ubisoft’s booth at PAX may have been dwarfed by the monolithic League of Legends stage, but it was still getting plenty of love and the queues were long.
The presentation of the series has progressed nicely since the stiff stilted feel of the original titles, but the new lick of paint from the modified Unreal Engine 2.5 doesn’t get in the way of some healthy nostalgia. I was placed in a team of three spies and presented with a range of kits. I didn’t have time to fully appreciate the offensive capabilities of a Spy, but it looks like they now have “now have access to lethal weapons and gadgets”. (Whether or not it caused gameplay imbalances wasn’t apparent in the short demo.) The one that was selected for me by default included a tranquilizer crossbow which, while awesome, was clearly not designed for direct conflict. It was a lesson I had to re-learn in a very short amount of time.
The rounds were quick and stressed speedy execution. The Spies team was tasked with hacking a number of terminals throughout the level. Once a player initiates a hack, they have to stay in the general area until the hack is complete. Of course, this draws the attention of all the Mercs in the area, who will swarm the location in an attempt to flush out the hacker. The idea is that the Spies work together by either luring the Mercs to one area and enabling another Spy to hack another area in the map, or concentrating on a single area and coordinating attacks to stun and kill off Mercs as they hunt for the hacker. (Unfortunately, it looked like the other Spies on my team preferred to ride solo.)
Playing as a Merc evoked memories of feeling incredibly overpowered, despite being restricted to a first-person view and lacking the speed and agility of a Spy. The spies on the other team stuck together and tried to make use of the environment by hanging off walls and mounting obstacles, but even they couldn’t outrun a few 7.62mm FMJ rounds thrown their way. It was exhilarating to sweep my flashlight through corners and suddenly discover a spy crouching there, desperately trying to scurry away like a roach.
It was only a brief look, but I liked what I saw. The game mode looks pretty promising, and it feels like it has more of a place in the action-oriented world of Blacklist. Just like in Pandora Tomorrow, it looks like a single Spy won’t be capable of carrying a team to victory unless they are extremely skilled, but a team of well-coordinated Spies can potentially make very short work of a group of Mercs and dominate the game. My only concern here is the shift to a more offensive Spy, and I’m hoping that games don’t devolve into simple shooting matches, because we can get that easily enough these days.
Blacklist will be out late August 2013.