Home Strategy Splinter Cell: Blacklist – Spies vs. Mercs Basics

Now that Blacklist is out, I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Spies vs. Mercs, both Classic and the new Blacklist mode. If the impression WiNG gives off is true, today’s SvM is a different beast than its predecessors. Paranoia is still the best weapon, customization is rampant, and most importantly, Spies might be more powerful than they’ve ever been. For those among you who’re having trouble adapting to the new playstyles, here are my basic strategies for the Spy and the Merc.

Mercenaries need cautious, patient play

Spies don’t have much in the way of health, but they have the advantage in stealth and one-hit-kill potential. Agile agents can run circles around their mercenary foes, dodging bullets and opening jugulars as they go. The key to being a successful Merc is to use the Spy’s weapon against them. Nine times out of ten, they know precisely where you are and have a few plans of action ready for whatever they think you’ll do. What they won’t expect out of a heavily equipped monster of a soldier is psychological warfare.

The short version, then, is to make the Spies nervous, not the other way around. They expect you to look around with a sense of supreme urgency, and they expect you to come sprinting to the terminals, twitching this way and that. Confound them with a patient, collected entrance. Do not try to rush where a Spy might be. Snuff him out with grenades. Get him to move and show himself. Blacklist’s maps are small enough that there are relatively few places for Spies to hide for any length of time and survive, so make a sweep of the obvious spots. When you close in, less experienced players will panic and start twitching. Zero in, but keep a distance and shoot as they run away.

Of course, Mercs also have a number of gadgets to call on to make their lives easier. Of those on offer, the Proximity Mine is by far the most useful. It serves a dual purpose, and you would do well to become an expert in its use. To start, if you have two, plant one near the terminals. There, it is either a lethal counter to a Spy’s hack or a beacon to where they might be. Equipped with EMP grenades, Spies can easily destroy anything you might set down. If you can remember where that equipment was, it’s destruction sends a clear indicator of their position.

The second mine, or first if you like, place in a shadow locale next to doors or underneath vents. Spies are rarely ones to waste what advantages they’re given, so they’d be remiss to be throwing away their nades at just anything. As a Merc, you’ll get more than one kill from “random mines,” and you can giggle at the frustration of your Spy foes. And, if you foresee eminant doom, drop a mine for an explosion from beyond the grave.

Lastly, a quick note on custom classes. While there are options that remove the motion sensor from the Merc’s HUD, I don’t recommend using it. There are UAV jamming options for the Spies, but they can’t hide their presence completely. Once you’ve narrowed where the sneaky bastards might be, take it slow. Even a lack of information can be telling, and its context can be indicative of a cowardly Spy a-hidin’ in a bush.

Spies must blend speed and aggression with composure and timing

As a Spy in Blacklist, you have a ton of advantages over your Merc adversaries. You are the one who summons them to the terminal, you are the one who hunts them as they look for you, and you can control their movements if you play your cards right. Know that you are comparatively squishy and ill-equipped for a full-frontal assault. Instead, your weapon is your agility, the shadows your ally. When the Merc who’s read the above section tries to unnerve you, your first job is to stay cool. You are on the defensive, and careful coordination will win the day.

The major problem for Spies, however, is the size of the maps in Blacklist. Each terminal area has only so many hiding spots, and once spotted, you won’t last long against two, let alone four, big guns. In my time playing SvM, I’ve played against, and been utterly trounced by, Spies who mix aggressive play with sneaky stealth. The key is finding the perfect balance, and like everything in Blacklist, that precious value is contextual.

There are ten minutes in a round, and while it’s tempting to use every second trying to win, such a brash strategy rarely succeeds. Instead, use two or three of the minutes to feel out how your opponents play. Start a hack and just watch. Don’t worry about losing it, or dying for that matter. Your focus here is intel. Did the Mercs rush in, flashlights and guns blazing, or were they casual, waiting for you? Keep them on their toes, certainly, but don’t go out of your way to secure the terminal. Go through this process once or twice more, and you’ll know how to approach your opponents.

Be aware, however, that once you start going for the objective proper, you must remain mobile with purpose. “Hurry up and wait” would sum up Blacklist’s Spy strategy. You wait until the Mercs come into the room, size them up, then start playing with their heads. Use their radar against them. Make them check the corners they shouldn’t, use equipment they needn’t, move in ways they normally wouldn’t. Keep tabs on them and move along with them, setting up in an advantageous position right their path. Then strike. You’d be surprised how agile your characters can be, and how deadly that speed can make you. Know that this deadly dance is going to occur more than once per terminal hack, so always find a new hiding position, and plan several routes, each time you clear the Mercs from the area.

