Review by Void of Genocide
"In the shadow, the darkness."
Stealth is playing a rather important role in current videogaming. Before the advent of Konami’s Metal Gear Solid there was (to my knowledge) not another game of this kind. The ORIGINAL Metal Gears existed, but the feel and detail was lacking. From the crime/medical thriller “Headhunter” to the Disney-like Barbarian stealth wrath of “The Mark of Kri”, stealth, or “sneaker” games are starting to become popular. It is said that all of them are shameless Metal Gear Solid clones, and that might be true, but if it is a copy of a great game, then it isn’t that bad, right?
Enter Ubi Soft’s “Splinter Cell”, a game that takes the kind of stealth action pioneered by Metal Gear Solid to the next level. How, you ask? By adding and deleting certain elements that lacked and over abounded in MGS, of course. The game received moderated hype and was a kind of a competing rival of “Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance” debuted on the Xbox a few days before. The irony here is that even though “Splinter Cell” might be seen as a shameless, minor attempt to fight the good war against the giant of stealth, the truth is that this game is arguably a better game than Kojima’s. Granted, several elements that make Metal Gear Solid what it is lacked in Splinter Cell, but the execution of Ubi Soft’s product outshines Kojima’s latest by a good chunk. (MGS2)
In what concern in game graphics, they are of a superb, delicious quality. You main character’s animation was done entirely by hand (Or so the Behind the Scenes section says) and it was a damn good job. Enemy and surrounding graphics are done greatly too. The darkened skies under which you play all the missions are shot full with brilliant, beautiful stars, clothed over by a thin veil of clouds. This minor, albeit artistic, element does a great job to enhance the overall feel of this game: A calm night filled with stars for a calm, easy entry stealth mission. The aura is simply superb
I also most stress the great job done with the lights and shadows on this game. Lighting effects are by far the best I have seen in any game this far. Lighting on this game is, simply put, beautiful.
CG’s graphical quality is a whole different thing however. They are not jaw dropping graphics and they could easily pass for something produced for a PSX game. When compared to MGS2:SoL’s CG graphics, Splinter Cell’s are mediocre. Yet, there are few CGs through the game, and besides, graphics don’t make the game.
Sound Effects: 9
Insects, wood crushing under your feet, wind, the sounds of textile fabrics, grass, etc. The sounds are greatly done, and with much reason. An important aspect of this game is the ability to move stealthy, not seen and especially not heard, for if you make a sound enemies can easily spot you even if you are well hidden. Gunshots sound a little fake, in fact, but if you manage to pull everything smoothly, you’ll encounter few instances involving heavy fire fighting.
The intro music was done by Crystal Method, a techno/hip-hop/rock thing that has nothing to do with the general feel of the game. Mind you, it is a good song, but thank the gods this is not the kind of music that runs throughout the rest of the game. The game music, though, is greatly executed. Whoever was the composer (I don’t have his name in handy right now) did a pretty job with the composition. He pulls out elements of classic, world, ethnic, electronic and ambient music to create a wonderful collage of sounds. The music is eerie, epic, dark, sci-fiish, and bombastic. Very well done, this guy deserves an award.
I feel obliged to point out something that I consider of importance, however. This game suffers of exactly the same acoustic problem every single Western game suffers, and that is music is so damn loud I can barely listen what the characters are talking about. Even though the in-game action features a small window frame that projects what it is being said, the CG moments lack any sort of subtitle. When a rather important event in the development of the story takes place, the music is so intense you can barely listen to what is being said.
And this is bad…but the music is still great!
It might take a while to get used to it, and during moments of stressing combat you might mess up big time, but control is nothing you can’t pull out in a few minutes.
Now this is the cream of this game. The main goal of the game is to solve a series of set goals by the means of stealth. You can solve the missions through various ways, but sometimes impositions might be followed. (Storm into the Embassy but don’t kill anyone; If you kill “x” the mission is over, etc) To do so you’ll have to move through the shadows, make sure you make the minimal noise and dispatch of your enemies in the quickest, mutest way possible. The element of light/shadow and even SMELL ,latter on, plays a VERY important role through the course of the game and you’ll have to make the best of it. There’s a room full of light and not a single light switch to help you out? Help yourself pal, pull your trusty combat rifle and shot those light off for good! Or maybe you just want to hide behind counters, desks and small shadows to avoid the guards, perhaps?
And this gets me to something else, the moves. It is no secret, Splinter Cell’s main character can kick Solid Snake’s back rear any day of the week. All your basic moves are there, plus you can climb fences, vertical pipe lines, etc. You need to get from one place to another and the only way through is a horizontal pipe line or a cable? Well, just climb it and crawl all the way, or slide through with the cable.
