All this week, I shall be standing outside with a bucket, attempting to catch as many ephemeral droplets from the downpour of videogame sequel news as I possibly can. Well, I wish I was outside. And I wish I was standing. Instead, I shall be sitting inside and embedding as my already withered legs continue to atrophy. Next to meet its fate at the hands of my ability to resize video code to 600 pixels wide is the latest, somewhat rebooty Splinter Cell. It's called Blacklist - a word that strikes fear into the hearts of many a videogame journalist who's dared to say negative things about [REDACTED] or [REDACTED], and it stars an apparently younger Sam Fisher in a more action-orientated setting, with Michael Ironside retired from voice duties. There's already been a letter from the dev in a desperate attempt to placate the inevitably furious response.
Before we chew this over, let's look at a see, gee, aye trailer and then some in-game footage first.
Okay. While it's all pretty and explosive and, well, E3y it doesn't seem very Splinter Cellsome at all. And the new voice dude does come across as Captain Hollywood, without the gravelly gravitas and vague edge of scorn that Ironside does so familiarly and reassuringly. (In every single character he's ever played, but that's another debate). It's hard not to worry that Blacklist is trying more to keep up with the Call of Warfields than it is being a Splinter Cell game, but Ubisoft Toronto Community Developer Zack Cooper has waded into the instantly disappointed fray with claims that there will be "PLENTY of stealth" despite all the daylight and high enemy headcount. "It comes across as an action game. I know. ...and it can be just that....but you can also be the sneaky bad ass Sam Fisher who a lot of you know and love."
This is essentially the same thing that's being said of Hitman: Absolution, and from a hands-on stint with it a couple of weeks ago (for a preview I have yet to write) in that case it did turn out to be true that there's a genuine choice between being Jason Statham or a silent assassin. Hopefully the same's true here.
As for the matter of the voice, the official line is that it's because they thought the game would be more convincing if the guy doing the mo-cap also provided vocal talents. I dunno. I'd question the wisdom of prizing slightly more accurate lip-sync over one of this series' most recognisable elements. I'd also say that the newly young Fisher both looks and sounds significantly more generic than previous incarnations of the character. It's not like Sam Fisher was ever a mould-breaking action hero, but the grizzled aspect at least made him easily identifiable where other game lead characters are not.
Here's some discussion about the change, including commentary from an apparently non-pissed-off Ironside.
Tell you what, I think Ubisoft would be crazy not to include an option to swap to Ironside's voice for those who prefer it. I know it means spending money and time, but it'd buy a whole load of goodwill overnight.
Finally, here's a look at some of the new toys in the game. Half of them will be DLC/pre-order only, presumably:
Splinter Cell Blacklist's release date is next Spring, with PC confirmed as one of its platforms. I'm not holding my breath that the PC version will launch day and date with the consoleboxes, of course.