Your heart slows. Echolocation reveals two figures heading in from the north entrance. You hang off a ledge, obscured by some scaffolding and office furniture. One moves forward, heading for the objective: a briefcase. The other hugs the wall and moves towards up the stairs, keeping his eyes forward in case something darts out into the open. Echolocation gives you unparalleled tactical awareness of your surroundings but neglects information on how dark and hidden you are. You hold you breath as the man steps into the elevated room and out the window at the briefcase, not noticing you at all as you hang helplessly from the ledge. You wait for the perfect moment. He continues to walk towards the stairs, strafing, until finally at the last moment, he turns to his left and faces the stairs.
You jump forward and in a moment in time that feels like hours, you race into him and bring your knife across his jugular. The kill is satisfying but the joy is fleeting. As soon as the other notice his death, they will know. You head back to your hiding place, hidden among the metal foliage. They will keep coming and they know you're somewhere. But can they find you before your knife finds them?
That moment was the game where things just clicked for me in Splinter Cell: Blacklist's Spies Vs Mercs. No small in part thanks to SuperMonk4Ever imparting his TDM sensibilities, but there's a lot more to Spies Vs Mercs than the fundamental differences between the two like the spies' spatial awareness and the merc's sheer firepower. Most of the high learning curve comes from learning how to be a good spy since mercs simply need to keep their head on a swivel and unload all their bullets into anything that moves. And learning how to be a good spy is important in all modes besides TDM because it always involves the sides switching so you're gonna play as a spy at some point.
Playing as a spy against live humans playing as mercs is just so satisfying. It is impossible to think of fighting mercs as a spy as a simple matter since spies have so little health and have such crappy guns (SMGs are only good up to medium range. Merc rifles and shotguns are generally dangerous at any range). You're gonna have to earn your assassination attempts because even if one is a slam dunk, paranoid mercs will always use the buddy system to avenge the other. But the different goggles you can use with the different suit abilities and secondary gadgets (sticky cameras? More like sticky bombs) give a truly unique cat and mouse element to spies vs mercs. The question is, who is the cat and who is the mouse?
While the merc presets are sufficient to get you going (because any merc gun is fine and any merc tool is good), you're gonna need at least 10 levels worth of unlock tokens to make a good spy loadout because I feel the preset spy classes are too stiff or ill designed. I mean, the predator preset has the digital ghillie suit (cloak) and a stun crossbow which can guarantee a melee kill. But the silenced boots are a questionable choice and it's wearing the gas mask. No one uses the VX gas grenades so far in my experience. Maybe they do in Uplink or something but Predator wastes the headgear slot on a gas mask where it could have UAV blocker or RFD blocker. Meanwhile, everyone is using UAV blocker and I can't go 10 seconds without hearing the blocked sound effect that someone is wearing it to counter my drone or intel device.
Meanwhile, my custom cloak spy is made to be aggressive. EMF goggles provide real-time wall hacks up to medium range while the RFD blocker means I can use it with reckless abandon without worrying about mercs detecting my goggle usage. Sprinting boots make me faster and takedown gloves extend my melee reach. Together with cloak and a stun crossbow, I can aggressively circle hotspots with my goggles to steer clear of trouble and choose when I want to dip in and stab from merc necks. With a planned purchase of gadget pants, I can carry both flashbangs and smoke grenades to continue aggressive tactics with aggressive support tools.
Maybe it's unfortunate I don't feel the same flexibility or creativity with the merc options. I can still choose if I want a motion detector, RFD, or ATS (directionally detecting loud noises) but the rest of the choices are mostly "how do you want to counter the spy customizations?" But that's ok because it's also satisfying to blow a charging spy right of his socks with a shotgun blast.