Review by Dale

"Superb Stealth Action"

Introduction

You are Sam Fisher. Special Secret Classified Covert and Underground agent, and loving father. The newest member of the sub-NSA agency known as Third Echelon that has active control over what are only known as Splinter Cells. “Sounds pretty secret” I hear you say, well it is. In fact it’s so secret, if one of the Splinter Cells is ever captured or killed (like you will be at least 10 times) the US government will deny all knowledge of your existence. Not only this, but your actions very often have world altering consequences, and one gadget shot at the wrong guard could cause a conflict to break out. (Hint: This is hyperbole, exaggeration used for comic effect. The real result would be nearer World War III).

Story

Quite original actually, I for one (and I’m sure I’m not alone here) never even knew a country called Georgia existed. Well I do now, and so will you once you play this game.

The events of Splinter Cell follow the actions of one Sam Fisher as you tiptoe (literally) through 11 stealth, assassination and general kill-as-many-people-as-you-like-so-long-as-you-complete-your-mission, missions. This game has your basic villain, a colourful and brutal character by the name of Kombayn Nickoladze. Your basic storyline, Nickoladze is the terrorist, the USA is his enemy and you are the government agent set with the task of tracking him down so he can ride the midnight train to slab city. But not your basic set of amazing moves, absurd gadgets and comical bad guys. Before the game is over you will have infiltrated the CIA headquarters (the fact that it’s as easy as they make out casts a dark shadow of doubt over the security of mainland USA), slipped past guards at the Georgian Ministry of Defence and killed at least one innocent technician on purpose.

Gameplay

Think of Sam as a 21st century ninja, because that is basically what he is. Stalk your enemy from the shadows, perform silent kills and stay out of sight. Gameplay rather similar to Tenchu in that way. The game’s interface shows your remaining life, the weapon or gadget you have equipped and (the most important tool) your visibility meter. This basically shows just how visible you are to any nearby people, mainly enemies. If the bar is all the way to right (the light end) you’re in critical danger of being discovered, if it’s all the way to the left (the pitch black end) the enemy cannot see you until he’s about 2 feet away from you and facing you. A crucial tool, to say the least, in stealth missions. This is when it’s time to break out the night vision goggles, probably one of the most used things in the game apart from your weapons as they allow you (as you might have guessed) to see in the dark. Even in a pitch black room you can clearly see what’s going in there, and this serves as a tremendous advantage over your enemies who are not outfitted with such a useful tool.

Where this game really shines is the many highly imaginative ways in which to both attack your enemy and lie in wait for them to get near, before attacking them. Sam can flatten himself against a wall to shoot around corner, he can climb hand over hand across suspended bars and shoot whilst hanging from them, he can rappel down walls, he can climb up drainpipes and over walls, just to name a few. Perhaps the most interesting of all his moves is the split jump which enables Sam, in a narrow corridor, to leave up the side of a wall and then support himself with one leg gripping either side of the wall. From this position you can still shoot, you are rendered nearly invisible to an enemy and you can drop down on them to knock them out. Unfortunately this is one of the least necessary moves in the game, but it’s great fun when you can do it.

This game wouldn’t be complete either without all the James Bond style gadgets at hand. For the first few missions you are limited to using only the Silenced Pistol but later you’re introduced to the SC-20K, possibly the most versatile weapon ever made, which aside from having a sniper scope, full automatic fire and a silencer fitted as standard, can hold a number of special projectiles launched from a larger barrel underneath. These range from simple gas grenades to sticky cameras and airfoil projectiles. The sticky cameras are excellent for advance scouting whilst the airfoils allow a non-lethal way of knocking an enemy unconscious. Needless to say, this gun becomes your weapon of choice for almost any encounter for the rest of the game.

Creeping around with all these tools is quite exciting, although on missions where you must rely entirely on non-lethal tactics you will have to limit your usage of such things and go for the old school method of walking up quickly and quietly to knock the enemy out. While unarmed you can also grab enemies, not to snap their neck, but for interrogation. Some missions require this to happen, but in others its sometimes just fun to watch them squirm as you ask questions with a gun pointed to their head.

All these things however, do still make it a linear game. There is generally a best way to accomplish everything you will find in the game, it’s just a question of finding out what that best way is. Some of the gadgets are just plain useless and you will only find yourself using them if you have no others left. If you get it wrong and end up on the receiving end of a shotgun blast, it’s usually a good idea to simply get yourself killed so you can go back to the last checkpoint and try again with the knowledge of not running into that room so quickly next time. Very few missions have room for such failures. The same goes for alarms. If you don’t hide the bodies of your enemies in the shadows after you’ve dispatched them, or if you were careless enough to let a guard see you they will likely sound an alarm. On most missions there is an alarm limit, and if you cross that limit it’s game over. It very much comes down to trial and error play unfortunately, because that does make the game very frustrating at times.

Graphics

Quite impressive, although it hardly pushes the PS2 to it’s limits. The environments are relatively dull on the whole. Although there are one or two instances in the game that did make me think “now those are some good graphics” but most of it just makes you think “that’ll do I suppose”. The enemies are done nicely, they fall to the floor wonderfully once you’ve disposed of them. The thermal vision is lovely and shiny. Although the tremendous lighting effects that X-Box owners rave about appear to be nonexistent in this version.

Sound

The enemies seem to have found the time to learn to speak fluent English and they even put on a cheesy accent to let us know just where they’re from. Gunshots sound fine, enemies cries of pain are great. The music alters itself superbly when you’re in danger. No complaints.

Replayability

Not much, but that doesn’t really seem important for some reason. Maybe because it’s nice to go back and play levels again, or go back and play the whole game on hard mode (that’s what I’m doing now).

Final Recommendation

This game is worth a purchase. If you like stealth, suspense and action then buy this game. It’ll at least distract you for a while until MGS3 comes out.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/24/03, Updated 05/24/03


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