Review by SH4RK B1T3

"We don't trust you anymore, Sam Fisher."

This is a review that is best understood if you have played the previous games in the Splinter Cell series.

I used to love Splinter cell. I used to love sneaking around, punching enemies in the back of the head, then dragging their body into the corner of the room, undetected as Sam Fisher. Each new Splinter Cell game pushed the limits of technology further, and introduced new and innovative gameplay devices. The original Splinter Cell, for example, not only had good graphics, but it was the first game to implement lighting and shadows that actually had an effect on the gameplay. Pandora Tomorrow introduced an amazingly innovative Multiplayer game in which one team plays as the mercenaries, and the other plays as the spies. Chaos Theory added cooperative play, a great new way of playing a casual game with friends, and not competitively when bragging rights were on the line. The series has been great up until now.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the newest Splinter Cell is about as good as the Legend of Zelda games are on the CD-I. The gameplay has been ruined. Everything that made Splinter Cell different from other games has been removed. The graphics look like trash, and the extremely low frame rates make the game flat out unplayable. Multiplayer got striped down to nothing, and co-op is non-existent. The game is infected with seemingly thousands of bugs that will make you roll your eyes at the thought of them. The game was probably tested by a bunch of high school drop outs who spent more time overdosing Asprin for their own amusement than doing any work.

The single player game in Double Agent feels like a complete rush job. When I play this game, I am reminded of those Sunday nights I spent studying up until 2:00 AM to prepare for the test on Monday. Though the game plays a lot like Chaos Theory, a few crippling changes remove all of the fun. Couple these changes with horrible, linear mission design, and the same terrible AI that has been rehashed since the original game, the single player aspect of Double Agent is sure to be a disappointment for any fan of the previous games in the series.

To make a long story short, Sam Fisher ends up working as an under-under-cover agent for the John Brown's Army, a terrorist group. It's up to you to learn all you can about them, foiling their plots along the way (if you choose to). The story progresses in a linear fashion, with a couple of different endings based on your responses to three different dilemmas near the end of the game. These dilemmas aren't very moving, and it is obvious that Ubisoft tried too hard to get us to be "emotional" about them.

The first most troubling problem about the game is that the light and sound gauges have been removed. In place of these important gauges is a little circle in the bottom corner of the screen that changes from one color to the other based on how much light is shining on Sam. A yellow light means that you are visible to enemies (how visible is unknown), and a green light means that you are invisible. This system completely ruins the game, because the change from invisible to visible is too abrupt. Because the light gauge nor the amount of visible light shining on an area gives you any indication at all as to how visible you will actually be at that spot, you will often get yourself killed by taking one too many steps towards a light source, and having an enemy see you. The lack of a sound gauge also takes a few ounces of fun out the game. Now you have no idea whatsoever of how much noise you can make without being heard. You will have to take a chance of being heard every time you do any action that makes noise, because you have no idea whether or not the ambience will drown out your sound. This takes a lot of strategy out of the game, and adds a lot of luck.

Ubisoft also added an arcade-style health regeneration system. This means that after getting shot, if you stand still for a little bit, you will regain all of your health. This takes a lot of realism out of the game, and ruins the stealth aspect of the game. How can Sam Fisher take an infinite amount of bullets in moderation, but the enemies can only take a couple? The addition of this recharging health system is also a blatant rip off of the Halo series, which this game should not be like at all. If you choose to, you can run through the levels like a man on a suicide mission, alerting every enemy along the way, taking hundreds of bullets, and you will never die since you can always just rest and recharge your health. Sure, your stealth score will drop, but this method is always an option available to you if you ever cannot find a more stealthy way of beating a certain part of the level.

The alarm system that was in Chaos Theory and Pandora Tomorrow is gone, and has been replaced by a "trust" system. In Chaos Theory and Pandora Tomorrow, alerting enemies caused them to equip themselves with better and better gear, and it also made them more aware of the situation. This never happens in Double Agent. If an alarm is sounded, you lose trust with either the JBA or the NSA. That's your only punishment. Losing all of your trust with either group causes the mission to end. If an alarm is sounded in one part of the level, enemies in the other part of the level are exactly the same as they were if you hadn't sounded the alarm in the first place. This is highly unrealistic, and is just one more example of how Ubisoft took out a perfectly good feature for no reason at all.

