Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell is one of my favourite franchises. It was the game that properly introduced me to stealth games, and I loved it. I have been longing for a Splinter Cell title to come to Xbox One since launch. I felt sure that the most recent entry in the franchise, Blacklist, would appear as it released on Xbox 360 just 3 months before the Xbox One hit shops. I waited and waited, yet it never came. Every E3 since, I have been waiting for Ubisoft to show a video with those three green lights to introduce a new entry to the franchise, each year I have been disappointed. Well, a couple of days ago my interest was piqued by a listing on Amazon in Canada for “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell 2018”. As excited as I immediately was, it got me thinking, can Ubisoft still make a good Splinter Cell game?
When Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell was released back in 2002 (as an Xbox exclusive no less) it was a bolt out of the blue. It showed Metal Gear Solid how a stealth game should be controlled and included a believable storyline. Playing as a part-action, part-puzzle game it benefitted from a huge improvement in lighting models, allowing shadows that you could hide in and that you could create by shooting out lights. The game was a revelation, garnering great reviews (it has a Metacritic score of 93) and positive sales. Recognising they were on to a winner, Ubisoft set about creating a franchise out of the game. Two sequels were greenlit, one by the original team at Ubisoft Montreal and another by a Ubisoft team in Shanghai.
Pandora Tomorrow was Ubisoft Shanghai’s offering and came out in 2004. It was a solid sequel but didn’t really do much more than dish up some more Sam Fisher action in a different location. What it did add though was multiplayer, with the introduction of Spies v Mercs. The true sequel, Chaos Theory, was released 12 months after Pandora Tomorrow. The team at Ubisoft Montreal out-did themselves with new gameplay mechanics, improved visuals, refined multiplayer that included a co-operative campaign, and a great new story. Chaos Theory is still seen by many as the best game in the franchise.
After the success of Chaos Theory, the franchise struggled to find its way on the seventh generation of consoles. Ubisoft tried to blur the lines of Sam Fisher’s behaviour in Double Agent as he has to find his way working undercover for the NSA amongst a domestic terrorist organisation (John Brown’s Army or JBA). It featured some good ideas but didn’t really pull them off as well as it should have. Four years later we got Splinter Cell: Conviction, another Xbox console exclusive. This new entry took another path, showcasing a more action-packed style of play. The big new addition to the gameplay was ‘mark and execute’ which allowed you to tag enemies and then wipe them out all at once with the press of a button. This was met with mixed opinions as some fans liked the cinematic style it added while others bemoaned the ‘dumbing-down’ of the franchise.
The most recent game in the franchise was Blacklist which angered fans by recasting the role of Sam Fisher. Michael Ironside, who had voiced the character for every other game in the series was replaced with Eric Johnson. Ubisoft’s reasoning for this was that the actor playing the character had to be “physically capable of a motion-capture performance.” The actual game was pretty solid though the graphics were a tad lacklustre and it was all just a little too easy.
Splinter Cell has been quiet since then but are Ubisoft still capable of making a great game in the franchise. I don’t doubt that they have the technical know-how or the ability to do it, but their more recent Tom Clancy titles show that they always want to shake franchises up. Classic series like Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon have been retconned to the point that their latest entries feel like part of the franchise in name alone. Rainbow Six Siege is a game that has almost no correlation to its predecessors. The multiplayer-only title is a solid game that has improved massively since launch thanks to regular updates, but it’s not really a Rainbow Six game. The same can be said of Ghost Recon: Wildlands, which is a good open-world title but doesn’t feel like a Ghost Recon game.
I worry that Ubisoft is going to do something similar with the Splinter Cell franchise. Their more recent games have all been heavily multiplayer focused, and I just don’t see how that would fit Splinter Cell. While there has been a multiplayer component to the franchise for nearly all of its existence, the focus has always been the singleplayer campaign. I strongly believe that to keep fans happy all they need to do is provide a great story and leave the gameplay mechanics as they are. Ubisoft doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to Splinter Cell just give us a good singleplayer story, with updated graphics, and a solid multiplayer component.
Whether Ubisoft is able to keep it simple, only time will tell. I will be first in line to play any Splinter Cell title; I just hope that it lives up to rest of the franchise and is the start of a bright new future for the series.