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Covert Compromise: Splinter Cell Blacklist hands on

Friday, 12 July 2013 08:22 GMT By Dave Owen

Splinter Cell Blacklist developer Ubisoft Toronto is looking to offer something different amid a glut of similar shooters. Dave Owen goes hands on to see if it succeeds.

Splinter Cell Blacklist

Developed by Ubisoft Montreal, Splinter Cell Blacklist hits PC, PS3, Wii U and Xbox 360 from August 20 in North America and August 23 across Europe

Blacklist is billed as a return to the stealth roots of Ubisoft’s series. Here’s a clip of Sam being all stealthy to prove it.

The game also comes with a neat Spies Vs Mercs multiplayer mode. We’ve got footage of it running here.

There’s even co-op play with Sam and his pal Isaac. Check out this gameplay footage of them both in action.

The ‘white man with a gun’ protagonist in video games has come under heavy fire as we near the end of this console generation. This is a result of the wealth of near-identical shooters that have dominated the market in recent years.

Ubisoft Toronto is looking to distinguish the upcoming Splinter Cell: Blacklist – the sixth game in the series – by combining a return to its stealth roots with an accessible approach that they hope will win over casual shooter fans.

I went hands-on with the first three missions of the game to see if Sam Fisher can be more than just another white man with a gun. Early signs are not promising.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist opens with several large explosions. A British bad guy and his team invade a US military base and slaughter all soldiers on site before blowing it sky high. Sam Fisher’s helicopter is caught in the explosion and he crashes just outside the besieged compound. It’s a bombastic, if somewhat familiar opening that introduces a brief tutorial mission.

The good news first: stealth is back, and Sam is immediately ordered to stay out of sight in the shadows. The bad news is that a number of generic third-person shooter elements were equally as prominent; straight away there was convenient waist high cover in abundance.

The group behind the attack calls themselves The Engineers. We soon discover that this was the first in a series of attacks called the Blacklist. The Engineers will unleash one new attack against the US every single week until all American troops deployed overseas are withdrawn. In response the US government establishes The Fourth Echelon. Sam Fisher assumes command of the team dedicated to foiling the terrorist plot.

Sam’s new position sees some interesting additions to the series. The Fourth Echelon is gifted an airborne base called the Paladin that acts as a hub for the entire game. An interactive map (or Strategic Mission Interface) allows any game mode to be accessed at any time. So you can jump straight from a single player mission into co-op or multiplayer without exiting to another menu.

There’s an integrated social aspect too as friend activity is also displayed here. This seems unlikely to have a huge impact on the overall experience, but it certainly streamlines the interface. The Paladin can be customised too. I built an infirmary so that Sam would recover better when injured during a mission. Other options included an improved holding cell and a weapons development lab.

This focus on customisation extends into all elements of the game. The first full campaign mission takes Sam to Benghazi to infiltrate a militia stronghold and retrieve a hostage. Your loadout can be altered before launch with a huge array of kit.

Smoke grenades can be swapped out for sleep or tear gas. A sticky camera can make way for an EMP or surveillance drone. The visual options of Sam’s iconic goggles would make a Predator jealous. New kit is unlocked by currency earned in-game through successful takedowns, evasions, etc. It’s a deep system that supports, incentivises, and rewards individual play styles.

The majority of kit is geared toward stealth. The light meter of previous games has been replaced by the neat visual marker of a light flare on Sam’s gear when he’s sufficiently bathed in shadow. Success often relied on a careful and considered approach. The wealth of tools at my disposal presented several ways to remain undetected.

I could engage aggressively but quietly with silenced weapons and lethal takedowns from cover, or use noisemakers and smoke grenades to distract guards and leave them alive. In open combat it only takes a few shots to down Sam, so stealth was usually the best option. Lights can be switched off, bodies hidden, and walls and ledges thoroughly traversed. In many ways, it felt like a classic Splinter Cell experience.

Tactical Espionage… Action?

Unfortunately this was frequently undermined by prevalent heavy-handed action elements. These opening missions were heavily checkpointed, the next objective marker never more than 50 metres ahead. This often made the missions feel frustratingly restrictive. Although each area contained multiple routes, the strict checkpoints made exploration feel arbitrary.