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6 replies to this post
  1. This all sounds very familiar to me :)
    I see Ubisoft learned their lesson after Double Agent.

    Generally a good Spy playing style, as you pointed out, is a healthy combination of stealth and assault.
    You need to make sure to lay out a movement plan with your teammate and stay hidden. Once the criterias for your plan are met, strike, and strike hard.
    The goal is to force the mercs down a particular path, with them knowing it’s a bad idea, but simply be left without a choice. These situations can be things like:

    The mercs see you running to a specific terminal they know they need to secure, but your teammate is stalling them with offensive moves from the dark. The mercs know, following you will result in a neck-break or even worse, a double knockout, but they know they have to try to save this one objective.

    Other times you deliberately show yourself, shooting and removing mines and merc equipment in your way. They want to catch you to make sure you don’t clear their defenses off in one life, while your mate sneaks past other obstacles in a different part of the map.

    • As I delve deeper into Spy strategy, I’m going to focus on the delay tactics you mention. The sheer power of the stun crossbow has seen my doom more times than I like to consider, and the paranoia a good aggressive Spy causes in me is enough to make me cringe.

      It’s all about control, as you say, and I’m glad Ubisoft took the right approach.

  2. Great article, Xiant.

    One tip I would give is sometimes, when you’re the hacker, you don’t need to go for the kill. Two Mercs coming into the area you’re hiding? Sometimes using your cloak or staying hidden will be the best option. Many times they will pass right by you and leave to go check somewhere else. The moment you kill a Merc, they know a Spy is there. Patience, patience, patience.

    • I’ll probably share a story when I talk about the Blacklist mode properly, but if you know the other three Spies have your back, and you watch them take out Merc after Merc, getting those hack points is so much more rewarding, because it was a team effort, not a lone wolf assault.

      • On that note – I would be interested in the equip for both sides.
        Do the spies have their tazer back? Or did they give them this hello kitty bracelet from ‘Double Agent’ again?

        The items I used in ‘Chaos Theory’ were usually:
        Smoke Bomb, Noise Decoy (or whatever the balls it was called), and Cloak.
        For Mercs usually the good ol’ proximity mine and laser tag.

  3. I still put Chaos Theory in my list of all time greats and I greatly anticipated the release of blacklist. I don’t know if its because I was hoping for basically chaos theory with better graphics and smoother gameplay, but my crew of splinter cell devotees are pretty disappointed. The spy’s ability to be one-button lethal in so many different situations combined with the Merc’s relative helplessness at when comes down to melee really hurts the gameplay. Getting simply mowed down by a skillful spy carrying a machine gun is also something that throws the magical balance of a stealth-oriented game off kilter.

    That said, I am giving it a fair trial and have made it to about level 33 as far as time playing. I think that the hype about stealthy game play for the spy is just that. The maps are dark and the merc is really slow, so I have found my spy effectiveness increase as I shed the stealth conditioning of chaos theory and spend more time in full sprint. The mercs know where I am and I wish it mattered more. The most heart-racing time is when you are the hacker and have to be still, get some intel, and quietly move around. This happens as your co-spies are grabbing attention, lobbing gadgets, and ‘agro-ing’ as much as possible. And let’s face it, you will be discovered most of the time with 4 halfway decent mercs conducting a search through a relatively small areas.

    The ‘taze’ in Blacklist is the stun crossbow which can render the merc useless while giving you time to drop down off of something and then run over and kill the merc melee style. Furthermore, the merc’s charge from chaos theory is now reserved for those rare moments when you stumble upon an unwitting spy.

    There are some saving graces for the Merc’s in the gadgetry and equipment, but I do echo what I read in another review which is that the merc is mouse in this game of cat and mouse and not just for elite players.

    In the long list of combat-based teamplay games out there, splinter cell is one where the cool character (the spy) operated with wits rather than blood lust, and alot more subtelty. I think Ubi dialed up the spy a little too much in this offering making it more of a game of checkers than one of chess. I don’t know if it would be possible to tweak some things to level the playing field at bit, but the game will not hold my attention long without some adjustments.

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