Splinter Cell Blacklist is infiltrating its way onto consoles and PCs next month, and most fans are incredibly excited because the game looks to take some of the most loved elements of Splinter Cell gameplay and improve upon them. But how about disabled gamers? Do they have reason to look forward to the latest title in a franchise that has had mixed accessibility since its early days?
To begin with, all of the gameplay demos out there have done a good job illustrating how flexible the gameplay is. The designers at Ubisoft have repeatedly highlighted the three distinct modes of gameplay. There’s assault, where the player goes in and kills everyone, playing more like a third person shooter. There’s the panther style, which is a stealthy but still lethal player who focuses on killing enemies undetected. And there’s the ghost style, which is closest to Splinter Cell’s pure stealth roots. In order to support the three vastly different modes, the developers have had to leave lots of options open for the player in order to let them switch at will between play styles. This means that the game play will be incredible flexible, which will be good news for all disabled players, but especially for those with delayed reflexes or other fine motor issues, since if their hands won’t allow them to get past a certain area, there will more than likely be other options that help compensate for their disability.
Another thing that will make the game easier, especially for players with delayed reflexes is the familiar mark and execute system which allows players to build up a meter and once that meter is full, mark a group of targets in that area and execute a cinematic chain of kills with what looks like the push of a single button. This means that disabled players will have the option to rely on the M&E system when in particularly hairy situations.
The other bit of good news for fine motor impaired players is the return of the wildly popular Spies vs. Mercs multiplayer. This asymmetrical multiplayer assigns players to one of two teams. Players are either mercs who play in first person and rely on fire power and armor, or spies who play in third person and rely on gadgets and stealth. This built in dichotomy means that there are two different roles to fill in the multiplayer, which means that there will be a better chance for disabled players not only to play but to excel at Blacklist’s competitive elements.
As far as visual accessibility goes, it’s hard to say. Nothing in any of the demos seems to use color alone to communicate. The one caveat to this may be the in-game radar, which was not really highlighted in any of the game demos, but did seem to be kind of small and hard to see even for non-visually disabled players. A bit of good news though is that all the objectives in Splinter Cell Blacklist are displayed at the beginning of each level using a large overlay text that is actually in the environment, kind of like Sam is looking at a billboard telling him exactly what to do. Beyond that, the game looks to be fairly accessible. But the visual accessibility may come down to things that weren’t sufficiently detailed in the various demos.
The real make or break aspect for Splinter Cell Blacklist in terms of its accessibility will be its auditory accessibility. This is a game that absolutely must have subtitles in every area in order to communicate the guards’ awareness. Even though the demos themselves weren’t actually subtitled, there is a good indication that the game will be fairly accessible for those with hearing disabilities. During each of the demos, when Sam started to be spotted by one of the guards, an arrow popped up and grew, pointing in the direction of the guard’s awareness. It grew as the guard became more aware. If any of you have played Hitman Absolution, it was the exact same mechanic for showing guard alertness level. This coupled with even a decent subtitle system will mean that most players with hearing disabilities have a shot at enjoying at least the game’s single player.
As a whole, Splinter Cell Blacklist looks promising, but there is too little information to be able to say definitively whether the game will be accessible for most players with disabilities. But we’ll know more when the game releases on August 20th.