Review by Internet Nomad
"A game that flirts with greatness"
Stealth action redefined. Splinter Cell's subtitle may come off as cheesy, but it speaks the truth. Splinter Cell takes tip-toeing and wall-sliding in videogames to new heights, making Solid Snake's adventures seem like bumbling elephant stampedes. Splinter Cell's that quiet. But does this make for an engaging game? The answer is a resounding yes. Splinter Cell carves a place for itself in the world of video games, not as a cheap Metal Gear Solid rip-off, but as an entirely fresh experience that delves deeper than any game has dared to go into the world of espionage.
You are Agent Sam Fisher, member of Third Echelon. You are a Splinter Cell, a master in the art of covert operations, and your mission is to gather as much information as possible for the United States government without tipping off too many enemies. If you fail and are captured, the U.S. will gain a rather unfortunate case of amnesia and forget your existence. You're all alone on these missions, and the less people that see you, the better.
Splinter Cell's plot involves a nasty love triangle between Georgia, the United States, and China (minus the love). The storyline becomes somewhat hard to follow deep into the game, as numerous foreign names will likely become jumbled in your head. I won't divulge too much, but like most games grounded in realism these days, you're out there to kick terrorist booty.
Stealth is the name of the game in Splinter Cell. Sam Fisher isn't armed to the teeth in machine guns and rocket launchers. His arsenal depicts what a normal man could realistically carry on him at one time. This being the case, you can't blow through the levels blowing off the limbs and craniums of your enemies. You'll find yourself dead in a heartbeat playing with that sort of style. Instead, your goal will usually be to avoid the kill, and instead knock the guard out, or even better, sneak past him unnoticed (sorry ladies, those sexist bastards at Ubi Soft included no female enemies). It's rare to see a game with large weaponry deter the player from killing enemies, but Splinter Cell does just that, and it makes for quite a different (and more compelling) experience for most of the flashy gun-toting games of today (read: Enter the Matrix).
Splinter Cell strives for realism, and it reaches its goal to a certain extent. Unconscious bodies (or corpses, as the case may be) can't be left lying in well-lit hallways for other guards to find. You must obscure these bodies in darkness, using the shadows to your advantage. Shadows are the most critical part of Splinter Cell's gameplay. You'll find yourself constantly lurking in them, bright light becoming so heinous to the eye, you may begin to think Fisher is a vampire. Not only are shadows used to hide bodies, but they make for the best hiding places as you wait to attack your next guard. When veiled in complete darkness, a guard inches away will fail to notice you, giving you ample opportunity to give said guard a devastating blow to the skull. These make for extremely tense moments. Waiting minutes on end for a guard to get in the perfect, most vulnerable position, or slinking quietly behind an unknowing guard and nailing him in the head just as he turns around to greet you, never loses its flair. Splinter Cell's extremely slow-paced gameplay has some sort of magic about it that never becomes boring or monotonous.
That is, until you have to replay the same areas. Splinter Cell offers a fair challenge, and Fisher doesn't have the largest health reserves, so you're bound to die numerous times. When replaying the same areas, the guards that were imposing and dangerous moments ago are now lame push-overs since you'll know their exact movements. Having to go through these easy guards once again to return to the difficult point where your death occurred is acceptable, but still incredibly annoying, as Splinter Cell's guards, if not provoked, move in the same exact pattern each time. While it's generally not enjoyable to replay the same areas right after dying in video games, the enjoyment I received from Splinter Cell dropped incredibly sharply in such instances. That's one thing that really works against Splinter Cell. Everything, while enjoyable, has a ''Glad THAT'S over'' feel to it. You don't want to do ANY of it again, at least not immediately.
Splinter Cell looked incredible on the Xbox, and the transition to GameCube has gone quite smoothly, though with some understandable alterations that lessen the graphical awe. The lighting in Splinter Cell, which was amazing, has been toned down substantially for the GameCube. A darkness meter in the bottom right corner indicates how much shadow cover Fisher is in. Sometimes, even when this meter is at 0, you can see Sam quite plainly standing in front of what may look like a black wall, but is actually the shadows he is supposedly lurking in. The night-vision goggles on the other hand are quite excellent visually, giving a grainy, white and gray portrayal of Fisher's world. Due to the many dark areas in the game and GameCube's sometimes poor lighting, I found myself using night-vision nearly all of the game.
The cut-scenes look amazing. They definitely include some of the best character models seen on the GameCube. In-game visuals are nice (and look especially good in night-vision) and show a good level of detail. However, they don't push the GameCube's graphical power to its limits. There are numerous clipping issues. You'll see guards' limbs inside other guards' bodies when laid on top of one another, and many heads will slice right through the wall and can be seen in another room. The framerate is solid and never stuttered during my playtime.
Splinter Cell's music is ambient and fitting for the very serious tasks at hand. There are times when there is no music, and most of these instances fit the extremely tense moments in which they are presented. Sound effects are wonderful. If you can hear Fisher's footsteps, chances are you're moving too fast. Objects such as beer cans and glass bottles can be thrown against walls to give guards an audial distraction. Voice work is quite excellent on all fronts. Sam Fisher, voiced by Michael Ironside, sounds appropriately gritty and badass. All other voices are equally fitting. The excellent vocal work gives the game a much more cinematic feel, and helps the overall atmosphere greatly.
Splinter Cell's a tad on the short side. The game spans about ten levels. Most of the levels are quite huge, but the game can still be beaten in a dedicated rental. There's also a hard mode, with even more focus on stealth, which ups the replay value somewhat.
Though Splinter Cell is a quickie, the game's high production qualities are worth so much more than $5. If you're a fan of stealthy stuff like Metal Gear Solid, or you've always had a soft spot for those secret agent flicks, Splinter Cell needs to be in your collection right now. Everyone else needs to rent this game, just to have experienced it. This is the start of a very, very promising series. With a bit more plot and a bit less predictability, Splinter Cell could knock the Metal Gear Solid series off of its mighty throne. Solid Snake, watch out. Fisher's just behind you, hidden in the shadows.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/28/03, Updated 05/29/03
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