Review by JD Fedule

"Nice game. But the replay value seems to be lost in the shadows somewhere..."

These days, we take freedom for granted. We have freedom to speech, expression, religious belief... but sometimes we don't even notice it.

There are some places where the "Four Freedoms" do not apply. For whatever reason, and by whatever means, people have taken control of entire countries and nations and are causing serious problems to the world. In situations like these, to restore order, one must go above the law, to protect the law. A Fifth Freedom is necessary. The Fifth Freedom is the Freedom to protect the other Four Freedoms, by whatever means necessary. To steal to prevent theft. To kill to prevent killing.

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell is a classic espionage game... save the fact that it's brilliant.

Backstory: 9

The game being Tom Clancy endorsed, we can be assured before even buying the game that the story will be great.

It is late 2003. Certain countries in the world have begun using advanced technology to conceal potential threats to the security of the United States. In response to this, the National Security Agency has started a new initiative, that they dub "Third Echelon", to collect data from hostile territory by the more classical methods of espionage (enhanced, of course, by modern technology). If certain intelligence is critical, and traditional acquisition methods fail, Third Echelon will send out a Splinter Cell. A Splinter Cell consists of a lone field operative, linked by more ways than imaginable to the best NSA minds in the business. Together, a Splinter Cell is swift, silent, ruthlessly efficient, and deadly. Third Echelon is denied to exist by the US Government, and if the operative is captured, he's on his own. This becomes highly relevant later on in the game.

Early 2004: Agent Alison Madison, a CIA operative placed in the Cabinet of Georgian President Kombayn Nikoladze, lost contact with her Government. A second agent, Agent Blaustein, was sent in to find her, and seven days later, he lost contact too. The CIA contacted the NSA regarding this matter, and Third Echelon activated Splinter Cell operative Sam Fisher to locate them.

Gameplay: 10

Unlike the other major Clancy games, Splinter Cell was designed with minimal shooting in mind. Hence, only two guns are available for use to the player: the trusty 5.72mm SC Sidearm, silenced and versatile, and the 5.56mm SC20k AR M.A.W.S., which can do just about anything. This by no means means minimal violence - there are any number of means of enemy disposal at your, er... disposal. These include pistol-whipping, good old fashioned elbowing, electrocution, stunning, gassing, jumping on peoples heads (seriously!), and more. These latter methods do not actually kill the enemy, and this is crucial. There are missions so secretive that a single casualty can blow the whole mission. It is in these situations that stealth comes into play.

Unlike most games, the engine around which the game revolves is light and shadow. This, besides offering spectacular visual effects, offers a crucial gameplay element: visibility. Sam works best in the dark, as he has nightvision, and the enemies (usually) don't. Shadows allow for sneaking around. Wherever you are, your current location has a (displayed) visibility factor that determines how far away you can be seen (at 0, a guard has to practically bump into you to detect you), and how accurately you can be shot at (if, god forbid, you get into such a situation). If the enemy can't see you, they'll most likely fire blindly around and hope they hit. Each texture also generates sound, also crucial for stealth. Obviously, solid concrete is preferable to creaky floorboards, and broken glass is present in all the least convenient places.

The AI is pretty good. Something to note is that, when they detect a threat, enemies will usually call for comrades by means of alarm panels rather than take on the threat alone. Because of the covert nature of most missions, extreme caution with alarms is necessary. Sometimes, a single alarm means mission failure.

Sam himself can do a fair bit. He can do all the classic actions like jumping, crouching, rolling, shimmying, and such. His more advanced actions include zip-lining (how does he avoid friction burns?), Rappelling and Wall Jumping. His trademark move, the Split Jump is pretty impressive. In a narrow corridor, Sam can jump up, do a wall jump for extra height, then do a mid air split, thus keeping him in place. This is not only useful for dodging approaching enemies in tight spots, but also, because only Sam's legs are used for keeping him up, he has both hands free, which allows for full weapon/gadget use. You can even jump down and do a drop attack on the poor, unsuspecting fellow below. He works well with enemies, too. If you manage to grab one, there are several options available to you: You can interrogate him for vital information such as keypad codes or intelligence. You can force them to use objects such as retinal scanners or password protected computers. You can use them as a human shield. Or you can just knock them out. Once you've done that, to ensure maximum stealthiness, you must hide the body. The probability of the body being found and alarms subsequently raised is determined by the visibility factor of the location where you hid the body. Killing may compromise security, but as the manual so brilliantly puts it: "The choice of leaving a witness or a corpse is no choice at all.". Cheerful bunch, aren't they?

The gameplay in general revolves around non-violence. Ammo is limited, so simple gun-ho rushing is not a good idea. Besides, it's likely to cause alarm, and get you nailed. It is possible to go through all the levels in the story and only ever kill one person.

Graphics and Sound: 10

Beautiful visuals and brilliant sounds, from ambient sound to sound effects, make the game as brilliant to watch as it is to play. The sound effects are all real - the sound of a pistol firing is the sound of a pistol firing. The sound of broken glass is the sound of broken glass. The graphics, from background to sprites and textures are also well done, there are no sloppy close up effects, and no sprite glitches. The characters animations are all smoothly done, either by hand or by motion-capture. In short, it's very good.

Realism: 8

Because the game is set in the very near future (even though we are currently in the time of Nikoladze's supposed coup as this review is being written), and the developers were working to Tom Clancy-istic realism, everything done in the game must be possible. The story is composed from details of real political situations. The weapons and gadgets used by Sam are either already real or in prototype stage. Everything is done to the degree that the player can look at it and say "This could really be happening!".

Replayability and Extra Stuff: 6

Replayabilitywise, Splinter Cell is not that great at all. Once you finish the game, that's it. There are no unlockables, no secret stuff, no nothing. You cannot go back to a previous mission and mix and match your equipment. You can't do anything.

One nice additional feature is the numerous extra videos included. These include interviews with the developers and detailed rundowns of the creation of the game, in areas such as the gadget creation, storyline, gameplay engines, animation, voice acting... and an "interview" with Sam Fisher himself, shot as if in gameplay.

The Live Factor: 7

Weren't expecting that, were you? Don't panic, Splinter Cell is not multiplayer, but it does have a content download feature. At present there are three levels downloadble via Live: Kola Cell, Vselka: Infiltration and Vselka: Submarine. All are relatively short, but fun and challenging. Updates, however, are infrequent. It's taken them a few months before the first level was released, this was followed by a few months of nothingness before the Vselka Levels came out. Disappointing.

The Verdict: 8/10

While the gameplay in Splinter Cell is absorbing, fun and addictive, once you finish the game, there is little to do besides the downloadable levels. It's the kind of game where you finish it and say "Great! ... ... ...Next!" and move on. The lack of replayability extends only to "hard" mode and the unofficial One Kill Game challenge. If you don't have Xbox Live, you're limited to the last two options. However, all is not lost for those without: If you live in the US, the extra levels are available on a demo disk that was originally available when you pre-ordered Tom Clancy's Ranbow Six 3. However, it is now only available by trading with those who received it, and presumably over eBay. This demo disk is only available in the USA. Those in the UK will have to rely on the local OXM to deliver the extra content on their demo disks.

Pros:

-Fun to play
-Deep strategy element
-Hugely addictive
-Fantastic visual effects
-Brilliant sound effects
-Both imaginative and realistic level design
-Now an Xbox Classic: discount!

Cons

-Lack of replayability
-DLC releases infrequent, likely to stop now Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is here.

My advice: Get it. At £/$20, it's a pinch, and brilliant value for money. Even better for Live Users.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 06/11/04


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