You pan your sighted machine gun across the inky-black room as a faint shadow runs across your vision off in the distance. You retreat slowly into a corner and crouch down, nervously reloading your rifle. Scanning the landscape for possible cover locations, you shoot a syringe full of adrenaline into your right arm to clear your vision. A flash emanates from the shadows and the lights all around you flicker before going out. Your gun fires neurotically into the darkness, hitting nothing. You hear footsteps and hurl a frag grenade; gripping the controller with sweaty white-knuckled hands all the while. You glance upward just in time to see your end. Death comes from above as a black clad assassin with three glowing lights on his mask pounces on you and slices your throat. As you wait to respawn, you watch him hack the terminal you were guarding and slink back into the darkness. You are playing Spies Vs. Mercs.
Splinter Cell Blacklist is a 2013 stealth action game that while largely ignored by many of the gaming community, has been lauded by its small fan base for its brilliant marriage of silently lethal and guns-a-blazing play styles. While all of SCB is a fantastic experience, Its multiplayer was by far its most rewarding aspect. And yes, I say was because Blacklist has yet to be remastered for PS4
Spies Vs. Mercs (SvM) was fairly easy to pick up, and featured a variety of game modes with different, but fairly simple objectives. There was the obligatory death match mode; Extraction, which tasked teams of mercs with walking into a den of spies, grabbing a briefcase, and walking out; SvM Classic, which found spies using standard night vision and mercs with only a flashlight and standard issue rifle; and the game’s crowning glory, SvM Blacklist: which let players loose with unlimited customization.
In SvM Blacklist, there are two rounds, so each player gets a chance with either playing style. The first team to hack three terminals wins; if neither does this, whoever hacks the most wins. If both hack three, the game is a draw, but that’s about as rare as a spy beating a merc in a shootout. The spy must initiate a hack for the real action to begin. Once this happens, they must remain in the zone until the transmission reaches 100%. The hack stops when a merc kills them, at which point another spy must continue the hack, or lose all progress. These matches are catalysts for deadly games of hide-and-seek that feature some of the most organic suspense in video gaming.
Playing SvM, the gamer experiences a strange sense of perfectly imbalanced symmetry. Yes, a merc’s heavy assault rifles, shotguns, and various explosive devices are absolutely capable of ripping through a spy’s paper-thin armor in no time, but the map is built with spies in mind. The merc must constantly check their corners, grate openings, and ledges — all of which can hide a deadly spy. Every advantage on the playing field has a check or balance. Spies have enhanced vision, but a disruptor suit worn by a merc can jam it. Mercs can send out a recon drone to scope out a hack site, but a well placed emp or trophy system device will destroy it.
This video is a pretty decent example of how an SvM match goes down
Killstreaks are uncommon in SvM. With only four to a team — with wildly different strategic playing styles and objectives — a kill is work. It takes patience, perception, and precision. More importantly, it is not the objective. As the hacker, you’re best play is to find a good spot and stay out of sight; as a defender, wandering about usually means death. SvM was a nearly perfect multiplayer experience that sadly, was experienced by few; a game where winning could never be a fluke, and team coordination was essential for victory.