Interview: Ubisoft On Splinter Cell Blacklist, Taking the Series Forward and Wii U Features
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Going for a triple-A sneak kill
Splinter Cell Blacklist is, at the time of writing, just a few short weeks from sneaking onto the Wii U. This is the sixth home console game in the series, with just one of those games — Conviction — skipping the Wii in 2010; all others featured on the GameCube or Nintendo's last-gen system. Its arrival on Wii U shouldn't be a huge surprise, in that case, especially as Ubisoft has delivered a good number of high profile multi-platform titles to the system since its launch in 2012.
For a franchise best known for stealth gameplay, it's also a release that's somewhat crept up on unsuspecting gamers. There have been some trailers and details announced, absolutely, but later releases such as Watch_Dogs and Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag have seemingly had the greater Ubisoft marketing bombast behind them. Perhaps it's simply the case that the Splinter Cell franchise is so well established in the gaming market that, even with modest promotion, regular fans will nevertheless happily pick up the latest entry.
As it's so close to its arrival, and adds a welcome blockbuster quality to the Wii U's summer lineup, we caught up with the game's Producer Liu Jun, as Ubisoft Shanghai is handling the Wii U version. It's a studio with a long history of working on the series, and we were keen to learn more about the title as a whole and how it'll utilise the Wii U's unique control capabilities.
Nintendo Life: The Splinter Cell series has evolved a fair bit over the years, from a primary focus on stealth to, arguably, more action. Where does Blacklist’s style fit in these terms?
Liu Jun: We wanted to create a game where players could play their own way and approach situations from many different angles. Splinter Cell Blacklist has a variety of play-styles that allows players to play the way they want. For the more traditional stealth players, the game offers Ghost play where the game can be played entirely non-lethally. The player is awarded the most points for this style of play. The Panther player is a mix of stealth and action, striking enemies from the shadows with quick precision. And for the full on action player, we encourage the assault gameplay style, where players can approach a situation loud and aggressively.
NL: Jade Raymond has said Blacklist will feature more nostalgic elements that fans of old will remember — how will these integrate with less stealth-like gameplay?
LJ: Splinter Cell Blacklist was built to support player choice. Hardcore fans will embrace and enjoy classic stealth gameplay elements including non-lethal play and the ability to turn off or shoot out lights to create a cover of darkness. We also made sure to open the range of gameplay up to allow a more diverse group of gamers to enjoy Splinter Cell Blacklist, so if they find themselves in a tough situation, they have a number of tools and tricks to help them succeed no matter what their preferred gameplay style is.
Nintendo Life: Is experience of previous entries in the series important, or will newcomers — or those playing one of these titles for the first time in a number of years — be able to enjoy the game fully?
The Wii U is the only version of the game where you really get to experience first-hand how OPSAT works for Sam and how it feels to actually operate it.
LJ: This is a great time for newcomers to the series to jump in. Sam Fisher is facing his greatest threat yet – a series of escalating terror attacks called The Blacklist. Sam, along with the 4th Echelon team, must race against the clock to find a way to stop the Blacklist countdown before it reaches zero. This storyline could be ripped from today’s headlines, and with the player choice and variety built into the game, we really feel like anyone could pick up and play Splinter Cell Blacklist and enjoy all the gameplay elements to their fullest.
NL: Some of the promotional material has had a focus on the main campaign; can you outline how lengthy this campaign will be?
LJ: This is the biggest Splinter Cell in the series. We have a full single player campaign, but also co-op missions and the return of multiplayer with Spies vs Mercs. Also, most of the co-op maps can be played in single player mode, offering even more gameplay hours.
NL: The co-op element promises to be “blurred” with the single player campaign, can you tell us more about how the two modes interact?
LJ: The co-op missions are complimentary to the single player campaign. The player can complete them in whichever order they choose. As well, through the SMI (strategic mission interface) the player can seamlessly join co-op sessions even if they are in the middle of their single player campaign. As well, they can join their friends online in Spies Vs. Mercs and see what their friends are playing by viewing the world map.
NL: Is completing the co-op content important to the single player experience, or is it an optional extra?
LJ: Co-op is optional and the missions compliment the storyline of the single player campaign. It is important to note, however, that almost all of the co-op missions can be played by a single player if they choose to do so. The gameplay will be different, as we have a number of co-op specific moves that can’t be completed when you’re by yourself, and we’re really proud of the level of variety offered through our co-op missions.
NL: On Wii U, is offline co-operative play supported? If so, which controllers can be used?
LJ: In order to ship at the same time as the other consoles, we unfortunately weren’t able to delve into this feature. But we think Nintendo gamers will be really excited to get the game at the same time as other consoles.
NL: We’ve seen details of various Wii U-specific features utilising the GamePad, can you outline the key examples for us?
LJ: The GamePad screen is your version of Sam’s arm computer or OPSAT (OPerational SATellite uplink). Sam uses his OPSAT a lot throughout the game to access and control his gadgets and to communicate with his team. The Wii U is the only version of the game where you really get to experience first-hand how OPSAT works for Sam and how it feels to actually operate it: you can see through Sam’s eyes and it’s a very powerful feeling to choose how to use this gadget to make decisions as the leader of 4th Echelon.
NL: Is Off-TV play supported?
LJ: Yes, Off TV play is fully supported for everything, except offline coop play.
NL: How would you summarise the impact that the Wii U GamePad has on the game?
LJ: In Splinter Cell Blacklist players are going to be constantly making a lot of important tactical choices on the fly – whether to go lethal or non-lethal, or choosing which weapons and gadgets to use in tricky situations.
The GamePad helps the player make tactical choices on the fly, without breaking the flow of the game or the tension of the story. At any moment and by simple touch, you can pick any of your weapons or gadgets, mark enemies & execute them, or switch from lethal to non-lethal takedowns.
NL: Is the GamePad microphone supported for online co-op and multiplayer?
LJ: Yes, the game makes use of the GamePad microphone for online co-op and multiplayer chat.
NL: What are your thoughts on dual-screen control mechanics, via the GamePad or alternatives on other systems, and their role in modern gaming experiences?
LJ: For Splinter Cell Blacklist the dual screen control mechanics are definitely a plus. For Splinter Cell Wii U, keep in mind we really didn’t have to create and “force” new gameplay to support the hardware, with the OPSAT, the gadgets, the mark & execute. The GamePad feels like a natural extension to the Splinter Cell experience.
NL: The last entry in the series - Splinter Cell: Conviction - featured multiplayer modes that were well received, but which didn’t necessarily appear to be as popular as gamers would have hoped. Do you think you’ve cracked multiplayer with modes such as Spies vs Mercs this time around?
LJ: We’re really excited about Spies Vs. Mercs. It was one of the most requested features from the fans, and we’re really pleased to be bringing it back to Splinter Cell Blacklist. Co-op was exceptionally well-received in Conviction, and so we’ve built on what works in Blacklist’s co-op gameplay. We’re confident players will find the multiplayer offering extremely fun.
NL: Will the Wii U receive full DLC support for Blacklist?
LJ: There will be no difference in treatment with other versions
NL: Given the Splinter Cell series’ long and successful sales history, what do you think keeps players coming back for more time and time again?
LJ: We like to think that fantastic gameplay combined with interesting storyline, along with an iconic hero in Sam Fisher keep our fans coming back for more. And we’re sure they won’t be disappointed with the next instalment.
We'd like to thank Liu Jun for his time.