Review by MSuskie

"Cellular."

Before I say anything else in this review, allow me to clarify one thing: I refuse to call this game Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell. Just like I hate saying things like American McGee's Alice or Sid Meier's Pirates!, this game is called Splinter Cell. Nothing more and nothing less. Now that I've got that out of the way, I'll continue. Before the Splinter Cell came along, there was really only one franchise that the stealth-action genre had, and that was Metal Gear. And while the two franchises are bound to be compared to one another on numerous occasions (simply because they're both stealth-action games), it's really not entirely fair to do so. The reason is because, despite being in the same genre, they're entirely different games with individual meanings.

And that's al good with me. I like the stealth-action genre and I certainly like Metal Gear, but quite frankly, the more recent Metal Gear Solid games, while great, have focused a bit too much on story and not quite enough on the game itself. And that's exactly what separates it from Splinter Cell. Rather than spending all that time on story elements, Splinter Cell focuses on gameplay itself, with story being a secondary concern. And rather than putting you in one single, large environment, Splinter Cell is composed of a series of missions, each in a different place, and each one getting you to use new weapons and tactics to get through. It's the thinking man's stealth-action game, and one that anyone – regardless of whether or not they liked Metal Gear – must experience at least once. It's that good.

Although Splinter Cell does have its story elements, not only are they NOT the focus of the game, but the plot itself is actually pretty tough to follow and generally doesn't make a whole lot of sense. To sum it up to the best of my abilities, you're Sam Fisher, a top-class “splinter cell” who is sent on a series of missions to uncover the disappearance of two American troops in a Middle-eastern country. Eventually, you'll have to find and assassinate a man named Nikoladze, who's apparently trying to start a war against the U.S. That's it – that's all I can tell you. I don't mean in terms of plot spoilers, I mean I'm actually unable to tell you what else the story involves. It's very confusing, very muddled, and very hard to follow – either that, or I just wasn't trying. Needless to say, the story centers in some way around a guy in a black suit (with goofy green-glowing goggles) who must infiltrate a series of bases containing terrorists with guns. Yay.

But I don't care, frankly, because the gameplay was much too compelling. Never before has stealth-action felt so intense and so real. From beginning to end, Splinter Cell will make you feel like you ARE Sam Fisher. Sneaking around from place to place without ultimately being detected is the name of the game here. Nevermind the fast and frantic action of Metal Gear Solid. In Splinter Cell, you've constantly got to keep in the shadows and out of sight. The reason is because the game takes realism to a whole new level. If you ever take on more than one or two guards at a time, chances are, you're smoked. Getting into rapid firefights is never a good idea in Splinter Cell. This terrific game really does put the “stealth” in stealth-action.

The first thing you'll notice about Splinter Cell is the graphics. Not only are the graphics absolutely gorgeous (this is one of the best-looking Xbox games around), but things like lighting play a central role in how the game plays. Before Splinter Cell came out, the stealth elements of stealth-action games simply consisted of hiding behind walls. There's so much more to it here. Sam Fisher is dressed from head to toe in black, meaning that if he stands in a dark shadow and doesn't move, he'll be invisible. And on the other hand, if he stands in broad daylight, enemies will immediately see him and start shooting. There are moments in the game when you'll be standing out in the open, in the enemy's field of vision, and won't see you simply because you're concealed in darkness.

In Splinter Cell, you'll be creeping through dark hallways and rooms, jumping from shadow to shadow when the enemies aren't looking, constantly keeping yourself hidden in the darkness. That's what this game is all about – darkness. And not just darkness, but turning it against your enemies so it becomes your ultimate weapon. When you're in the shadows, your enemies can't see you, but thanks to a helpful night vision that you can flick on and off with the d-pad, you can always see them. A helpful meter in the bottom-right corner of the screen will tell you how invisible you are. When playing Splinter Cell, you must always be on the lookout for the darkest corners, the places where the enemy will never find you. And patience is always key – waiting for the opportune moment to slip by unnoticed or sneak up behind a guy and give him a powerful smack on the head is the central factor at play here.

