Let me be upfront about this: I really enjoy the single-player portion of Splinter Cell games, but as soon as I found out that Spies vs Mercs multiplayer was returning to the series in Splinter Cell: Blacklist, that’s all I really cared about.
Beyond the basic idea of its return, finding out that it was the team behind Spies vs Mercs in Pandora Tomorrow, rather than Chaos Theory, made it all the more exciting. It wasn’t just a return to a classic staple of the series, but, in fact, a return to the old way of doing things. By ensuring that it was the original team bring Spies vs Mercs to Blacklist, Ubisoft created a positive acceptance for change. If some other team had come in and said “this is our idea of Spies vs Mercs”, it wouldn’t have worked, but with the original team bringing the original idea to modern times, it works. It works well, too.
Make no mistake either, Spies vs Mercs is horrid, horrid fun. It can be brutal and even frustrating at times, but it’s balanced perfectly to where it every time you die, you know it isn’t because the game is unbalanced or buggy, you did something wrong. That’s the sign of a well-executed return to form for the series.
If you’re unfamiliar with Spies vs Mercs, I’ll break it down for you. Spies, played from the third-person perspective, are attempting to hack three computer terminals while Mercs, played from the first-person perspective, are attempting to keep them from doing so in the allotted time. Each time a terminal is hacked, an alarm is triggered that lets the Mercs know what area the spies are in. Spies have to stay in the area for about 60 seconds for the hack to complete.
Because of this, it turns into a challenge where spies have to either hide or fortify their position and take down anyone who attempts to come in. It becomes a really interesting metagame that tasks players with attempting to find new ways to handle the situation each time.
The change of perspective is one of the mode’s keys to success. It forces you to think in the mentality that you are presented with through perspective. When you’re in first-person, you’re reminded that you’re a merc and need to kill. It’s essentially a first-person shooter for you.
When you’re a spy and in third-person, it’s all about stealth. You need the environmental awareness that third-person provides, allowing you to see the area around you when hiding after activating an alarm. Ledge climbs would be almost impossibly in first-person and those are vital when playing as a spy. In my demo, I activated one alarm and jumped up to grab a ledge. I just hung on the ledge and moved to counter the mercs’ movement, they never saw me and were extremely confused running around the area looking for me. Of course, this probably won’t work on more experienced players, but it’s still an option.
It certainly is a challenge too. Don’t let anyone disuade you, Spies vs Mers is difficult, but the gameplay is extremely rewarding. It’s one of the best things to come from the Splinter Cell franchise and could be a game entirely on its own, especially now that they brought back the original team. It’s worth the price of admission on its own and there’s still that entire single-player campaign that we saw back at E3 last year. This is one game that you’re going to need to keep an eye on.
Words by Alex Rubens.