Review by sfcalimari
"Great stealth action but with a few little problems"
Splinter Cell Double Agent
First of all let me say that this is my first Splinter Cell game. The only reason I got it is because it is the first ps2 SC game to get fairly high ratings, apparently because Ubisoft finally gave proper attention to the quality of the ps2 game. So basically I am reviewing this game as it stands on its own, rather than comparing it to how it stacks up to previous SC games. Overall I enjoyed SC Double Agent quite a bit. It has really fun stealth action, some fun levels, but overall is way too short and just a little bit too buggy.
Basically in SCDA you are, as usual, NSA splinter cell guy Sam Fisher. This time you're sent to infiltrate an icky terrorist organization called the JBA.
As you may have heard, SCDA is a stealth game. Overall, I have to say it's the best stealth game I've played on ps2. The controls take some getting used to for a novice like me, and you don't have the variety of actions you do in, say, Metal Gear Solid 3, but once you get used to how the enemy in SCDA acts, it is pretty darned fun to sneak around in the shadows causing havoc. The basic idea is to hide in dark areas, then when the enemy's back is turned, either sneak past him or else creep up and take him down quickly. You have a visibility meter that shows how exposed you are, and if you can hide in shadows and keep your meter to 0, the enemy can't see you (despite the fact that you can see yourself, and also you have a couple of flashlights on your head). You also have some nice weapons, mainly a silenced pistol and an assault rifle with a variety of attachments that can either kill or knock out the enemy. If you wanted, you could just rush around killing enemies, but you never have very much ammo, and also it is kind of difficult to fire at enemies quickly without taking damage. Basically if you must fire, it's best to do so strategically. It's no good to take down one guy but attract the attention of three nearby guards who rush in and start firing at you wildly, taking you down quickly. Better to wait for a guard to be alone, then shoot him quietly when he's not looking.
Oh yeah, and in some missions you aren't given any equipment at all, which is kind of annoying, and forces you to be a lot more careful about how you take on enemies.
A new feature for SCDA is the trust rating. During missions, you are given a nice variety of objectives to complete. Some of these objectives will please the JBA crime organization at the expense of the NSA, and others please the NSA but annoy the JBA. The Trust system is a great innovation, and though it's a simple idea, it's one of the cooler ideas I've seen in a video game. After a while you figure out that it's best to try and keep both sides pleased, and keep your trust meter in the middle. To do this you have to really think about which objectives to do, and weigh their impact on your trust level.
Level design is important in any game, especially in a stealth game, because you'll be spending so much time hiding rather than rushing through. Overall the level design is pretty good, although maybe a bit too linear. Often you have a few different ways to move around the levels, and can do objectives in any order you wish, which gives you a good sense of freedom.
I don't know if previous SC games had such lackluster plots and acting, but story-wise and acting-wise, SCDA is pretty poor. A few of the cut-scenes are nice-looking cgi things, but most cut-scenes look bad and use the more grainy graphics used during gameplay. Characters generally look lifeless, and the voice acting is pretty terrible and phoned-in. If the cut-scenes had been better, it would have been more fun to play through the game and do different objectives to affect your trust meter, so you could watch interesting cut-scenes that showed what happened. But generally the result is "you did X, so you got in trouble." Or "instead you did Y, so this happened."
Oh yeah, and also SCDA joins in an extremely annoying (to me) recent trend in games to have the storyline told in the form of being interrogated by a superior. As if we hadn't gotten annoyed enough by such shrill grilling in Black or Brothers in Arms, Sam Fisher has to defend his actions to an annoying NSA suit named Williams, who also calls you up now and then in-game to yell at you and basically make you feel more like doing objectives that are against the NSA's wishes.
So, obviously, I didn't enjoy the story much, but fortunately the gameplay is so strong that you don't really pay any attention to the story. The cut-scenes are generally over pretty quickly anyway, or you can fortunately just hit start to skip 'em if you choose. But it is disappointing that the innovative Trust system isn't backed up by better characters and storytelling.
Most reviews of SCDA have noted that the graphics for this game are much better than previous ps2 SC games. Well, the graphics are very serviceable, and get the job done, but they could have been a lot better. Overall they are pretty grainy and murky, but not really to the point of looking bad. Also the frame-rate isn't perfect, which can be annoying when you try to rush up on an enemy and knock them out but the game suddenly gets choppy and you end up dying.
Glitches and other Annoyances
So overall the game is pretty fun and well-put-together, but it can get pretty buggy and frustrating at times. You can often pick up bottles or other objects and toss them near enemies to distract them, but often these objects don't make any sound, and the guards don't notice anything. Also often when you try to sneak up on an enemy and grab them or attack them, the game can get kind of glitchy--either the enemy will suddenly turn around for no reason and kill you instantly, or you hit R1 to kill the enemy and Sam does nothing, then the enemy turns around and kills you before you can try again. A worse glitch is when an enemy is alerted to your presence, and the enemy somehow gets stuck chasing after you, maybe while opening a door or just standing in place screaming about how there's an enemy nearby. You can wait forever and they won't move or go back to their previous sentry path, and if you try and rush out and attack the enemy, they'll usually suddenly spring into action and gun you down. Oh yeah, and once I tried to land on an enemy by dropping from 30 feet up, and I got stuck on an invisible glitch platform or something right over his head. He looked up and shot me. Annoying.
Also the checkpoint/save system is pretty dumb. You can save at any time during a level, and then reload that save spot, which is time consuming but also very cheap and really reduces the challenge of the game. It would have been better to have checkpoints here and there. There are checkpoints in levels, but they are only really when you move from one area of the map to another, and so they are few and far between. So basically you just end up saving whenever you feel like it, and spend a lot of time saving and loading, which really slows down the pace of the game and gets irritating.
With only 9 levels, and 2 rather short bonus missions, SCDA overall is not really as long as it should have been. Some of the levels can be rushed through pretty quickly, though many of them are quite lengthy; however, 15 to 20 levels would have made the game a lot better. Even on the hardest difficulty, you can buzz through the game pretty quickly. Compared to other stealth games like Tenchu or Metal Gear Solid, 9 levels isn't enough.
As I've mentioned before, you can get different cut-scenes depending on what objectives you did to affect your trust meter, but again the cut-scenes are so dull and underwhelming that you don't really feel a whole lot of incentive to play the game multiple times and try everything.
Overall SCDA is a really fun game, and definitely worth a play. The stealth action, the weaponry, the levels, and the Trust system are all very fun. Unfortunately the story and cut-scenes are quite poor, the graphics are a bit lacking, there are a few too many glitches, and the game really should be longer. But despite its faults, I enjoyed this game quite a lot, so I give it a low 8/10.
Oh yeah, and the game has online multiplayer and offline co-op. I tried the online once but couldn't really figure out what to do, and I got whipped by some pros. I guess it would take a lot of practice, though I'm not really sure how a stealth game is supposed to play online--all I saw was a bunch of people running around shooting one another. I will reserve judgment on the online, and if I ever get into it I'll update this review accordingly.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/02/07
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