A new retail listing suggested we might be getting a new Splinter Cell game this year. Splinter Cell has in some ways been the biggest question mark in Ubisoft’s lineup. It’s the one major franchise Ubisoft hasn’t really talked about in regards to the current console generation. The publisher has gone through some huge changes since the last entry in 2013, and that’s gotta have an affect on what the next Splinter Cell game might be like.
Splinter Cell Blacklist in 2013 already displayed Ubisoft’s turn towards Games-as-a-Service. It featured lots of quantification in the form of experience points you used to unlock a bunch of stuff. Since then Ubisoft has gone full-speed-ahead in that direction and pretty much won’t make anything anymore that isn’t a live-service of some kind.
Talking about multiplayer first, I really hope Ubisoft takes another crack at the “Spies vs Mercs” multiplayer that debuted in the older Splinter Cell games and made a brief return in Blacklist. Rainbow Six Siege I think has proven to Ubisoft that it can make a successful multiplayer game mainly focused on strategy and planning. It’s proven that Ubisoft’s multiplayer games don’t have to follow the rules of Call of Duty. A Siege-like approach to SvM could be just the thing for what remains an extremely unique multiplayer mode. It would inevitably have lots of points to earn in order to unlock… something. I just hope that doesn’t end up ruining the feel of the classic two-versus-two mode. In the end, I wouldn’t be surprised if the new Splinter Cell just ended up being an SvM game.
If Ubisoft is making a new Splinter Cell and it has a singleplayer mode, everything the publisher has done recently indicates it would be an open-world game — a first for the series. Off the top of my head I can’t think of a single singleplayer console game Ubisoft developed in the last four or five years that wasn’t open-world. There’s even already a game that has pretty much laid out a Ubisoft-style format for a third-person stealth game — Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
When Phantom Pain first came out I immediately drew similarities between its structure and that of Ubisoft’s Far Cry games. Its maps are filled with the same kind of resource gathering and base clearing, as well as many other elements found in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series. Phantom Pain’s combination of these elements with a more open-ended mission structure has to have influenced Ubisoft’s own Ghost Recon Wildlands while also factoring into the situation for Splinter Cell.
If this is the case, my hope is that the next Splinter Cell ends up having a big emphasis on player choice and open-ended mission design in its open world. Several of Ubisoft’s recent open-world games have exhibited this, roughly starting with Assassin’s Creed Unity and including Watch_Dogs 2 and Wildlands. I think Blacklist was a pretty good game in this regard. After the previous Splinter Cell Conviction in 2010 was a largely linear affair where you had little choice but to shoot and stab a bunch of people, Blacklist repurposed its building blocks to a surprising degree, giving players more tools to solve situations in more ways and crafting a large variety of open-ended scenarios. It was a decent look back at 2005’s Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, which is still often called one of the greatest stealth games ever made for its highly interactive and reactive world, as well as top-class level design.
I don’t think we’re ever going to get that kind of level design from Ubisoft again — the kind that crafted a bunch of corridors and rooms into a place that felt believable and dynamic. The closest thing we have to that today would be the Dishonored games, and perhaps the latest Hitman game. I still haven’t gotten to the new Hitman yet but I really should because it’s said to get back to the kind of structure I just mentioned, even trying to turn it into a live-service game with its episodic model and emphasis on replayability for each individual level. Who knows, that approach wouldn’t be a bad fit for Splinter Cell. Personally I could see something like that from Clint Hocking, who directed the original 2003 Splinter Cell as well as Chaos Theory and returned to Ubisoft in 2015.
Oh, and I think any singleplayer mode in a new Splinter Cell would have a character creator. Every recent Ubisoft game has had one except for Assassin’s Creed and Watch_Dogs. Maybe Ubisoft still won’t be able to let go of series protagonist Sam Fisher, which it likely sees as one of the publisher’s iconic characters, but it simply makes too much sense to cast players as some random new recruit. Hopefully it would be an excuse to recast Michael Ironside as Fisher, who would retire to being the guy earpiece in every mission.
Whatever happens, there are a lot of possibilities for where Splinter Cell could go for the next installment, but also a lot of likely possibilities if you look at Ubisoft’s current trends.
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