Sam Fisher doesn't negotiate with terrorists. He doesn't negotiate with guard dogs, either, or with locked doors, or with hired thugs who notice things like every lightbulb in a room exploding. But he is prepared to negotiate with the mass market. Building on the ambitious, troubled Conviction, Blacklist is a stealth game for all shapes and sizes that sneaks, somewhat miraculously, into the realm of an essential purchase.
The only area in which the game's an outright disappointment is the plot, which is the usual glowering, jingoist nonsense that Mr Clancy's been serving up for decades. Suffice to say, somebody wants to blow up America again and only Sam Fisher can stop them, aided by Ballsy Redhead, Whimsical Nerd, Different Ethnicity Fisher and Traumatised Off-Screen Daughter. On the plus side, the story does somehow justify the introduction of a tricked-out plane called the Paladin to serve as the mission hub.
Fishing for compliments
Mass Effect's Normandy is an obvious inspiration - as in BioWare's game, you are able to customise loadouts, view meta-data such as multiplayer rankings, buy weapons and gadgets, and even discover more about the characters. If the idea's to foster a sort of cosy domestic bond with the franchise that can be leveraged on Xbox One, this is probably too little, too late, but there are lots of neat touches, such as a Batcave-style alcove for your sneaking gear.
Speaking of Batman, he's the real threat to Fisher's operations at this point - eclipsing even ancient rival Solid Snake. Ubisoft's Toronto team has sought to endow Fourth Echelon's finest with a little of the Dark Knight's balletic savagery, care of an eye-watering array of slick execution moves and the returning Mark & Execute mechanic, which converts melee takedowns into automatic headshots on up to three pre-selected targets.
At the same time, the studio has made it so that attention-hating players can get through whole levels unnoticed, save for the odd story-mandated sequence, using gadgets such as noise-makers and sticky cameras to out-manoeuvre the foe. While hardly cutting edge right now, the engine does the job when it comes to those mission-critical distinctions of light and shadow (there's a telltale green indicator on Sam's nape, should you be in any doubt). Fans of garden-variety shooters, meanwhile, are catered for in the form of a lock-to-cover system, armour upgrades and punchier secondary weapons like shotguns and assault rifles.
Mission actions fall into one of three earning categories, Assault (loud but deadly), Panther (silent but deadly) and Ghost (just plain old silent). Ghost actions rake in the most cash, but require more time and thought. It's an elegant bridging act that allows you to switch approaches on the fly without firing up a different mode - and there are difficulty settings to reinforce whichever style you prefer (these can be changed mid-mission). The hardest, Professional, turns off Mark & Execute, supercharges AI perception and limits what you can see through Sonar Goggles. Purists are going to have fun with that one.
They're also going to have fun with the returning, excellent Spies vs Mercs multiplayer, which casts one set of players as slow, heavily armed goons who are controlled in first-person, tasked with defending a set of terminals. As a Spy, you'll need to initiate a hack up-close then survive (i.e. hide) in the vicinity while it completes. At the mode's best, matches can be as tense and tactical as a round of Versus in Left 4 Dead. There's nothing quite as terrifying as seeing a patch of darkness flit past the mouth of a corridor - unless it's crouching idiotically atop a well-lit cupboard, while a nearby chap in elephant armour cooks up a grenade.