An Analysis of Splinter Cell Blacklist: Hackers Den

March 5, 2018

 

Splinter Cell Blacklist, developed by Ubisoft Toronto, is the sixth installment of the Tom Clancy Splinter Cell Series. The game features a number of great missions that take place all around the world. The particular mission that is going to be looked at this time is one of the cooperative missions in the game called ‘Hackers Den’, developed by Ubisoft Shanghai. The player is sent to Estonia to ‘hack’ a hacker group’s equipment to retrieve the information they have about the Blacklist group, the fictional terrorist group in the game. The player is faced with infiltrating an abandoned and crumbling factory filled with dark corners and hidden routes without alerting any of the guards. 

 

The player will be given two routes to take when spawned.

 

The mission starts by placing Fisher behind a suspiciously convenient pile of wooden crates that give the player immediate cover to protect them. By entering cover the player can see two options they can potentially take to infiltrate the interior of the mission space. Whilst other missions in the game the Hackers Den relies on a ghost or panther playthrough for the completion of the mission to support this the mission space has been designed in such a way to support a stealth approach by making the mission darker, the spaces tighter, the objectives placed close to patrolling guards and encourages the player to use their stealthier gadgets to the fullest such as nightvision and noise makers to great effect.

 

Areas of Note:

 

  • Encourages stealth gameplay Style

  • Multiple routes to utilise stealth takedowns and tools

  • A number of vantage points for a tactical advantage

  • Use of verticality in the mission

  • Use of lighting to lead player and highlight important paths

 

In the first area, the courtyard, there lies a sniper that is watching the courtyard, evident from the laser trailer moving back and forth, making it near impossible to sneak in the front of the building despite there being a large appealing gap in the brick work of the building. Additionally of the player they will see a number of large pillars that give a sense of scale to the overall space, giving the player a sense of scale of the space and the layout of the mission area. Within one of the pillars lies a sniper providing overwatch to the courtyard, making the direct route difficult if not impossible. 

 

tHE SNIPER NEST MAKES THE FRONT ENTRANCE UNAPPEALING.

 

By placing a sniper ahead of the player and providing two routes with relatively safe cover it gives the player two options to progress. By making the direct approach obviously less appealing from the moment the player enters the mission it inherently makes the two side approaches much more appealing to the player and likely helps them to instinctively go towards the safer path. However the two options both feature their own hazards that may trip the player up. The left route has a patrolling guard that may see the player if they move at the wrong time and the right route has a series of mines the player has to manoeuvre around. With both routes having an added ingredient it forces the player to take care and use the skills learned in the main campaign helping to reinforce game mechanics and the tactical element rooted in all Tom Clancy titles.

 

Another point worth mentioning about the first area is that it features props closely layered behind each other from the moment the player spawns which enables the player to complete cover to cover movements to reach relative safety at either side of the courtyard, a great way to get the player straight into the action and by giving the player choices of branching paths it encourages replayability of the mission.

 

The interior of the crumbling warehouse is filled with empty corridors, dark passages and circling loops. The contrast between the bright exterior to the pitch black interior is a great way to make the player use their night vision and evasion tactics to get close to enemies and retain the stealth approach the mission requires. The player 'feels' like they have to infiltrate rather than go in guns blazing.

 

THe courtyard has multiple layered props used for cover.

 

Whilst the mission has obvious routes the player can take the routes themselves are fairly straight and linear this is primarily caused by the location the mission is set in, a warehouse, which typically are boxes with straight corridors and rooms with ninety degree angles, this isn’t necessary a downfall of the mission as the interiors are fused with smaller corridors acting as chokepoints and large open areas which give the player more breathing room to evade and eliminate guards adding to the intensity of combat and stealth. The combination of wide and narrow interiors acts as a playground allowing the player to make their own path and decide on how they want to approach on the objective.

 

The interior features fairly linear routes to the objectives but they never seem uninteresting as each has their own challenge whether it be a laser grid or a guard in heavy armour every route has a challenge for the player to overcome even the routes on the edge of the building as they feature cameras. When in the space the player will find multiple routes to explore all with looping paths ensuring the player never has to back track unnaturally and helps with the overall flow.

