Some hands-on from a guy who played it in Toronto:
I was lucky enough to visit the Ubisoft Toronto studio yesterday and get a hands-on with the game. Apart from every mode (SP, COOP, SVM) being fantastic, the new Spy Versus Merc is just a level above everything I've experienced in recent years.
They have delivered on the true SvM experience. BIG TIME. The game is a work of genius. They have taken all of the major problems faced in the old SvM and designed them out of the game.
Hands down, this game is amazing and will keep any SvM fan occupied for years to come.
Yes, it is much easier to kill a merc in close combat. It's possible to kill a merc with a melee attack from any angle in both modes, but spies are not overpowered. The game is already pretty well balanced from what I experienced and the team are still working hard to tweak it.
Spies are extremely fragile and very easy to kill. As a merc, you will be very rarely killed from the front if you know the spy is there. Of course, if you are ambushed from the front you will die, which is fair enough IMO.
I am all about the classic mode. The tension, the fear, the strategy, the rush....it's all there.
Blacklist mode is far more frantic and I will say that it is a worthy experience which I will play a lot, but classic mode is SvM 2.0
One of the most exciting parts of my play-day was catching a group of 3 mercs unaware in the Blacklist mode, as they were searching for my team-mate, and chain killing the three of them with my knife. The animations are so fluid & fantastic that I felt like a stealthy whirlwind of fury running through them and just slicing them up. It was an amazing moment. You may think that it's overpowering, but the risk involved in approaching a merc is so high, that you would be foolish to try and take them out.
The pay off for killing the merc is also reduced gameplay wise, because both teams have infinite lives.
We had some discussion on here about lives for each team already, where I said infinite lives for mercs was a problem, but the way that infinite respawns for BOTH teams affects the game balance is tremendous.
Specifically, it means the increased lethality of spies in CQC is not such a big deal, and the problem with "aggro spies" & spawn killing simply disappear. I'll tell you why in a minute...but first you need to understand the way the game is designed before I can tell you why the problems disappear.
Each level has 3 objectives (A,B & C) that must ALL be hacked to win the round. There is a running score kept of the number of objectives that are hacked. They also score you for % of an objective that is hacked - meaning you can score 2 objectives 100% (full hack) and another objective 56% before the round switches. The opposing team must now score 2x100% objectives and the last one must be hacked past 57% to win.
Once a spy hacks an objective he becomes "the hacker". The area is immediately cordoned off with lasers to define the boundaries of the objective area. No other objectives can now be hacked. This objective becomes "the hot zone" and the hacker must now stay within the confines of this area for 90 seconds while the objective counts up to 100%. Distance from the objective does NOT affect the rate of progression. Essentially the spy must stay hidden in this area while the mercs hunt him down. If he is spotted, the chances of dying are extremely high.
To stop the hack, the mercs must track down the hacker and kill him. Once he has been killed, the progression % freezes as a counter of 20 seconds starts. If the spy's teammate can re-initiate the hack within those 20 seconds, he becomes the hacker and the objective continues from that progression %. If he doesn't, the counter is reset to 0%.
Since spies have to hold the area for 90 seconds, you might think that killing the merc is a good way to achieve this. This is not the case because the merc's respawn counter is only 10 seconds and he generally spawns right outside the objective area. Constantly being able to respawn over and over means the mercs have to be killed 3-4 times before the objective reaches 100%. Spies are not going to be able to survive 3-4 engagements with the merc.
The only way to win is to hack the objective. The best strategy is hack, hide & evade. Kills can certainly help, but engage the mercs is so dangerous that it's best to just stay out of sight. If done effectively, it's very hard to counter.