The same craptastic AI that has been around since the original Splinter Cell is back. These enemies aren't just dumb, they are completely brain dead. Though the AI could have been considered good in 2001 when the original Splinter Cell was around, today, they just don't cut it. They face walls for far too long than the normal human being would, they don't notice things like open doors and switched off computers, and they don't even bother to sound an alarm if they find a dead body. Enemies still spray there weapons at the last spot they saw you at for minutes at a time, even if you move away. Ubisoft should have spent their time improving the AI instead of removing perfectly good gameplay features.

Multiplayer feels like an incredibly striped down version of Chaos Theory - it plays pretty much the same, but it is worse. The Multiplayer game has taken a definite step backwards. All of the cool gadgets you could have chosen from in Chaos Theory have been removed. Now you must start with the same loadout every time you play, with the same limited number of gadgets every time. Spies have been gimped beyond all recognition, because they can hardly defend themselves against the mercenaries. The action is still very dilute, because there is still a limit of 6 players per game. Basically, if you liked Chaos Theory's multiplayer, you will probably like this one, but just a bit less.

Double Agent feels like a typical big-franchise cash in attempt, similar to how EA releases a new half-assed NFL or Need for Speed game every year to cash in on the name. Double Agent feels extremely unpolished in just about every way. Why do I have to watch the un skippable intro videos every time I start the game? Why do I have to watch yet another intro video whenever I open the main menu? Why does it always say that my graphic options are "Next Generation" even if they aren't? Why does the sound on the loading screen stop playing for no reason half of the time? Why are the controls for the mini games so weird and illogical?

Not only do these little quirks make the game seem extremely rough, but the bugs to as well. The game crashes seemingly every 15 minutes. Weapons and gadgets in single player that are "unlocked" can never be used. Quitting the game makes all of your saves disappear, making you have to start the game over right from the beginning again. It's like playing Super Mario Bros. on the NES all over again. The only way I managed to finish this horrible game was to minimise it, then put my computer into standby mode to save power. Wow, so much for "Next Generation", and of course the whole concept of owning a hard drive. I got stuck in the floor a couple of times as well, unable to move so I had to restart the mission. Using FRAPS or DXTweaker causes the game to crash before it even switches to full screen mode, so you can forget using those programs to benchmark the game or improve your performance.

The graphics in this game are a serious downgrade from Chaos Theory. Chaos Theory had very dark, atmospheric levels with excellent use of lighting and shadows. Double Agent looks pretty much the same as Chaos Theory, minus the rich dark shadows, the excellent use of dynamic lights, and volumetric lights. The levels in Double Agent are extremely bright. You literally never need to use night vision, or thermal vision goggles. Half of the levels take place during the day. The extreme brightness of the game takes away from realism. How the hell can my enemies not see me when I can see myself perfectly clearly?

The sound of Double Agent isn't bad, but it isn't good either. The music is generic synthesized game music, but I like how the music changes in volume and in theme dynamically, to add tension to situations. The sound effects for the most part are okay, but some stuff is of terrible quality, seemingly of less than 50 kilobits per second. The sound effects also have a bad habit of not playing when they are supposed to. For example, sometimes when I punch someone in the face, the sound of Fisher's punch and the grunt of the guard won't play. Sometimes when I fire a shot, it cannot be heard through my speakers. This is really annoying. The voice acting is good for the most part, but some of it is of, once again, poor quality. Some things the enemies say are unintentionally funny, such as, "Looks like somebody got smoke grenades for Christmas," or, "My eyes must be playing tricks on me." No thanks Ubisoft, I'd rather play Star Fox 64 if I wanted to hear goofy crap like this.

Not only does the graphic quality look bad in Double Agent, but the frame rate is terrible. I am using a 7800GTX (a graphics card that is currently one of the best mid range cards), and the game can barely run at 30 frames per second at 800x600 resolution (with high graphic settings). The game also boasts a huge amount of mouse lag. It seems as though there is a delay of about 0.5 seconds for your camera to move after you physically move your mouse. This makes aiming in tense situations extremely difficult, especially when aiming at moving targets.

Ubisoft has changed the Splinter Cell formula in countless ways that do nothing but harm the game. Why they bothered to make these changes is beyond me, but all I know is that they screwed me, and all other Splinter Cell fans, big time. Sorry Ubisoft, but as Emile says when you fail your mission, "We don't trust you anymore."

Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 12/11/06

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