Environments felt as if they had been divided into arenas, each filled with all-too-convenient waist high cover. This often stymied my stealth options. I had all these gadgets at my disposal, but little opportunity to use them creatively.

Another action ability that felt unwelcome was Execution. This allows you to designate targets and press a button to dispatch them automatically. It worked better here than in, say, Hitman Absolution, as targets are designated in real time and had to be in close range, which encouraged more strategic deployment. But it still felt at odds with the stealth, offering a get-out-of-jail-free card for difficult situations.

It was genuinely startling how many shooter clichés were packed into two missions. The Benghazi mission ended as an escort-the-hostage affair and forced me into direct combat against waves of enemies. The second full mission, an infiltration of a militia base in Iraq, opened with sniping enemies from a helicopter in a sequence that could have been snatched wholesale from a Call of Duty campaign but for the clumsily tacked-on stealth element.

If I alerted a guard the mission was failed. The same mission went on to present generic torture scenes and ended with a mad dash through the fire and falling rubble of a collapsing building. Frankly, it could have been a mission from any shooter released in the last three years.

This mission also introduced player choice in the form of moral decisions. Upon pinning a particular foe to the wall I was given the option to shoot or spare him. My decision seemed ultimately meaningless, as he ended up dead either way. It’ll be interesting to see if this is developed further over the course of the campaign. There’s certainly room for it within the central theme of terrorism and overseas conflict.

Any serious commentary seems unlikely. Everything I saw was delivered with a near-cringe worthy earnestness. Generic military teammates spouted acronyms while a sarcastic hacker sidekick said things like “Hold on, just putting the finishing touches of awesome to this puppy!”

It was all tied with a bow of pro-American sentiment that made me feel uneasy about how many dark-skinned foes I graphically slaughtered in Libya and Iraq respectively.

Multiplayer

Although sound issues and a crashed Xbox 360 limited my experience of the multiplayer, it seemed free of the campaign’s problems. There might be real reason to celebrate the return of the Spies vs. Mercenaries game mode.

We played ‘Blacklist’ mode, which featured teams of 4 four and customisable loadouts (the other option is ‘Classic’, where teams are limited to pairs with predetermined kit only). Spies use stealth and cunning to hack terminals, while Mercenaries assume a first-person viewpoint to stop them.

Customisation here was just as extensive as the campaign, with so much kit to unlock that players are bound to return time and again. This went a long way to encourage different play styles. Spies have severely limited offensive options, meaning their gear must be carefully chosen.

As a Spy I died numerous times from running too hastily into a firefight. Before my console crashed it was clear that multiplayer puts a strong focus on strategy that made playing on either side genuinely tense and competitive, and could offer a refreshing take on online multiplayer shooting.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist might prove to be divisive amongst fans of the series. On this evidence, Ubisoft Toronto’s attempts to give the game a broader appeal might undermine what made the series so popular in the first place. It remains to be seen if the seemingly disparate stealth and action features will begin to mesh as the game goes on. So far, Blacklist feels competent but compromised.

Disclosure: Dave played the first three missions of the Xbox 360 version of Splinter Cell: Blacklist at a press event in London organised by Ubisoft. Catering was offered but not accepted.

Splinter Cell Blacklist hits PC, PS3, Wii U and Xbox 360 from August 20 across North America and August 23 across Europe.

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13 Comments

  1. Metroid455

    ugh this is what I didn’t want from the sounds of it, too much action and not enough stealth/over simplified stealth mechanics -__-
    going to download the demo first and see for myself, Perhaps asking for a proper Splinter Cell game is too much to ask for nowadays.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Ekona

    Sounds like more of the same as SCC.

    Which, for me, is perfect and exactly what I was after. Really looking forward to this now :)

    #2 2 years ago
  3. actuallyisnotafox

    @1 looking at the trailer it seems all action, theres never a light hearted moment, which if you played the original splinter cells there was the odd jokes, there was wistling in a steam room and one guy thinking it was his friend hitting on him, or sam saying “looks like you didnt shave this morning” its small but its adds a sense of humanity to the character rather than just being an all out manly man (in my opinion :p).