Sound also plays an important role in the game, and realistically speaking as well as gameplay. In the Metal Gear games, you could really run around all you wanted to, and no one would hear you unless you were right next to them, or were stepping on a “loud surface”. In Splinter Cell, if you're just running around, enemies will hear you and walk in the direction of the sound. Not only can you alternate between standing up straight and crouching (activated with the B button), but how fast you walk depends on how much you're pushing on the analog stick. The game certainly makes full use of analog sensitivity, as if you ever walk a bit too fast, it could cost you your life. Not just with movement, either – if you were to fire at an enemy and miss, they'd obviously hear the shot and think that something's up.

Splinter Cell, more so than any other game, really makes you FEEL like a secret agent hard at work at his dangerous job, by giving you a great set of gadgets and moves. And what's more, the levels, though linear, are extremely well-designed and have you using your arsenal to its fullest. You'll find yourself jumping off of walls Mario-style, grappling down the sides of buildings, hanging off of the edges of platforms, sidling along walls, sliding down wires, shimmying along slim ledges, and jumping down onto an enemy from below to deliver an unconsciousness-inducing sap on the head. The game plays very well, as all of Sam's basic moves – whether it be to jump, pull out your gun, crouch down and roll, or hug a wall – are done with a single button. The basic controls are easy to nail down, but actually using them to their fullest possibilities is simply up to the openness and skill of the player.

The gadgets you're given (which vary for each mission) are generally either for combat or convenience, and I can't think of a single gadget in Splinter Cell that isn't worth trying out at least once if you ever play the game (and you should). You've got you basic guns, for one thing, which are really just a silenced pistol for quick, healthy takeouts and a rifle with a scope, which is used for taking out fools from a distance. Although you'll start out with just the silenced pistol, you'll eventually get the rifle and can use it for hiding in the darkness and sniping enemies before they get a chance to fight back. Not only that, but the rifle has secondary fire mode, such as airfoil rings that will stun enemies for a bit of time.

Aside from basic weapons, there are the convenience gadgets that are simply used to make the adventure easier and more varied. When you encounter a locked door, pull out your lock pick and pick it via a simple lock-picking mini-game. If you come up to a door you haven't been through yet and are ensure of what's on the other side, you can slip a handy little camera under the door and see what's on the other side. You can even fire sticky cameras at walls that can be used to look around corners so enemies don't sneak up on you unexpectedly. Not only that, but some sticky camera can actually make noises to get the enemies' attention, at which point you can release poisonous gas to knock them out.

But what makes Splinter Cell such a great stealth-action game is how many tactics are put into play. Although the levels themselves are linear and really only have one path each, it's how the players puts his abilities to use that makes or breaks the game. After you've killed (or knocked out) an enemy, you've then got to hide him in a dark place so other enemies won't find him and sound the alarms. When there's not enough darkness to conceal yourself from the enemies, you can either turn off the lights or shoot them out with your pistol. And every level can be played through with varying levels of aggression. I'm personally the kind of guy that likes to get rid of every guard I see – you know, get them out of the way. So, I'd either pull out a gun and go for a headshot or draw them into a dark area, sneak up behind them and hit them on the head. But you don't need to do that. You can simply do it the old-fashioned way, sneaking from place to place when they're not looking. You play the way you want to play.

Pros

+ An extremely well designed stealth-action game.
+ An enormous selection of moves and equipment.
+ Very realistic gameplay makes you feel like Sam Fisher.
+ All sorts of tactics that vary to fit the player's style.
+ Gorgeous graphics and sharp sound.
+ Excellent voice acting (including the guy who played 24's David Palmer).
+ Some downloadable missions.

Cons

- The story is confusing and pretty tough to follow.
- Linear levels don't help replay value.
- Some moves, such as the split jump, you'll never use.

Overall: 9/10

Honestly, despite some flaws (such as the weak story and linear mission design), Splinter Cell is the best stealth-action game I've ever played. In the battle between the two biggest games in the genre, I'd pick this one over Metal Gear Solid because the gameplay is more refined, and it's not so story-heavy (which, in this case, is a good thing – the story kinda sucks). Never before has a stealth-action game played so beautifully and felt so realistic in so many different ways. The levels, though linear, feel well crafted and force players to use their heads on so many different levels. This is an example of a truly brilliant design, and one that everyone should play, whether they want to or not. What else is there to say?


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 08/29/05


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