Splinter Cell: Blacklist
3 stars = Good
The latest incarnation of "Splinter Cell" operative Sam Fisher has taken cues from Hollywood. Fisher's voice is more palatable to all ages, while his love of lingering in the shadows and his silent takedowns have been softened to make him more of a threat to enter situations with guns blazing. I preferred Fisher as a silent, brooding agent, but I recognize the desire to widen his appeal.
"Blacklist" (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3; Ubisoft; M, for Mature) carries over much of the visual flair and excellence from the last game in the series, "Conviction." The dialogue snaps with more one-liners, and, if you choose, the baddies fall violently from the explosion of gunfire at your disposal. You can still lurk in the shadows and silently execute everyone; in fact, I think that's the way you should play it, as the tension ramps up and the stakes feel higher. The game introduces a few new gadgets, such as an unmanned drone, and some gameplay tropes familiar to military shooters, such as attacks at night from military aircraft. My only complaint is that these additions take you away from the more daring, up-close-and-personal nature of Fisher's takedowns.
I recommend working through the campaign quickly because you need to enjoy the superb multiplayer option. The popular Spies-vs.-Mercs mode returns, and it remains one of the best cooperative modes ever created. Teams of stealthy spies must complete tasks while gun-toters hunt down and kill anything that moves. Playing modes that reward teamwork will always win my praise, and few perform better than this one.
The solid -- if slightly watered-down -- campaign mode gets overshadowed by the far-superior online mode, but as a whole the game is a worthy addition to the franchise.
Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches
4 stars = Outstanding
Just a brief word about the latest -- and final -- downloadable content (DLC) pack for 2012's fantastic "Dishonored" game (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3; Bethesda Softworks; M, for Mature). Whereas most DLC focuses on additional adventures of a main character, the folks at Bethesda have treated gamers instead to the life and experiences of a rarely seen character from the main quest.
Initially you may think nothing of Daud, the man whom Corvo (SPOILER, but come on, it's been almost a year now) dispatches at the end of the main quest. Daud seemed uninteresting then, but the two DLCs that explore his life show a deeply conflicted man with extraordinary abilities. You aren't required to have played the first Daud-centric episode, "Knife of Dunwall," but that helps flesh out the story; plus, you get to carry over your upgrades.
The exercise takes you more into the supernatural realms of the "Dishonored" universe. Nothing about the gameplay will strike you as particularly fresh compared to all the previous content from the game, but those who have wisely immersed themselves in the fascinating dystopia of Dunwall will relish getting to experience -- through Daud's eyes this time -- the events leading up to the fateful meeting between Daud and Corvo.
Today's gaming world pretty much guarantees that the "Dishonored" sequel machine will start revving up, but if the initial game and its stellar DLCs were all that we'd ever see of Dunwall, no gamer could claim to be disappointed by the journey.