    EDIT: basically this could be the next hitman, the way people saw blood money to absolution (i guess?)

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Belmont

    I think things like Paladin being upgrabale, that SMI, choosing load out before missions and stuff like that is good. I also didn’t have that much of a problem with the action in Conviction, I don’t know whether it has more of it here. But the tone and the story can be a problem.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. xxJPRACERxx

    In the intro it’s written “Ubisoft Toronto” but in the right table it’s “Ubisoft Montreal”.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Dave Owen

    @5

    Ha, sorry about that. It’s actually a joint effort between both studios!

    #6 2 years ago
  7. bpcgos

    @3 Totally agree with that.

    @Ekona

    Have you ever been playing the first SC trilogy??
    If not, than you definitely should try it, and not just play it but feel it. :D
    Its totally different from todays 2nd SC trilogy where you feels very restricted due to have walking in a straight path ahead without a chance to looking back.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. Deadpoolfan

    Does Dave know that Execution was in Splinter Cell Conviction? Has he even played it? Not being sarcastic it’s just that he first compared it to Hitman Absolution instead of SCC which (I could be wrong) was the first game to use it in the way it’s used in modern TPS.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Ekona

    @7 I did play the original on the PC many moons ago, but felt the stealth side of things was just too strict for my taste. I’m not the greatest gamer in the world by any means, and so I prefer things that are a little more accessible which is certainly what SCC was.

    If I got something wrong there when trying to sneak, I could just shoot my way out of it, not have to restart and try again completely. I find that quite frustrating in games: As an example, I gave up on The Last Of Us last week after 30% as it was just too hard. And that was on Easy!

    I can understand why fans of the early games aren’t keen, but if SCC sold more (and I’m assuming it did, if they made another one in the same style) then I can see why they’d stick to it, and I for one am glad.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. mreko3230

    “If I alerted a guard the mission was failed.”

    Ugh…

    #10 2 years ago
  11. karma

    I used to enjoy the Splinter Cell games, up until Double Agent anyway. Back before devs designed their games based off focus test opinions and broad audience appeal. So this is another game i’ll be knocking off my wish list by the sound of it.

    Linear scripted design and autonomic gameplay mechanics may look cool, but they offer zero interactivity and engagement for the player.

    I want simulated worlds with dynamic A.I. and deep interactive gameplay.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. Bomba Luigi

    I still play Splinter Cell 1-3 now and then, I Love these Games. And it can even Happen that I replay Double Agent from Time to Time. But after that… Conviction wasn’t really a Splinter Cell, not a bad Game, but not what I want from a SC. And Blacklist, well I will not even Buy it. I prefer to enjoy the old Titels again.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. manamana

    Splinter Cell is dead long time ago. Ubisoft totally lost it. Also with Ghost Recon, they have managed to fuck a good series up. Tom Clancy’s name stood for agents, espionage and political thriller games but that’s a long time ago. Nowadays everything is streamlined to appeal to the masses, interactivity reduced to a minimum, lacking fun and the nice touches #3 was talking about.

    The Division looks too good to be true.

    #13 2 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    A teaser video for the second episode of Resident Evil Revelations 2 is available, so if you’ve yet to play the first episode, you may want to skip this. Resident Evil Revelations 2′s first episode is out now. Thanks, GamesHQMedia.

  • North American eShop update is full of Donkey Kong games

    Nintendo has updated the North American end of the eShop with Titan Attacks, Donkey Kong Land, Donkey Kong Country and more. eShop on 3DS Ironfall Invasion Titan Attacks! Donkey Kong Land – Virtual Console Donkey Kong Land 2 – Virtual Console Donkey Kong Land 3 – Virtual Console Luv Me Buddies Wonderland Around the World […]

  • Venture into the Valley of the Yetis next week in Far Cry 4

    The next batch of Far Cry 4 DLC, Valley of the Yetis, releases in March and Ajay Ghale will be tasked with surviving violent cultists and the mythical Yeti. Apparently the cult is looking for a secret hidden in the valley, and Ajay has discovered their motives. The DLC features co-op with a friend taking […]

