If there's a co-op mode that requires constant, almost obsessive communication, it's the one in "Splinter Cell: Blacklist." In my time with attempting to secure nukes on an Islamabad military base, I found myself relying on the voice chat in "Blacklist" co-op more than I have traditionally in cooperative modes in other games. Chalk it up to the deliberate pace and a mission which required me and my partner (a fellow journalist getting his hands on the co-op for the first time) to call our shots, pick our targets deliberately, and most importantly, never once alert the guards.
Even with an instant fail state after being detected, even after dying a dozen or so times because my partner or I neglected to pay attention to our corners, the co-op in "Blacklist" on display at the recent preview event makes me wish Ubisoft had found a way to create an entire campaign around the mode.
A note: all screens in this preview were provided by Ubisoft PR and were not captured by MTV Multiplayer.
First, a little context: to go into co-op missions, as Fisher, you'll have to talk to former C.I.A. man Briggs aboard the Paladin, the flying fortress from which Fisher and his newly-assembled Fourth Echelon team have come together to stop the Engineers, a global terrorist organization targeting Western political, economic, and social structures. During the campaign, you can approach Briggs for updates and side missions in the course of Fisher's normal duties, but if you want him to join you out in the field for a co-op mission, you just have to ask, sending "Blacklist" into its multiplayer lobby where you can get matched up with another player while outfitting your Sam or Briggs.
Since the first preview event for the "Blacklist" story mode, I've been pleased with this hub system, and it remains effective here (and you can skip Briggs' briefings at any time and jump right into the lobby). Outfitting Sam and Briggs her is identical (as far as I can recall) from the campaign, swapping out gear and weapons (we both started out with a crossbow which shot taser bolts, a pistol, sub machine gun, and remote drones).
Some of the specifics of the co-op are what you'd expect: you can only open doors between sections of the level if you're both posted up to breach, and there's the occasional section where you might have to boost one another up to a higher platform. That orthodoxy gives way thanks to some smart level design and challenges that made it necessary to communicate with my partner rather than trying to play it as a pair of solo Sam Fishers.
At the start of this particular level, my partner and I had to use non-lethal force to take out (or evade) the omnipresent guards protecting the pair of nukes stored in the facility. Mark and execute takes on a new function here, allowing each of the NPCs that I marked to be visible to my partner (and vice versa). This made it easier for me to call out shots or tell them where to avoid, providing in this darkened level a handy visual aid to my awkward "He's over there! To the left! The other left!"
After distracting a pair of guards with a noise maker grenade and subduing several others heading deeper into the facility, we reached the power grid, where Briggs and I (or maybe I was Briggs), disabled the base generator, plunging everything into darkness. Here's where it gets interesting: the guards are roaming around, agitated, now, training their flashlight on anything that moves. My partner and I hunkered down behind adjacent sides of the same piece of cover, but I noticed a guard approaching on our left. "You have a guard incoming on the left," I said (or something clumsy, I'm sure). After confirming no other NPCs were on the way, I gave my partner the go ahead and he popped the guard with a stun bolt and dragged his body behind cover.
It goes on like this, continuing to a fantastic section where abruptly, the power is reactivated, and only a couple of circles of light and one block of cover keep me and my partner out of view.
Somewhat less successful was the latter part of the level, where we had to face agents of the Engineers head on. "Splinter Cell: Blacklist" wasn't built to be a cover-based shooter, but the speed with which the enemies entered the area where we were holed up made it major challenge to avoid detection and take them out stealthily. I wish I could elaborate more on precisely why this section bothered me but it was at this point that we switched to the competitive multiplayer mode.
And that's where we'll end together. Tomorrow, I'll talk you through my time with "Mercs vs. Spies," and going first-person in a "Splinter Cell" game.
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