Ask anyone their favourite multiplayer game of all time, after you’ve dealt with swathes of ‘Call of Battlefield’ and ‘Gears of Halo’ someone eventually will mention Splinter Cell, a hidden gem with a unique selling point. ‘Spies Vs Mercenaries’ is a multiplayer mode that integrates both first and third-person shooters, squaring them off on the battlefield.

The frantic multiplayer mode was glossed over during the development of Conviction, but it does make a triumphant return for Splinter Cell: Blacklist. I’m no stranger to good multiplayer games, so I travelled to London to decipher whether Spies Vs Mercs could live up to the hype or if it’s better of in retirement.

To put it simply, Spies Vs Mercs is an objective gametype where players take on the role of either a spy or merc and are tasked with hacking data terminals or protecting them respectively. There are three terminals spread across each map and the round ends when they’ve all been compromised or the clock runs dry. Players switch sides at the end of the round, with the winner decided by the most successful hacking attempts.

After initiating a hack, the uploader needs to stay alive to prevent the connection from being severed, a complex game of cat and mouse where Mercenaries are hunting for a single spy whilst others create diversions and protect their comrade. It’s an absolute blast, especially if played with a group of friends.

Communication and teamwork are the two tenants at the core of Spies Vs Merc and it’s a shame that they’re also the two things hardest to foster in a wider gaming community. Whilst I can stress how much fun the multiplayer was with a group of friends, I can only lament how a similar scenario would play out on Xbox Live or how secluded I’d feel with everyone segregated into ‘party’ chats.

Spies are controlled with a third person camera, they’re the masters of stealth and deadly in close quarters combat. Their specific kit is all about disruptions and gap closing with tech allowing some to cloak themselves for a brief period and others to use an advanced radar to pinpoint the location of enemies. The key to surviving combat engagements alive is using EMP grenades and the environment to pull off insta-kills.

Mercenaries play out like any other first person shooter; clad in heavy armour and packing powerful weapons, they’re an unstoppable force on the battlefield. Give them half a chance and they’ll show you how handy they are with a knife, but typically as a last resort, preferring to cut you down in a hail of bullet fire. Equipped with some of the best gadgetry that money can buy, they’re far less subtle than their opponents, going in loud with frag grenades and trip mines.

Despite these radical differences, Ubisoft have managed to maintain balance between the two classes with neither side feeling overpowered. What Mercenaries lack in map mobility, they make up for with high-tech gadgetry and this quid pro quo applies to Spies too. Matches can last upwards of 15 minutes and switching sides keeps the multiplayer sessions from becoming stale.

There’s extensive customisation options for those looking to expand the experience further, going as far as tailoring your equipment down to the goggles, torso, gloves, pants and boots; each of which influences performance in-game. The price of entry is pretty high, meaning that to get the most out of this customization, you’ll have to put some serious time in which is obviously something every developer wants for their game.

Gamers looking to mix things up a bit can opt for the classic mode, which drops customizable classes in favour of new abilities on a single class. Spies have access to night vision goggles, whilst the Mercenaries have a flashlight, presenting some really interesting possibilities. Turning on night vision shines the iconic Splinter Cell 3 lights in the darkness, whilst the best mercenaries are those who periodically turn the flashlight on and off, presenting the ability to blind their opponents. It’s an interesting take on the gametype and somehow manages to remain balance, despite initial concerns that the Mercs had it too easy.

I was really surprised by the work done by the folks at Ubisoft Montreal who’ve crafted one of the most entertaining multiplayer experiences I’ve had in a long time. If Splinter Cell: Blacklist has as comprehensive and engaging campaign to match, I’m dubbing it one of this year’s must-have titles.

Splinter Cell Blacklist is scheduled for release August 23rd, 2013 for PC, PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U. Check out the other great games coming out this month in our full list of new releases for August 2013.

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