 

Lighting in the interior is used to good effect, lighting up specific areas of importance to not only give a slight hint in direction of potential paths but also to the objectives that players needs to reach. By scarcely using light it helps to create pockets of darkness in which the player can find relative safety from a patrolling guards view and giving them an opportunity to get in close and use a stealth takedown on the unaware guard, again reinforcing the stealth constraint. There are multiple opportunities for the player to reach vantage points throughout the mission space. The player can identify the opportunities to reach vantage points via the yellow pipes and ladders making potential routes easy to find from the use of colour in the otherwise grey and dull environment. An example of how verticality is used effectively is the large ceiling support beam where the player can climb up on either side and manoeuvre to different sides to gain a different vantage over NPCs patrolling below and to get to the other side without getting spotted. The ability to move from side to side of the interior really helps with the pacing of the mission by making the player continuously moving through the space and never unnecessarily stopping them which can feel quite 'jarring'. 

 

THe ceiling girder is a great way to traverse the space.

 

The use of verticality throughout the mission helps to give the player opportunities to attempt stealth takedowns, plan engagements and analyse NPC roaming paths, again prompting them to remain in stealth and use the tools at their disposal. The verticality and the previously mentioned multiple routes sees moving through the space a joy, the mission encapsulates why Blacklist is a great example of tactical gameplay and level design intertwined harmoniously, there is never a time where the player feels blocked or unnecessary stopped by an element in the space. Each second to second beat, the intricate pacing of a mission, helps encourage the player to move through the space as a 'ghost' as each area has a variable that could make the enemy aware of the player presence but if the player pays attention to the level design and utilises what the designer has given them in the space they can complete the mission without raising any alarm easily.

 

The movement is also aided by the visual language of the mission, there are no specific areas that felt confusing due to incorrect visual language of an area, such as a door that looks like the player can open it but can’t. The designer and artist has taken care to make sure the player knows both the correct and incorrect path by placing props, lights, combat ingredients in such a way that suggests paths and the overall visual language of the space. The smooth player movement, consistency and readability was taken into account throughout the mission. Reaching the objectives, hacking computers and servers, never feels like an unnecessary hassle with each placed around the mission that supports the overall flow as each are placed in a position that make the player move around the environment. The objectives have multiple routes to them that allow the player to manoeuvre around enemies and retain the stealth tactical feeling.

 

 

THe OBJECTIVES ARE EASILY IDENTIFIABLE BY LIGHT.

 

When entering the building the player will be met with an old beer brewer room filled with tankers, walkways and pipes. To reach a dark secluded area the player must bypass a moving laser field. Whilst this is an interesting ingredient it feels out of place in an abandoned brewery, the technology looks too sophisticated. However it introduces the player to using pipes to bypass security measures and traverse the space, what makes this interesting is the player needs to time their movements to avoid the lasers movement. Upon reaching the safety of the darkness the player will see a gap between two tankers where a guard is next to a laptop facing away from the player with a bright light above him, this inherently invites the player to take out the unaware guard. In the same room there is a guard on the phone patrolling the area, making the player time the attack perfectly to avoid getting spotted and failing the mission. This is a great example of what this mission does well, it frames, it directs and provides challenge in one beat.

 

THe npc is framed in the player's view.

 

To help with the encounter, the designer has put yellow pipes to gain a height advantage and to reach the walkway where a heavy gunner NPC is patrolling adding to the overall difficulty in the area. If the player times it correctly they can take out the heavy as he is patrolling and climb the pipe overhanging the walkway to bypass the surveying camera to proceed. 

 

Moving deeper into the space the player encounters an area where the optional High Value Target is. This optional objective has been put in a place where it is tricky to get to without getting spotted as the HVT is accompanied by a patrolling guard that often mirrors the location of the target. The location of the HVT is revealed in a nice way as the bright light source from the construction light provides a stark contrast from the dark space surrounding the location.

 

THe Bright ROOM IN THE OTHERWISE DARK AREA ATTRACTS THE PLAYER.

 

By adding light to the location it helps to reveal paths by allows the player to see potential routes, highlighting cover props and helps with making the objective more attractive to the player. The mechanics of the game has determined how the light & shadows affects the players flow through a space. The mission focuses on wanting the player to remain unseen and pushes them into the shadow. The Hackers Den mission is a great example of a Splinter Cell level as the designer understood the core components that makes a stealth game, moving through the space feels smooth as everything loops nicely and by making the space interesting to explore with pockets of darkness and light it creates a contrast for the player to visually see a path, retaining the stealth elements.

 

 

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