Pros: Good story arc, both single player and multiplayer offer variety and replayability
Cons: Some cut scenes can be drawn out, graphics not leading edge, a bit buggy in some multiplayer connections
For background, I played all previous Splinter Cell games, all on Xbox and/or Xbox 360. I loved them all until SC: Conviction. Double Agent started to lose what I thought were the key draws (for me) to the series - the basic stealth v brawn play, the solid SP and tension filled MP that could make you jump from your seat. I read previews and was excited about what SC:B had on offer, but was also skeptical. I have been greatly pleased with everything to date.
First, lets go over some of the more definitive aspects of the game:
Graphics: Graphics would rate about an 8.5 out of 10. They are more than sufficient, but not cutting edge. Body movements are all very fluid, dynamic, and natural-looking, but esepciially in the SP missions and close ups, there are clearly better close up scenes (faces are particularly still on levels consistent with or slightly improved upon previous SC games). The backgrounds are not as detailed as many other games out there right now, and some of the objects look like they may have just went with something simple in terms of the design rather than try to make it truly like-like.
9.5 out of 10. I think this is one of the best games out there - and that's even with the relaization that much of the tencion and excitement focuses around silence. Playing this game without surround sound would be a disadvantage, as listening to where other players or guards are can be as important as seeing them. Or, if you are playing a merc on MP, listening for footsteps, objects being hit, etc is very important. Explosions are pretty good, gunfire is close to spot on, and the voiceovers are all excellent. A side note - I miss Michael Ironside as Sam Fisher though.
9.5 out of 10. This is one area where I was afraid the game would come up short, but instead it excels.
Single player is of good length, and definitely replayable. It allows for you to play in a variety of different styles, awarding points and rewards based on what you do. Perfectionist mode in SP asks you to go through the entire mission without being detected or killing anyone/anything (guard dogs, for instance). Having these different styles allows for different difficulty, and therefore replayability. The missions are fairly linear, though there is not one way to progress through any mission even if you are trying perfectionist mode. The linear aspect is really present in certain "chokepoints" you have to get through to cue cut scenes and the story. And that story is pretty current, and compelling, assuming you keep up with current events on some level.
The multiplayer though, as with many games, is where SCB shines though. There are multiple modes, allowing you to play with from 4 people to 8, and ranging from the "classic" 2 spies v 2 mercs with fixed weapons and gadgets, to a 4v4 mode, spies versus mercs, both with customizable loadouts, to 4 v 4 all out deathmatch (where each person can be a spy or merc), to co-op missions, and more. The classic mode is the most stealthy version, and for me the most suspenseful - there is nothing worse than being a merc and seeing a flicker and then having you neck slit, or being a spy only to get a grenade lobbed into your hiding spot. But there is also, for me, nothing better than being a spy and reaching up to pull your opponent over a railing to his death. You can still do this is 4 v 4, but that mode tends to be more active and confrontation oriented. Deathmatch is for some, just not me. It's too much run and gun and pure pandemonium when mixing spies and mercs and just out to find and kill as opposed to the more traditional attack/defend playstyles. The only hiccup here is that there are the occassional disconnects, and when a host disconnects, it seems you always go back to thew lobby rather that simply migrating the host (which it says it is doing). Oh, and that you often get no "matchmaking" benefits - your noob partner and you can find yourselves going against high level players every game - but you reportedly get higher rewards for doing do as well.
Co-op missions are unique maps, and offer the benefit of adding unique co-op moves to your arsenal. It's not something I spend a lot of time playing, but nonetheless the fact it has it's own maps and wrinkles to the gameplay, rather than simply plodding along the SP mode in a pair, gives it some freshness that makes most other co-op modes seems simply like an afterthought.
I've touched on this in different places above, but for me this is what I look for in a game, and this gameplay is a 10 of 10. While I tend to stay away from the run and gun type games (like Gears of War, for instance), I do like games that provide some run and gun when I want it - Call of Duty sometimes comes close to providing both stealth and run and gun, but that depends usually on the maps rather than the gametype.
The single player, as above, allows you to play how you like and be rewarded accordingly. Perfectionist mode is the most rewarding (you get in-game cash and/or unlocks - more on this later), but you don't suffer really from doing it by simply racking up terrorist kills either.
Co-OP - Yeah, I sort of covered this already. Perfecting co-op moves can make this much more entertaining...
Multiplayer - Well, I sort of did this too, but will add a little. The MP gameplay is wonderful. The game mode will generally determine how the game is played - 2v2 classic is that traditional merc v spy style, 4 v 4 TD is chaos. Though, if you want, you can always try to change that mid game - the maps are flexible enough and the game open enough to do so should you and your partner decide to try to simply rack up kills. But in any spy v merc game style, one side starts as mercs, then the other teams gets a shot at merc. The winning team is the one that hacks the most terminals during the alotted time. TD is the only mode where kills actually determine the winner.
New players will find a steep learning curve, as the controls differ between merc and spy (because the abilities and gadgets differ). Learning to time correctly melee attacks can be tough, but veteran gamers won't have too much trouble. There is also a lead-in training mission you must complete before doing any other SP or MP matches. Also, certain MP levels are not unlocked until you reach level 10, but are accessible through invites from friends who may have already achieved that. This allows you to gain some knowledge from friends in order to progress, which is nice. Also, learning the maps is vital, and having friends to help with that is a huge benefit.
Both the SP and MP have unlockable gadgets and weapons. You can purchase these upgrades using in-game earnings and tokens. You can earn all of these easily by either completing tasks in SP missions or MP games. You will want to start unlocking these as soon as possible for all MP modes in particluar, unless you choose to only play classic mode - in that, all spies have the same traditional loadout, and all mercs also have the same loadout. The in game $$$ typically unlocks the actual gadgets or weapons, tokens unlock certain higher level items as well as customizable slots to use.
9 out of 10 (4.5 stars). The game, for me, is simply what made me put down my PC and return to the console.