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14 must-read survival tips for Splinter Cell: Blacklist’s ‘Spies vs. Mercs’

Disclaimer: I previously did some occasional consulting for Ubisoft on its Splinter Cell: Blacklist game.


In the stealthy world of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, you might’ve heard people referring to the “cat and mouse” gameplay in Spies vs. Mercs. But if you’re just trying this multiplayer mode for the first time with the recent release of Splinter Cell: Blacklist (for consoles and PC — see our review here), you might be wondering, “Just who exactly is the cat here?”

The infamous asymmetrical mode features sneaky spies (with a third-person view) trying to hack computer stations while heavily armed mercenaries (in first-person) patrol and hunt them down. But the spies aren’t helpless prey. They have flashbangs and smoke grenades, they have vicious close-quarters melee attacks, and they can pounce on you for the dreaded “death from above.” Yes, they’re the hunted — the “mouse” so to speak. But they might as well be giant killer rats who will make your AK-47 hang its nozzle in shame.

This may lead to some frustration for new players still getting used to this unique gameplay. This is not Call of Duty, and “point and shoot” is not proper strategy here. After playing Blacklist’s Spies vs. Mercs for a couple of weeks, I still notice new players making some very simple mistakes that they probably don’t know they’re making.

If you’re watching the respawn screen more than you’re having a good time, here are some basic tips for both sides to help keep you in the hunt.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist

7 tips for spies:

1. Don’t engage!

Try not to go after mercs offensively unless you have a guaranteed kill, and you know his teammate isn’t in the area watching his back.

Firepower-wise, the mercs have the upper hand in Splinter Cell multiplayer. If they can get any shots off at all, they’ll probably win a confrontation. So try not to charge at them — even if they’re blinded by a flashbang or smoke grenade — and hit them from where they’re not looking. That can be from behind, from around the corner, hanging from a ledge or pipe above them, or from underneath with a ledge grab.

If they’re looking right at you, get out of there! You can double-tap the grenade button to drop a quick distraction for your getaway.

This goes double for the spy who’s actively hacking. Your team is depending on you to stay alive — if a foe takes you out, it could reset that terminal’s progress. So the hacker should always try to stay out of sight as much as possible, never engaging unless he absolutely has to and only if he’s 100% sure he’ll survive the encounter.

2. Turn it up

Hearing is nearly as important as seeing in Spies vs. Mercs. You might be able to pick up an enemy merc’s heavy boots plopping around without needing to turn on a special vision mode to see him (more on that below). That’s your audio clue that danger is nearby.

Better yet in the “staying alive” department: You can hear activated proximity mines well before you’re in range to trip them. Once you hear that deathly beeping, stop and look around, so you can shoot and blow up the mine before it tries to do the same to you. Or throw down an EMP blast to disable a bunch in the area automatically.

Warning: Merc players get notification when you disable their mines, so if they remember where they placed them, that will tip them off as to where you’re at.

3. Creep, don’t run

Do you know that, when you move at full speed, not only can the mercs hear you more easily (that boot-ploppin’ thing), but you’ll pop up on their motion-detector radars? I’m pretty sure you don’t, or else you wouldn’t keep running around upright like that.

Stay crouched. As long as you’re creeping (or shimmying along a ledge), you’ll stay hidden from default motion-sensing equipment.

Splinter Cell Blacklist

4. Run, don’t creep

I’m surprised at the number of spy players who will take a brisk walk straight toward my loaded assault rifle, trying to stab me with a melee attack. If you have to close the distance for a quick hand-to-hand kill, then, well, make it quick! Run at the poor sap by holding down the sprint button. (I’m under the impression a lot of new players don’t know that they can run in this game.) If you have to go at him, don’t give him much time to shoot at you.

5. Keep the lights (and night vision) off

Splinter Cell veterans know that they can shoot out certain lights for an added cover of darkness, but this may be a new concept for some folks. You can knock out most exposed bulbs in Classic mode with your gun. (Classic is the hardcore two-vs-two version of Spies vs. Mercs that is more about light and shadow gameplay.) But just keep in mind that a newly darkened room may be a tip to mercs that you’re hanging around in there.Then they’re just one grenade toss from clearing you out.