  • The Butcher’s AK/CAR Mod Pack out for Payday 2, has dino masks

    The 19th DLC pack for Payday 2 title The Butcher’s AK/CAR Mod Pack is available on Steam from today. The pack will run you $4.99/€4.99 and features: 11 new weapon modifications for the AK rifles in the game 11 new weapon modifications for the CAR rifles in the game Four new masks together with their […]

  • Battle Chasers slated for PC, consoles; comic picks up where 2001 storyline left off

    Darksiders creator Joe Madureira and Vigil co-founder Ryan Stefanelli have confirmed a Battle Chasers game and a new comic are in the works at their new studio Airship Syndicate. Speaking to Polygon, Madureira and Stefanelli wouldn’t provide details on the the game, but did divulge it will be an adventure RPG with player-controlled Battle Chasers […]

  • Shovel Knight, Hotline Miami 2 discounted for Sony’s annual Spring Fever Sale

    Sony is hosting its annual Spring Fever Sale which runs for eight weeks and features a new title each week. The sale starts next week on March 3 with the launch of Helldivers. Here’s just a few items included in the sale: HELLDIVERS (PS4/PS3/PS Vita) March 3 Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (PS4/PS3/PS Vita) March […]

  • The gold Super Mario amiibo is a Walmart exclusive

    The Super Mario Gold amiibo which surfaced via a CPSIA certificate earlier this month will be a Walmart-exclusive, Nintendo has announced. The gold-colored Mario amiibo will be released the same day as the Mario Party 10 game for Wii U and will run you $12,96 at 3,000 participating Walmart stores in the US. Along with […]

  • Here’s an overview trailer for Final Fantasy Type-0 HD

    As new gameplay overview trailer for Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, culled from the Active Time Report, stream has been sent over by Square Enix. The video provides a look at the history and environments of the Kingdom of Orience; the 14 memebers of Class Zero; the battle system with customizable magic spells; and the ability […]

  • Final Fantasy 15 video gives you a look at the game’s wildlife

    A new video shown by Final Fantasy 15 director Hajime Tabata during the latest Active Time Report, contains a look at the game’s wildlife and ecology. You can watch the full stream two hour stream through here, or a smaller clip courtesy of GamesHQMedia below.

  • Lionhead ventures into the free-to-play space with Fable Legends

    Fable Legends will be free-to-play when it launches on PC and Xbox One. According to Lionhead, the one versus four cross-platform title borrows from MOBA games such as Dota 2 and League of Legends as it will contain free, rotating heroes which will be added to a roster for a two week period. Once the […]

  • Win! 5 pairs of tickets to the Call of Duty European Championships

    We have five pairs of tickets to giveaway for the Call of Duty European Championships, taking place in London this weekend. The event takes place this Saturday February 28 and Sunday March 1 at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Winners can watch teams will go head to head for a $10,000 prize pot […]

  • Republique Remastered has released on Mac and PC

    Republique Remastered, which was announced earlier this month, is now available for Mac and PC. The game is 20% off through Steam, GOG and the Humble Store for $19.99 until March 4. Thereafter, it will run you $24.99. The Remastered edition contains all five episodes of the game, with 1-3 available now and the remaining […]

  • LA Cops coming to Xbox One in March

    Isometric shooter LA Cops is coming to Xbox One on March 13. Already on Steam Early Access, the game looks like it’s been heavily inspired by Hotline Miami. Walk into a room, open fire, leave bloody puddles in your wake. It’s being published by Team 17. Check out the video below for some 70s cop […]

  • We have $500 of Steam Wallet funds to giveaway!

    We’re giving away 10 Steam Wallet prizes worth $50 each to VG247 readers, courtesy of Bundle Stars. All you need to do to be in with a chance of winning $50 Steam credit is to enter your details below. Join the Bundle Stars Steam group for entry in the sweepstake, and gain extra entries for […]

  • Lapsed Final Fantasy 14 players tempted back with 10 day freebie

    Square is offering lapsed FF 14: A Realm Reborn players a chance to come back to the game for 10 days worth of free adventuring. Provided you’ve already bought and registered an account you’ll be able to play free of charge from Feb 27 to March 9. Square wants you to sample the new content […]

