It hit me at about halfway through the onstage walkthrough of Splinter Cell Blacklist at Microsoft's press conference: "There goes another one. We lost Sam Fisher." Somewhere between the new "killing in motion" mechanic, the unbelievably spry cliffside ascent, and the motherfuckingprecision airstrike, I saw the writing on the wall: Splinter Cell is not what it used to be (you can see the footage at here). Sure, we'll still get to use neat gadgets; we'll still feel the satisfaction of silent kills; we'll still get to hide in the shadows--but that used to be all that Sam was about. Blacklist looks like a game that has stealth sections and components, rather than a dedicated stealth game. Sam Fisher plays a lot like James Bond or Nathan Drake, now: he'll stealth around for a bit, but always seems to end up in some outrageous, explosion-laden firefight.
To be clear, I don't think that this is necessarily a bad thing. Good pacing requires both peaks and valleys, and the people at Ubisoft Toronto look like they understand this. I also don't want to give the impression that I'm somehow not excited for Blacklist--on the contrary, it made my Top 20 Games of E3. Blacklist looks damn good to me, and it may prove to be that this makeover that I call "actionization" was the best thing that's ever happened to the series. Besides, more radical transformations have had great results: look at Metroid Prime. And why should this trend not continue? Conviction sold over 2 million copies, no doubt due in part to the addition of mechanics like mark and execute. The adrenaline of playing hide-and-seek with patrols has been replaced with the high-octane twitch of firefights. It's familiar and fun to the archetypal Call of Duty online enthusiast, so it makes Ubisoft money. More money means more games--and that's a good thing, right? It's certainly up for debate.
What I do want to emphasize is that this is a trend that is not going to stop. It might make the lot of us hardcore squirm when they read this, but it's difficult to deny: actionization--or in even broader terms, casualization--is evolution. Stealth, survival horror, RPGs--you name it, it's there. For now, we still have our Amnesia's and our Dark Souls', but we have to be prepared to see the titles in these niche genres adapt to a new market demographic. This may prove to be some sort of awkward teenage growing pain, but I doubt it. The genre is changing in ways that may scare a lot of us, but we can't stop it. Some call it homogenization, some call it disaster--and these are fair points. But even though game quality may ebb and flow, the constant of time marches on. Whether the industry is going up or down is up for debate, but one thing is for sure: we're always moving forward.
All of this actionization, casualization, the death of niche? It's progress. And here's hoping that Blacklist shows us how it can be done gracefully.