In Blacklist mode, however, light becomes less of an issue, and the use of electronics becomes a bigger deal. If you’re wondering how a merc found what you thought was the perfect hiding spot, it could be because you moved (motion sensors picked you up) or perhaps you turned on one of your special visions (like thermal or sonar). If the merc has RFD (radio frequency detector) goggles on, then he’ll see you stick right out.

You should assume at least one merc has RFD on at all times, so you should save your own electronics for emergency use only.

6. Mess with the mercs

If someone on your team is hacking, then help buy time and keep the bad guys away. Use grenades, sound (gunshots, running around, etc.), or even your own bullet-magnet body to keep the gun-toting mercs away from their primary target. The more they’re distracted with you, the less time they have to find and kill the hacker, which is the only way to stop the spies’ progress.

7. Don’t overcommit

Sometimes it’s worth leaving a partially hacked station alone to go after another one. Most mercs will assume you’ll attempt to rehack that same terminal before it resets, so they may be preoccupied with defending it. That gives you an opportunity to go after a more distant objective — one that has fewer guards around.

Then when the mercs finally realize what’s up and come after the new target, hopefully some of your spy teammates will be ready to pounce on them when they enter the area.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist

7 tips for mercs:

1. Turn it up, too

Audio clues help the mercs, too. Sticky cameras make noise while activated, just like your proximity mines do. If you hear that strange beeping or clicking, stay away — some spy is hoping you’ll walk close enough to his cam for him to kill you with it via remote detonation.

You can also hear spies running around, which is particularly useful if one’s coming up behind you. This is where you’re most vulnerable, because the enemy is way out of your first-person view and usually not detected by any of your special goggles. The thud-thud of the spy’s boots could be his only giveaway.

2. Do a 180

Even if you don’t hear anyone sprinting behind you, you should pull a Crazy Ivan once in a while. Your rear is your biggest blind spot, so check it periodically regardless of what you hear or don’t hear.

3. Be paranoid

See that dark room? Or that cluttered corridor? Assume a threat’s hiding in there, and you’ll probably live longer. Don’t just run in all cocky with your armored bod and big gun — a spy may suddenly pop out and stick a blade in your chest.

Instead, try tossing frag or gas grenades into blind spots, around corners, or into cramped spaces. You might just kill someone who was waiting for you.

4. Stay on target

During a hack, don’t get distracted by spies who are nowhere near the objective. He may simply be keeping you busy and away from the true target: the hacker. Of course, if you can kill this pest, do it. Better to control the situation rather than let a stealthy enemy loose into locations unknown.

But the countdown’s not stopping when you eliminate this non-hacking defender. If it’s taking too long to get rid of him, disengage and go to the threatened zone. Ultimately, you need to prevent hacks to win the match as a merc.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist

5. Save your batteries

In the shadows-and-light gameplay of Spies vs. Mercs Classic, mercs will want to turn on their gun-mounted flashlights to uncover the oppressive blackness. This can’t be avoided, but this also gives the spies a huge clue as to where you’re at and where you’re looking, just like the vision cones on A.I. guards in that other stealthy action game, Metal Gear Solid.

You need the illumination to see (and it can temporarily blind spies, too), but turn off those beams when you want to go a little incognito, so you can surprise your enemies.

6. Look up, look down, but keep your distance.

Always assume a spy is above you, waiting to drop down on your head. Or if you’re near a ledge or on a catwalk, assume he’s hanging over the edge, waiting to grab you from underneath. These are easy kills for spies, but they’re not difficult for mercs to avoid, as long as you’re methodical about looking up, down, and all around for threats.

7. Look outside

Smart spies won’t all gather inside the hacking zone, and they definitely won’t bunch up near the hacker himself. In fact, they may circle around outside the affected area, looking for unsuspecting merc targets to pick off.

In other words, again, don’t forget to watch your back. Just because you’re looking into where the hacker would be hiding doesn’t mean someone else isn’t ready to shank you from behind.

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