  • Advanced Warfare: Sledgehammer looking at “opportunities” to recreate classic Call of Duty maps

    Sledgehammer Games has told VG247 it’s looking at opportunities to recreate classic Call of Duty maps in Advanced Warfare. According to co-founder Michael Condrey, players of the latest Havoc DLC are asking how Exo abilities and verticality can be added to classic franchise maps. “We’re taking a look at some opportunities to really highlight the […]

  • GTA Online reader playlist week 7: and the winner is…

    Stuff was shot. But only one player emerged victorious. GTA Online player e031271 won last night’s VG247 reader playlist, beating myself, Matt and regulars solidorwot and Revolting. Congratulations, Mr e031271. A deserved victory. We play a GTA Online playlist in an open session every Wednesday on PS4, because it’s both funny and fun. Anyone’s welcome […]

  • Leaked screens reveal The Reef as Destiny’s new “social space”

    A handful of leaked Destiny screens seem to confirm that The Reef location will be the new social space in Destiny. The new addition is likely to be revealed as part of the upcoming House of Wolves expansion. Reddit user Megamanexe4 dropped the screens on the site earlier this morning, along with grabs that reveal […]

  • Darksiders creator teases Battle Chasers game

    Joe Madureira, creator of Darksiders, has released art that strongly suggests a Battle Chasers game is in the works. Battle Chasers was a comic book from the late 1990s that suffered notorious production problems between issues and was never finished. Madureira formed Airship Syndicate after the collapse of THQ, where he co-created Darksiders. His latest […]

  • Infamous video nasty Axe recreated in GTA 5

    The trailer for notorious horror movie Axe has been recreated in GTA 5. The shot for shot remake is the work of gigerbrick who has previously recreated exploitation flicks like Machete and Hostel using Lego. The original Axe movie was banned in 1984 in the UK but passed with cuts in the late 1990s. Movie […]

  • Payday 2 for PS4 and Xbox One includes “a year’s worth of paid DLC” for free

    Payday 2: Crimewave Edition will include a year’s worth of paid DLC from the PC version of the game for free. The new-gen version of the game will be available June 2015, and includes almost all of the paid and free DLC released so far for Overkill’s popular first-person shooter. That DLC includes The Big […]

  • Yes, Mortal Kombat X will require Xbox Live Gold or PS Plus

    Mortal Kombat X won’t bypass Microsoft and Sony’s premium online play requirements. Reports that Mortal Kombat X wouldn’t require PS Plus or Xbox Live Gold started circling earlier this week thanks to a communications error. Answering fan questions on Twitter, producer Shaun Himmerick accidentally gave the impression that premium console subs would not be required […]

  • This is what Destiny players most want next

    Destiny patch 1.1.1 has resolved or at least addressed a number of complaints voiced by the community, but there are plenty more. des Destiny community manage David “Deej” Dague has put out a call for Guardians to share their concerns – or rather, what they think the community is most concerned about. “Set aside your […]

  • Google AI can play games now, so we’re probably all going to die

    Google has brought us one step closer to our inevitable slaughter or enslavement by machine overlords. Google has developed an AI that can learn to play video games and devise brand new strategies. Let me just rephrase that: Google has created an AI that can teach itself new skills, including how to play video games. […]

  • First footage of Renowned Explorers: International Society surfaces

    Renowned Explorers: International Society is a turn-based strategy game from the team behind Reus, and it looks great. Renowned Explorers was announced almost a full year ago, but has been pretty quiet since then. Developer Abbey games has now announced that the game has hit alpha, and will be open to select testers soon. You […]

  • Cities: Skylines developer commits to mod support

    Cities: Skylines will fully support the modding community. Hailing from famously mod-friendly publisher Paradox, Cities: Skylines is a no-brainer for mod support – especially as a lack of mod support is one of the things SimCity was so heavily criticised for when it firts launched. In the developer diary below, Paradox’s Jakob Munthe is joined […]

  • Nosgoth update adds Vanguard, many fixes

    Nosgoth, the free-to-play multiplayer brawler set in the Legacy of Kain universe, has been given a significant makeover. The major feature of the latest Nosogth game update is a new playable human character called the Vanguard. “Equipped with mighty throwing axes and a shield, the Vanguard can take more punishment than any human class that […]

