In past generations the Splinter Cell franchise was one of the biggest in the games industry, with its initially unique approach to stealth attracting plenty of plaudits and sales. While the series is still very much a fixture on the release calendar, it doesn't quite have the same allure that it once enjoyed, with other franchises from Ubisoft and other major developers hogging more of the spotlight.
It's clear that Ubisoft will continue to try and find a sweet spot between maintaining the heavy stealth focus of the earliest games, while catering to a marketplace that seems to crave action. Ubisoft Toronto boss Jade Raymond, speaking to Eurogamer, suggested that the series' complexity can potentially be an issue, but emphasized that its approach is an important part of its distinction.
The first thing you have to do when you start in a map, even in Conviction, which did go quite a bit more action-oriented than the past, is the planning phase.
So before entering a room you've got to spend some time thinking, right, so where are the guys positioned? How will I get through here? Where's cover? How do I hide? Okay, I'm going to shoot out those lights. 'This is my strategy' is an important first phase.
By default there aren't many games where that's the phase. Most games you can walk in and you start shooting right away, or you just walk in and you improvise as you go along.
But Splinter Cell still really is a thinking game. It's really about being intelligent and taking that time in the first phase to plan out how you're going to do things, and understanding the elements, and even planning your gadgets and your load-out and being smart about it. That's where you get the thrill, but it's a different way of playing than most games on the market these days.
After an E3 presentation last year where Blacklist looked like little more than an over-the-top shooter, recent trailers have placed more emphasis on the stealth and planning mechanics. Despite accommodating features such as Mark and Execute, which help the player take out enemies easily with simpler controls and execution, Redmond insists that while simplified action can be a feature, those that would rather pretend to be a sneaky spy will have their fill.
In this game we do have a broader range of play styles possible than ever before.
We brought back the purest hardcore version, which is, you want to ghost through the level and get through it without killing a single person. Every single thing you want to do you can do in a non-lethal way. That requires the most planning and being the most strategic.
You can even play that in Perfectionist Mode, which means if you want you don't have any of the added things, such as Mark and Execute, that make it easier.
That's for those who want to plan it out and feel really smart, and, 'I'm going to use the Sticky Cam with the Sleeping Gas and them I'm going to whistle and the guy's going to come,' and do the full set-up.
Also addressed by Redmond was the challenge for the series — and by extension others — in judging vocal online fan feedback against the opinions of the broader audience. Sometimes the silent majority that fill in basic questionnaires tell a different tale from busy online forums.
After shipping Conviction, there were a lot of people who said the fans didn't like Mark and Execute. But when we looked at our broader feedback - we do surveys through Uplay and get thousands and thousands of players - the people who rated those new features the highest were actually players who played at least two games in the series before. So in fact it was the opposite of what the data was telling us.
So even though there were some vocal fans who felt a certain way and we would go, 'Okay, right, we're never doing that again,' the broader data told us a different story.
The reality is, that was very appreciated, but there were also some things fans were missing. They didn't really dislike that new feature. The real grumbling, when you dig deep, was that there were a couple of other things they were missing, not that that wasn't appreciated.
You do have to pay attention to all that stuff. It's easy to jump to conclusions.
Splinter Cell Blacklist arrives on Wii U in August. Are you looking forward to this, and what do you make of Redmond's comments on the series and upcoming title? Let us know in the comments below.