Review by aargh! ahoy, mateys!
"Stay quiet- or die."
It's an element all too common in today's games. It may not seem like it, but a wide variety of out current titles have that particular factor incorporated into them. And when I say a wide variety, I mean a wide variety; from Tony Hawk's Underground to even Harry Potter, you can find traces of the ever-popular stealth genre.
Of course, that very fact can cause gamers to be wary when coming across a game totally diverted to the art of covertness. And rightly so, too. Sure, it may be fun to sneak past the enemies in that other game, but a whole entire game devoted to such? It sounds okay, but couldn't it get boring? Plus, there were some serious flaws in the stealth aspects of that other game; you could exploit the system so easily that the sneaking lost all of its fun value. What if this game has that same flaw? The questions and doubts could keep rolling on for another few paragraphs if needed.
Yet Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell has somehow managed to remove all doubts in my mind that a stealth game would not be worth investing my time and money in. It has refined the stealth genre to an art form. With its unique play mechanics and the incredibly tense situations it'll throw at you without batting an eye, you will likely begin to forget that you're playing a game. This is just a game...? I thought on my first play-through. This can't be just a game...
Welcome to Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell.
As the name (so subtly) states, the game is set in the world of Tom Clancy, a very well-known writer. However, contrary to the common misconception, he did not write the story or script for the game. You're just playing in his world, and that's it. Yes, I know what you're thinking.
There goes the awesome story I was expecting...
Worry not, my friends, the story, even without Tom Clancy dreaming up the intricate details, still lives up to its potential. At a glance, it seems like the standard terrorist organization or whatever tries to gain world dominance, and you, Sam Fisher, a Splinter Cell, must retrieve integral Intel for your country's defense, yadda yadda yadda... but, when playing through it, you'll find that it unfolds rather like... well, a Tom Clancy novel. (Hey, I thought this guy wasn't supposed to be the writer... suspicious indeed.) The plot has its share of twists and turns, of course, but the thing that I liked about this was that most of the 180-degree spins on the plot are revealed in the actual levels, not in the cutscenes. This seemingly minor development not only made you have to actually pay attention, but it also makes you feel like YOU are watching the story as it unfolds, instead of you reacting to major plot events depicted in cutscenes after a completed level. Tom Clancy himself, as well as the game makers themselves, should be proud; the plot alone gives the game the potential to achieve a level of realism seldom before achieved in games such as this.
Stealth Action Redefined.
Acting on that potential, however, is another thing entirely, and this fact did not fall upon deaf ears of the game developers. They have made every single effort to make this game realistic as possible- and it shows up in the game. There are examples big (the real-life spy techniques you'll actually be using in gameplay) and small (the finely detailed 5-o-clock shadow on Sam's chin). But the hard work has paid off. The result is truly nothing short than any developer could have hoped for- a game that looks great, and plays even better.
High praise? Yes. Does the game deserve it? Another yes. Stealth Action Redefined is the tagline for the game, and few phrases could describe it better. You, Sam Fisher, as a Splinter Cell operative, will have to complete certain missions centered on stealth. And when I say centered around Stealth, I really mean it; being seen is not an option. Aside from the fact that in some missions it means an alarm (which means a game over), you will most likely not survive anyway when seen. Or, if you do, due to the amount of damage you take AND the amount of your extremely-limited ammo you waste, you probably won't survive later. It's a vicious, almost cruel cycle, and many have condemned the game makers for it. However, this should not be so; thus is a TRUE Stealth Game, and a true stealth game should virtually force you not to be seen, correct?
Logic strikes again!
However, this is not merely a stay out of the enemies' line of sight kind of game. To avoid detection, you don't just have to avoid direct contact with the guards, you also have to make sure they don't have the faintest idea that any part of you ever came within 50 feet of them. This means stay near-invisible and stay quiet. As an essential (and not to mention extremely cool) addition to the game, you get a light meter that's displayed on the screen. As its name suggests, it takes in the amount of light around you and displays it as a readable measure of your overall visibility. Needless to say, when in dark areas, guards will have a much harder time seeing you- sometimes it's impossible! And you also have to be quiet as a mouse. Everything you do- EVERYTHING, from opening a door to walking- will make sound depending on how hard or fast you do it. If you're going to survive, you'll learn how to take 20 seconds to walk ten feet. And the control for such situations is smooth and tight; it's all analog, so YOU control the length and strength of every single imaginable action. Plus, it's nearly impossible to slip up when performing advanced actions such as grabbing an enemy (as it is in other games), the second you're allowed to grab an enemy or use your so-called stealth gadgets, an action window appears on screen describing the action, and you press the action button to perform the action. Never again will I have a MGS moment where I try to choke a guard and I end up firing an accidental shot.
