You look at Ubisoft today, and you look at the biggest video game developer and publisher in all of Europe. With a sizable share of the video game market across the entire globe, Ubisoft is a company built on tentpole franchises that it rolls out every year to blockbuster success. Games such as Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry and Just Dance have cemented the company’s legacy over the last couple of years.
So what happened to Splinter Cell then? Sam Fisher now pops up from time to time as a cameo in Ghost Recon games, his last proper tour of duty being the well received Splinter Cell: Blacklist in 2013. Fans have been begging for a new Splinter Cell game for years now, usually holding their breath at the end of every single Ubisoft E3 press conference and then exhaling with pure disappointment whenever the telltale hum of Fisher’s iconic night-vision goggles fail to illuminate the screen.
The problem is, is that Splinter Cell’s traditional setup of stealth and espionage just doesn’t gel well with Ubisoft’s current business model. The publisher has gone all in on live service elements and recurrent consumer spending over the last couple of years, crafting massive sandboxes within which to set their games and entice players to return to.
Love it or hate it, but Ubisoft has mastered that virtual hook, baiting it with some properly good DLC and constant updates, tossing it into competitive waters and then luring in gamers for a long game that lasts until the next sequel is released. Just look at Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, The Division 2 and even smaller games such as Trials for a prime example of this.
So where does Splinter Cell fit into the grand scheme of Ubisoft’s AAA design philosophy? By its very nature, Splinter Cell operates like the antithesis to this school of live service thought. At its very best, Splinter Cell is an entirely linear experience that’s brilliant when it’s done in one run. That idea of sneaking through corridors, avoiding enemies with a quick split-jump and taking them out in a carefully orchestrated plan of attack so that you can get in and out of even the most secure locations on the planet.
Sure, you could add some speed-run incentives to encourage players to return so that they can earn bragging rights, but Splinter Cell usually works better as a tense ten-hour game rather than a time-sink which lasts dozens if not hundreds of hours…right? Right! The thing is, the perfect template for a Splinter Cell game which can keep gamers glued to their screens, invested and satisfied already exists.
It’s called Hitman.
I’ll wax lyrical about IO Interactive’s magnificent return to form that began in 2016 whenever I get the chance, and it’s absolutely amazing how its formula for precision perfection hasn’t been copied since it was released. Hitman knew its audience, knew what would work and focused purely on creating the best experience within its genre. Heck, if someone were to whip up a Sam Fisher skin and mod it into Hitman, you’d have a terrific Splinter Cell game right there.
Where Ubisoft can differentiate itself from IO Interactive’s sandbox, is by focusing on a character who brings the coolest gadgets to any infiltration party. Sam Fisher is a secret agent with a license to kill, one that he makes use of liberally as he stalks his prey like a hungry panther and blends back into the shadows with every single kill dragged back into the darkness with him.
Whereas Hitman is focused more on stealth, misdirection and hilarious acts of karma employed by Agent 47 in every mission he’s thrown into, Fisher is an even more gleefully lethal option wherein excessive force is rewarded and encouraged. At the same time, Ubisoft’s various departments have set the benchmark for level design in recent years.
It can be a backwater town in Montana that’s overrun by cultists, the war-ravaged remains of a future battlefield or a city left to ruin after an unstoppable pandemic has wreaked havoc across the land, but Ubisoft’s talent for creating these worlds is simply undeniable. They are majestic in scope, intricately detailed and endlessly entertaining to explore. Imagine that focus, combined with an approach to revealing special missions that Fisher took on during his time with Third Echelon as the group’s primary problem-solver.
I’d even go a step further and say that an episodic approach would work gangbusters for such a project. While Hitman’s approach was controversial, the first season of content rolled out levels that were of a consistently high quality that set the standard for such episodic content. Where IO Interactive were geniuses, was in the construction of each level that hid numerous secrets, kept you entertained for an easy dozen hours and were always enjoyable to revisit without the need to worry about gamer fatigue.
It’s a lot to ask for in this day and age, to ask a gamer to have faith in a company to deliver on their promises and to trust that they won’t leave you disappointed at the end of the day. Most gamers are rightfully wary of this approach, having seen and experienced dips in quality over the years that range from mediocre to downright baffling.
At the same time, Ubisoft’s track record on DLC content has been nothing short of exemplary. Assassin’s Creed has benefitted massively from bonus episodes that flesh out character arcs and worlds in brave new directions, whereas The Division 2 recently hit the reset key with a return to New York City. That attention to detail, that staggering number of studios and employees to utilise to create such content could be focused on delivering the best Splinter Cell ever.
Or at the very least, a Splinter Cell game that so many fans have been starved of in recent years.
Last Updated: March 31, 2020