  • Xbox Live Gold 12 month sub $40 on Microsoft store

    Microsoft is offering $20 off 12 month Xbox Live Gold subscriptions at the moment. An Xbox Live Gold 12 month subscription will normally set you back $60, but a Microsoft Store promotion has it on offer for $40. The offer is restricted to the US store. Although you can opt to grab your sub as […]

  • Tomb Raider movie script to be penned by TMNT writer

    Tomb Raider will be Evan Daugherty’s second reboot of an established universe. The Tomb Raider movie reboot has signed on a writer and a distributor. Deadline reports Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Divergent, Snow White And The Huntsman and G.I. Joe 3 writer Daugherty will write the film. Additionally, Warner Bros. has signed on to distribute, […]

  • Shelter 2 pre-orders open, launch trailer debuts early

    Shelter 2 is a game in which you are a mother lynx and must protect a den of kittens. Yes, it’s delightful. Shelter 2 is coming to Mac and PC on March 9. Pre-orders are now available on Steam at 10% off or on GOG.com with a free skin and soundtrack, or 20% off if […]

  • That Batman: Arkham Knight trailer is full of codes

    Batman: Arkham Knight’s trailer is like a Transformer – there’s more than meets the eye. The new Batman: Arkham Knight trailer contains a number of codes. Eagle-eyed users have spotted four so far, and work on cracking their meaning is progressing. According to an /r/games thread rounding up results so far, the codes pertain to […]

  • Assassin’s Creed haystacks won’t save you from a fall

    Assassin’s Creed fans, don’t try this at home. Assassin’s Creed characters can survive falls of almost any distance as long as they aim for the haystacks scattered handily throughout the environment. As you probably deduced from your familiarity with common sense, this isn’t a real thing: falling from heights kills you, the same way a […]

  • Why are people buying PS4 and not Xbox One?

    PS4 is outselling Xbox One – but why? A new report may have the answer. Last month, the PS4 outsold the Xbox One in the US again, returning it to the top of the charts after just two months away. Why? What has caused this reversal in fortunes in Microsoft’s home territory? According to a […]

  • Toejam and Earl are back with a new Kickstarter

    The early 90′s are alive and well in a new bid to bring back Toejam and Earl. Toejam and Earl released for Mega Drive (Genesis, Americans) in 1991, and the eponymous characters went on to count among Sega’s best-known characters. They appeared in a platformer, a light gun shooter and finally a 2002 Xbox game […]

  • New Wander trailer shows off Azertash form

    Wander is a collaborative, non-combat MMO in which you can take on a number of unique forms. Wander players begin as an ambulant tree called an Oren and can progress through several different bodies as they explore the environment, learning its secrets. One of these, which we’d not seen before this trailer, is the amphibious […]

  • SOMA approaching beta phase on PC and PS4

    SOMA, the new horror game from the Amnesia: The Dark Descent crew, is getting close to playable. Frictional Games has apologised for its recent silence over the project, but said it’s focused on reaching beta. Sorry all for the silence! We're closing in on Beta and everyone's working hard to get there. Once that's done, […]

  • Square Enix does not condone Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest HD Remaster

    Square Enix has said it’s not involved with a fan remake of Final Fantasy spin-off Mystic Quest. 1992 SNES game Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest is being remade by Dark Design as Mystic Quest HD Remaster. The developer is even taking pre-orders for the project. Unfortunately, it looks like it is in no position to be […]

  • New Hunger teaser released by LittleBigPlanet Vita co-developers

    LittleBigPlanet Vita co-developers Tarsier Studios have released a teaser trailer for Hunger, which was announced in May 2014 at the Nordic Game Conference. The game has been rumored to be the firm’s unannounced Sony project since 2010. Platforms are still to be announced, but the studio became a first-party SCE developer a few years back, […]

  • Here’s two Mario Party 10 overview videos, one featuring amiibo

    Overview videos for Mario Party 10 and the amiibo which work with the title have been released by Nintendo Japan. Obviously each one is in Japanese, but you get the gist all the same. Mario Party 10 releases on Wii U March 20 in North America and Europe. Thanks, AGB.