Of course, there are some situations where avoiding contact entirely by just using your skills is not possible. Here's where the aforementioned many stealth gadgets come into play. You have many gadgets at your disposal- Night Vision, Heat Vision, Motion-Sensor bombs, Optic Lenses, Sticky-Cams, and best of all: A silenced pistol. All of these gadgets are very innovative and you can use them to your advantage at any time you wish. However, there's one gripe I have: They're not implemented into the game nearly enough. While I could use some gadgets like the Optic Cable all day, some of the other ones I only needed once or twice in the game and then they'd take a permanent spot at the back of my inventory. A shame, I really liked heat vision.
Unfortunately, during your play through of the game, you'll most likely slip-up at least once (sorry, but no one's perfect... even me.). Here's where I get my main gripe about the game: the Action Part is... how can I say this...? Lacking. For one, the aiming system is just about THE WORST in gaming. Yes, even worse than GTA3, with the aiming system designed to kill you. No matter how accurate my crosshairs are, the shot most always veers off-target. And worse, it's never possible to predict how far off your shot will be. Also, when getting shot at, it's a pain switching from a stealth crawl to a full out run, and by the time you do, you may be dead. It's almost as if this game was never designed to have any action, and it was put in as an afterthought. Since action actually plays a role in the game, it's a shame.
He strikes from the shadows...
Realistic visuals. This is most likely the only thing that could sufficiently compliment the fantastic gameplay of Splinter Cell without being totally overshadowed in comparison. But it still would have some trouble doing so without the aid of stellar sounds. And, (as if you couldn't guess,) both Splinter Cell's visuals and sound live up to their expectations. A deadly combination... deadly fun.
The Playstation 2 version of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell might have done the impossible- overshadowed the Xbox version in the visuals department (Xbox Fans: GASP!!!). While it equals the other version in terms of the standard graphics, it has a few added effects that not only look sharp, but also tip the Graphics scale towards the PS2 end. Fire actually sends out visible waves of heat, distorting your vision, and there are some nice reflective effects on some surfaces. However, no matter how spiffy these small touches may look, you can't really beat the look of the actual game.
Detail was the name of the game here. You can see individual pockets in Sam Fisher's bodysuit. If you burst through a window, glass shards fly everywhere, settle, and can be individually crushed with a satisfying crunch. If you happen to pass through a curtain, it will crumple up and sway exactly like it would in real life. And the lighting effects are some of the best in gaming (yet I have some complaints about your Stealth Meter not actually representing the amount of light you're in). Best of all, they gave Sam a 5-o-clock shadow (and a very detailed one at that), adding the perfect touch of bad@$$ to the game. But no matter how polished the visuals look when you're just sitting there and observing them (and trust me, you will be at some point), the thing that makes them special is that they won't look any less beautiful when you're moving around at high speeds, firing your gun, while six enemies are on the screen. The framerate stays high and constant, unless, by some huge fault on your part, you have 15 people chasing you while an explosion rocks the screen. So, yeah, it's rarely dropping by a noticeable rate.
The sounds can only help. This being a sneaking game, they actually play much more of a part than they would in other games. Not only are they an essential part of you not being discovered, but they also increase the tension. Luckily, the sound is good. Imagine, you're about to round a corner, but then you hear the whistling of a late-shift guard; or, as an even better example, you can faintly pick up a distinct echo of footsteps. Not only did the sounds save your life at this point, they also scared the heck out of you when you realized you were about to walk into certain death. Best find a hiding place, fast... but don't move too fast, or your footsteps will surely be picked up by a guard. You will also get cues in the soft background music- whenever you hear an instrument strike a chord, and the tempo pick up, you know that you've most likely been discovered. If a guard gets a conformation on your position, the music will turn into all-out action music, if you escape detection, the music will slow back down. A whole new level of tension and depth- just because of the sound.
I'm going to re-use a phrase I said before: Deadly Fun.
The premier stealth game.
There's no doubt about it- for those gamers who prefer covertness over confrontation, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell is for you. It's just too good to pass up- the revolutionary stealth, the awesome visuals, and the realism- it's all a deadly combination. Even if you're an Action Gamer, or even if you've never played anything resembling this type of game, you might want to check this out- a change of pace is sometimes good for you. Will you have a hard time adjusting?
Will you ultimately have a blast?
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 10/06/04
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