During a preview session, where I was able to sample the first handful of Splinter Cell: Blacklist missions from the final game, I found myself fascinated with this new team. Fourth Echelon is composed of people who don't necessarily trust Sam's judgment, and don't have a problem vocalizing their criticism.
"He's not a natural manager," Ubisoft Toronto game director Patrick Redding tells me following a few hours with the campaign. "He doesn't come ready-made to inspire individuals to act. He's kind of a grumpy, anti-social dude in a lot of ways. The other part of that is he's teamed up with a bunch of people who think they know better."
These are individuals hand-picked for their expertise. Isaac Briggs is a former CIA spy and the closest to mirroring Sam's specific skillset. Series regular Anna Grimsdottir returns as Fourth Echelon's tech officer but, despite her familiarity and history with Sam, she's the most outwardly pugnacious over Sam's choices. Rounding out the group is Charlie Cole, a boastful dude who plays the role of team hacker, and pilot Victor Coste, an old war buddy of Sam's who served as narrator in Splinter Cell: Conviction.
"The idea was always to start out with a mix of characters who weren't naturally friendly to each other," Redding said. "You're going to see some frayed personalities. I mean, that's good conflict, right?" While I can't truly answer that question after only playing for a few hours, I can say that it presented Sam in a new light – stubborn, sure and instinctual, rather than the tactical instrument he's been portrayed as in the past.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist launches for the PC, Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii U on August 20.