Lets get this out of the way first: I missed the boat on the original Spies vs Mercs craze that Pandora Tomorrow kicked off. You see, I had a Gamecube which meant no online connectivity for me. When Double Agent came along, I grabbed it along with a 360 later in the game’s life cycle so by the time I was able to jump online, that boat had pretty much sailed. With all of the great things I’ve heard over the years about this unique online experience, I was thrilled to learn it would be making a return to Blacklist. I was even more thrilled when I got to actually play the modes at the Toronto studio earlier this week.
Want to know more? Here are my thoughts on the multiplayer package with a side of information for good measure. Spoiler alert: I was absolutely thrilled.
Full impressions below the jump.
For those who don’t know, Spies vs Mercs sees the two factions going up against one another. One team of mercenaries is out to protect 3 terminals located around a map from those sneaky spies who aim to hack and gather the data stored within. The person who hacks the terminal needs to stay alive for 90 seconds and avoid getting killed at which point teammates will have 10 seconds to reestablish the hack to continue otherwise the terminal resets. At halftime, the teams switch sides. The mercenaries sport heavy firepower, bulky armor and utilize first person perspective for giving the player a better look at the surroundings. The spies are agile, quick on their feet and are better served to strike from the shadows as they tend to be pretty fragile. Players will see things from third person perspective which allows greater visibility when navigating the level’s geometry and ventilation shafts.
Before getting to go hands on with the mode, we were escorted into a room and introduced to Marie-Joelle Paquin who is the International Product Manager over at Ubisoft Montreal. She was joined by Paolo Pace, game designer on Spies vs Mercs and together they went over some of the finer details of the modes. They could probably see we were all chomping at the bit to play, I’m sure.
Two modes will come ready to go from day 1: Classic and Blacklist modes. Classic takes the best elements of Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory and serves them up fresh out of the oven. This mode is limited to 4 players (2v2) and no customization options. It’s the purest form of this mode and one that traditionalists will surely flock to first. Spies do not have much in the way of firepower so a direct confrontation with the mercenary will ultimately result in the respawn screen. Spies will want to stay in the shadows, while the Mercs will need to eliminate that advantage with the flashlight.
On the other hand, the brand new Blacklist mode can be played up to 8 players and unlike Classic, it gives players a wealth of customization options and preset classes to play as. The tool set is expanded for both sides significantly as players can tailor their play styles with gadgets, gear, guns, and many other customization options. See sidebar for more information on each of these classes. While there are now 8 players running around the map, this doesn’t dilute the strategy at all either. Teams will still need to communicate in order to be effective and Mercs are still people Spies should avoid head on conflicts with. The tension, need for awareness and suspense are just as high in this mode as in Classic.
The most impressive thing is the dynamic shift in maps when compared on both modes. For example, a map called Silo was played in both Classic and Blacklist so we could see the difference. It’s the same exact map, but the design is basically night and day when compared side by side. In Classic, the maps feature more shadow play, so it gets very dark and eerie especially for the Mercs who rely heavily on their flashlight to peer into those shadows. It honestly gives the mode a sort of horror vibe to it, not knowing where or when the spies would strike. Within the Blacklist mode, that same map looks completely different as the shadows are reduced. Even though the map is exactly the same structurally, the reduced shadows gives it a completely different look and feel.
Both sides have unlimited lives, but communication and teamwork are key if you want to win the day. Partial credit is also given for failed terminal hacks so it’s more than likely that really tight matches will come down to the wire separated only by a few percentage points. One game we played, we both captured two terminals, but the other team managed to nab 3% of the final one. This scoring system also helps enhance the feeling of tension as you fight tooth and nail to the end to secure those precious points.
Spies vs Mercs is just unlike anything that’s currently available on the market and is designed to get your heart rate going. Matches boil down to a hide and seek/cat and mouse style gameplay requiring a bit more intelligence from the player than typical online offerings. Watching the meter tick down when capturing a terminal will probably leave you breathless as you try to avoid getting gunned down and losing the hack. Those 90 minutes are incredibly tense and more than once caused an eruption of cheers from people who were watching on. The hardest part now is waiting to August to get my hands on it again.
Want to know more about the co-op side of the game? Check out my write-up from yesterday here.