Review by Macolio

"Not your granddaddy's stealth game"

Splinter Cell is Xbox's newest hit. It's a 3rd person stealth/action game that's based on realism more than anything before it. Does it deliver? Skip to the conclusion while ignoring the main review content, and find out!

Graphics: 10
From an overall look POV, the game is gorgeous, and in some aspects the most photorealistic ever made. During the first 5 minutes of play you'll probably just stand there in disbelief as I did. The characters' faces and the environment aren't that detailed, so what makes them so good? Why, the amazing (dynamic) lighting. The way light reflects on your clothes, on the environment...it's a wonder to behold. If you pass in front of a property gate with a light on the other side, every single gate bar will reflect on your clothes, and affect the shadows that form. Watching so many gorgeous animation changes within the same second while you're running in front of said gate, gives you another taste of the beginning of the era of photorealism in videogame graphics (thank you DOA3's Forest stage, for the first). It's even better when you shoot a suspended light's wire, and it starts swinging back and forth. It would take very long to tell you all about this, an image is worth a thousand words, so you can see it for yourself (which you MUST do).

Other:
- Occasional framerate drop.

Audio: 6
The poorest part of the game. The quality of the music is inversely proportional to that of the graphics. It's a very quiet game until an enemy hears you (enter typical suspenseful track) or sees you (enter typical action track). There are a few background tracks, but they're as boring as the action tracks. I think whoever did the music for this should be either fired or set on fire, because he clearly has no talent whatsover, and from the looks of things, this isn't someone who can get better. It's like them got him from an affirmative action towards unpassionate and unimaginative people program.

Other:
+ Good sound effects.
+ Decent voice acting by western game standards, superb by japanese game standards.
- A minor flaw where if you drop objects to the ground instead of throwing them, the enemy will never hear them. (detracts from realism)

Story: 8
A coup d'état has occured in Georgia, with your typical anti-American disgruntled patriotic Russian (Georgia used to be part of the USSR) getting to power. Two american agents spying in Georgia have disappeared, so you, Sam Fisher, superspy/secret NSA agent, are sent in to find out what happened to them. The story just expands more and more from mission to mission, through the news reports in between missions, or from the information you download from the computers of important people, or by eavesdropping on conversations with your laser mic, etc.

The story, based on a novel by everyone's favourite insurance broker turned hack book processing factory, Tom Clancy, is leaps above anything else in the console gaming industry, in that it isn't targetted at early teenagers (hola, senor Kojima), and thus doesn't offend the mature gamer's intelligence. The reason I don't think it deserves a 10 is because it has too little presence in the game to call it ''best story ever''. I'm not asking for something as ridiculously long as MGS2, but it could've had a little more dialogue to flesh out the characters a bit.

Gameplay: 8
MGS2 has been dethroned...or has it? On one hand, SC's stealth gameplay is superior in every way. On the other, it has a difficulty that would put some NES games to shame.

The main gameplay consists of hiding in the shadows, waiting for a guard to walk past you so you can slowly sneak behind him to take him out, or simply shoot him (which had better be a headshot, or he'll alert everyone else). You can see in the dark thanks to your infravision goggle, and they can't unless you're within arms' reach, so you'll be spending more bullets on lightbulbs than on enemies. It's simple, but so well executed that it'll keep you hooked.

Sam has a nice selection of special moves, which are an equally nice waste of programming time since you almost never use any of them. You can grab guards to interrogate them, but very few can be interrogated (one or two), so you'll just drag them to the shadows and knock them out. You can use them as human shields, but since it's easier to take them out one by one instead of allowing yourself to be seen, you won't bother to do this unless you're trying to have flashy eye-candy fun instead of completing the mission (the game is not easy enough to allow both).
On the other hand, the several types of special gadget ammo for your rifle such as gas grenades or sticky cameras, are all extremely useful.

If I had one complaint about the gameplay (other than the lack of situations to use the special moves in), it would be the difficulty. If the game wasn't so addictive, I'd probably have quit playing at mission 4. This is one of the most unforgiving games I have ever played. In some missions, merely being spotted is Game Over. This fits within the story, since the US couldn't explain why they sent a spy to another country's embassy and war could/would break out, but when you can't be detected OR kill any enemies (did I mention that you either don't have tranquilizer ammo, or have a couple of bullets like 3 or 4? Well, I just did), it makes for some nightmarish missions. Fear not though, there's plenty of checkpoints.

Other:
+ Perfect analog controls.
- Why the hell can't Sam have a tranquilizer gun? You'd think the NSA would have access to one.
- The enemies are as healthy, or even more healthy, than you are.
* By the time you beat this game, your gaming skill will have doubled. I don't know if that's a good or bad thing.

Replay Value: Low
There isn't any, unless you're trying to perfect yourself. The gameplay approach remains the same from beginning to end, so there's nothing to gain in replaying the first mission, that you didn't gain from playing the final mission.

Conclusion
It's an absolute must-play. One of the best games on Xbox, and the best stealth game ever, you owe it to yourself to play it. But it doesn't have replay value, so I'd be very careful with that 50$ if I were you, ESPECIALLY if you're a casual gamer. Then again, if you're a casual gamer, by the time you beat this game (if you ever do), you won't have any trouble with any videogame of any type, ever again. I say rent it, my happy gaming pal, but then again that's what I say about anything that isn't an RPG.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/24/02, Updated 11/24/02


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