And still I feel Ubi Soft wasted too much potential here. Your character is an athletic type; if you jump near a wall and the press the jump button again, you’ll do a double jump by adding pressure with you leg to the neighboring wall. If you are located in a narrow corridor and you press the jump button again once you have done a double jump, you will execute the split jump, which is, in all honesty, BAD ASS. Placed in the safety of upper shadows, you can snipe your enemies once in split jump position, or alternatively, you can jump on them if the opportunity comes, knocking the enemy unconscious.
And yet you can’t get the full potential of this. You can test you character’s athletic condition to its fullest only once in the entire game, and the area is so secret that you can count yourself lucky if you noticed its existence. And the split jump can be used perhaps two or three times through the course of the entire game, making the existence of this move rather pointless. Mind you, I just finished the game and I might be wrong.
Away is the messy radar of the two MGS games. Whereas in MGS you have an “over your head” camera view, and thus the radar was needed, in SC you have a “behind your back” camera view, rendering a radar useless.
Shooting on this game is messy, mainly because it is supposed to be about stealth. But when you need to shoot the game takes the MGS2:SoL FPS approach to a different level. In SC you are presented to semi-FPS mode in which you can see part of your character’s body in perspective aiming the gun. The controls are FPS, but the presentation is not, and this is a great detail in my opinion.
The game’s official title is “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell”, not “Hideo Kojima’s Resurrected Cyborg Spies”, so that means you won’t be seeing sexy snipers and giant nuclear battle thanks that roar like dinosaurs. This is not a bad thing at all, and a little bit of realism never killed anyone, really.
You play the role of Sam Fischer an ex-CIA, ex-Navy SEAL operative. You are now working for Third Echelon, a top secret information gathering faction from the NSA. The Georgian president Nikoladze has declared war on the USA by means of information terrorism and a web of lies hinting at the involvement of China in the grandeur of this whole mess. Another Tom Clancy game, “Ghost Recon”, also involvers problems at the Caucasus and I was told by a friend that both games link together, but I have no means to confirm any of this. You, as a Splinter Cell, have the right to use the Fifth Freedom whenever it is strictly necessary. The Fifth Freedom is the freedom to maim, rob, sabotage and kill in order to maintain the basic liberties of individuals. As an exercise in political/war fiction, this game does a fairly good job. But as an example of good story telling it fails miserably. Not to mention that its “America the Greatest” point of view blocks away many possible and interesting avenues of plot.
What makes Metal Gear Solid “Metal Gear Solid” is not necessarily the insane amount of weapons carried by Snake (In comparison to Fischer’s two) or the sci-fi elements adherent to it, but the sheer drama of the story line. Metal Gear Solid has got to be one of the best told stories EVER. Each and every character had something to say or do, an individual story that gave the game the wonderful feel it has, the human emotion needed to experience the message Kojima was trying to get across.
None of this is present in Splinter Cell. Sam is there, doing what he does best, and that is all. You never get involved in the grand scheme of things, never feel a hatred grow in you when faced against a rather important enemy figurehead or bad when something of importance happens. Sam rarely questions his orders, and once he does he is immediately shut up by his commander, not to mention that some of the important enemies are rather shallow and uninspired. Unlike Snake, we get to know close to nothing about Sam, other than he’s got an important loved one. Drama is lacking too; when an important twist of events happens, the act is pulled out rather poorly.
Fischer’s suit is perfectly made. Weapon design is superb, but what else did you expect about stuff that exists in real life? Architectural design is typical European, and that is a good sign. Levels themselves are greatly designed, thumbs up for the guys involved here.
The enemies are indeed intelligent, but sometimes one is amused at the sheer stupidity of some of them. For example, very late during the game, almost before finishing it, I was sniping at all the lights in a room to get a secure darkened passage to my way out. Of course the guards kept checking over and over for the cause of the lights suddenly going of, but they never had the intelligence of checking other places besides the ones they kept looking for all the time.
This game is HARD, and I mean it. It will be virtually impossible to go by unnoticed your first time around so you will be facing several intense fire fights through the course of the game. If we consider this is a tactical stealth game, we deduce shooting in this game is not a very high, if reliable, means of defense, so there ya go…
Final Score. (Average is rounded to the closest pair number.( Ex: if 7.5 = 8, but if 6.5 = 6)
Sound Effects: 9
Final Score: 8
Splinter Cell is a very well made game that could see itself benefited if just by a little bit of emotion in the development of its story. The approach to stealth by the means of lights and shadow and even smell is an original one and it should be a fun game for anyone who enjoys these types of games. The game also features a series of extras including behind the scenes footage, random facts, two game trailers of Ubi Soft’s own “Rocky” and “XIII” and even an interview with Sam Fischer himself! (Hinting at a possible sequel) Plus new levels will be available in CD form from various gaming publications or you can download them if you can afford Xbox Live. (which I can’t, unfortunately) Is an expansion pack a possibility? It certainly is.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/09/03, Updated 02/09/03
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