Spectre developers Jordan Crawford and Fred Toms first met while working at a restaurant together in their teenage years. They bonded quickly over video games – and one game in particular: Splinter Cell. The duo would make Splinter Cell jokes to other employees and introduce themselves to restaurant guests as ‘Sam Fisher’.” After decades as friends and a COVID-induced separation, the two veteran developers, who have each worked in the industry separately, decided to form Symbiosis Games together, “a nod to our symbiotic relationship,” Toms said. “Jordan is a very artistic and visual person, while I am absolutely the opposite of that.”
Their minds kept coming back to Splinter Cell, a beloved franchise that, outside of a few Fisher cameos in other Ubisoft titles, has laid dormant since 2013’s Splinter Cell Blacklist. “We thought, ‘What better way to introduce Symbiosis Games to the world with a game that features deep-seeded teamwork and partnership, heavily inspired by the glory days of our favourite franchise?’” Toms told IGN. And so Spectre was born.
It is a multiplayer game, for now (more on that later) – a spiritual rebirth of Spies vs. Mercs, since Ubisoft has shown no interest in making it themselves. As a fellow Splinter Cell die-hard, I was eager to learn more about the pair’s ambitious project. I had to start by asking a key question: Which version of Spies vs. Mercs is their favorite? Pandora Tomorrow, Chaos Theory, or Blacklist? “Jordan and I strongly agree here,” Toms began. “It’s Chaos Theory. The level design, particularly Aquarius, was outstanding. We both feel like Blacklist steered the Spies Vs Mercs genre, if you can call it a genre, away from what made it really special. When you were a spy in Chaos Theory, stealth was exhilarating. Watching an unsuspecting Mercenary from afar and surreptitiously planning your next move was thrilling. I feel like Blacklist took some of that magic away by making the spies a lot deadlier and making the gameplay a lot faster. I feel like it removed some of that classic, slower-paced, nail-biting experience that stealth games used to offer. We aim to have that feeling return in Spectre.”
The multiplayer gaming landscape has changed a lot since Spies vs. Mercs’s heyday, so what, I was curious, makes Symbiosis optimistic that Spectre will find a dedicated audience and that the project will be successful? “A huge benefit we have is that we are a very small team,” Toms said. “Symbiosis Games is Jordan and I, two guys, although we do have a small team of contractors who work with us. But success for us means that if we are supported by that small pool of SvM-loving, devoted fans, then we’ve arrived at success. Our very lean, indie approach to Spectre means that we don’t need to experience AAA sales like the bigger companies do.”
“Hardware and software advancements aside,” Crawford answered, “I think one massive benefit that we’ve seen has been the community involvement and support. From the get go, we were able to tap into a wealth of SvM experience via our Discord community members who have been waiting around for a very long time, and who have a lot of valuable input.
“Another benefit that will work in our favour is post-launch support. With technology today, it’s just a lot easier to deploy.”
Symbiosis says its current plan is to include three maps, two training missions (one per side – which, by the way, are referred to as Spectres and Reapers here in place of Spies and Mercenaries), and two modes. Expect seven gadgets per side along with a progression system and an ability system of sorts called “Edges” that give extra, seemingly temporary, perks. And teammates can combine their Edges for greater effect. For example, the guys told me, “one of our Edges is ‘Ohm’s Naw’. It’s an Edge deployed by the Reapers that reduces the amount of time they spend in a shocked state.
In trying to bring Spies vs. Mercs back successfully, Toms says he and Crawford have had to be careful about clinging too closely to the past. “A lot of our fans remember Chaos Theory with rose tinted glasses,” he said. “It’s an incredible game, even to this day, but we couldn’t release that today. The entire experience needed a huge overhaul to bring it up to modern day standards. This approach has been infused into every aspect of Spectre. We do, however, wear our inspirations very much on our sleeves.”
While Symbiosis plans a PC release by the end of the year, the team called Spectre “a perfect fit for PC and Xbox,” and added, “We very much hope to see Spectre on the Xbox Series X, hopefully as a Game Pass offering. We think that the Xbox Game Pass service is exceptional. With a bit of luck and some hard work, we’re hoping to release to both platforms simultaneously. We also can’t wait to see Spectre on the new Steam Deck!”
Toms and Crawford also fully intend to react to their community once the game is out, and they’re planning plenty more post-launch content. “Truly, we’re hoping that SPECTRE’s release just begins to scratch the surface of what it eventually becomes,” they said.
I couldn’t help but conclude by asking about the other Sam Fisher-sized elephant in the room: a single-player campaign. “We have discussed this!” Toms told me. “If Spectre takes off, we would be absolutely thrilled to offer single-player content. We’re not sure what that would look like quite yet, but the notion is really exciting.”
If you’re interested in Spectre, you can wishlist it on Steam.
Ryan McCaffrey is IGN’s executive editor of previews and host of both IGN’s weekly Xbox show, Podcast Unlocked, as well as our monthly(-ish) interview show, IGN Unfiltered. He’s a North Jersey guy, so it’s “Taylor ham,” not “pork roll.” Debate it with him on Twitter at @DMC_Ryan.