Review by Richo Rosai

"Further Solidifies the New Definition of 'Sequel'"

Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is the very model of a modern sequel, but is it what a sequel should be? The answer to that is a conditional yes. If Zelda 2 is the shining example for sequels everywhere, then one could call Pandora Tomorrow a simple rehash. Most of the additions to the single player campaign are superficial at best, and in some cases even specific scenarios have been carried over from the predecessor. On the other hand, could anyone have expected Ubi to reinvent the wheel on the wagon carrying what is probably their biggest cash cow? Considering as well the rare coincidence of a game garnering so many devoted fans in both the casual and ‘core gamer camps makes the answer to that question an unequivocal no. In the current market and after being so unfairly punished for Beyond Good and Evil, I never expected Ubi to take any chances, but I did hope. On the other hand, I can't say I'm not completely satisfied with Pandora Tomorrow as a fan of the original, and anyone who has played the original will know without a doubt what to expect from it. Put simply, those who didn't like the first will not like the second, and vice versa.

Even more than the gameplay does, Pandora Tomorrow's style mimics Splinter Cell's very liberally. The he's-kinda-got-a-point-but-his-methods-are-liek-teh-evil terrorist has been resurrected for this outing, and his followers stand in your way in a half-dozen strangely shadowed levels. Don't expect anything fantastic this time either. There are no tanks or mechs, and no superhuman bosses. The game is still rooted firmly in reality, and although most would call it “stealth action”, I've always thought it shared that rare quality with the likes of Ico in that the whole of the game is a series of puzzles based in an action setting. While finishing it won't qualify you for Mensa, Pandora Tomorrow remains a parade of isolated problems that each require a solution, and rarely cluster together to make meta-problems.

Of what was changed and added to the arsenal of moves, what stands out most is the Metal Gear Solid-like ability to draw enemy characters' attention with noise. Sam now has a whistle mapped to the black button, alleviating the pain of the time-consuming and often buggy soda can and bottle tossing of the first game. This can expedite the gameplay to an untold degree for those who wish to exploit it. And those who don't? Well, that's another point that excels Pandora Tomorrow above its predecessor. There is often more than one solution to a problem, and the players' creativity has been given much more free reign than before. Far too often in Splinter Cell there was a “right way” to do things, and if this didn't click with the player he could get stuck quite easily.

One the other side of the fence, the enemies have a few new tricks as well. The motion sensors are of particular interest, as they punish a lack of patience with an increased alarm level and can make for an intense situation when there are guards in pursuit. Also significant are the enemy snipers, which now play a large role in the game. Finding the right angle to get a head shot on them can be a very satisfying challenge. In rare cases, the enemies can also utilize vision-enhancing headgear like Sam's, which occasionally adds a much-needed pace change to the player's options. Finally are the alarm levels themselves, which are in my opinion the most important thing to be fixed in this game. Splinter Cell broke one of the most fundamental rules of game design by allowing the player to get into situations from which he could not escape. To be more specific, if you didn't hide an enemy body well enough an hour prior in a long level, you might well have gotten a game over because of it near the end of the level, and with no way to get back to fix your mistake. This led to the ultimate frustration of loading the game, taking a step forward and getting a game over, in my case several times in a row in disbelief before grudgingly accepting the unfair fate of having to replay the entire damned thing from the start. I never quite forgave Ubi for that, but they at least didn't remake this grievous error given a second chance.

This iteration of the series also continues the super-model standard that first drew attention to Splinter Cell. Though not entirely redone, the graphics engine has been tweaked and a few new special effects (the sun glare from Prince of Persia comes to mind) make the experience that much more pleasing to the eyes. The only thing that still bothers me is why they didn't bother with a filter on the shadows in a game so dependent on them. Fortunately, however, the times when the camera zooms in on what looks like an Atari 2600 game in the form of a cast shadow have been minimized this go-round. The sound is likewise carried over, including the fading in-and-out techno that we all came to know and love. And on a personally pleasing note, the offensive opening/ending song from the first game doesn't have an equivalent here!

Ubi didn't want us to call this Splinter Cell 2, but we did and it is. I doubt the next game in the line will do much more to the formula than Pandora Tomorrow has this time, so this is a sequel and the sequel to the blockbuster game that fans couldn't get enough of. None of us can expect in the modern market to escape the unfortunately prevalent sequel mill, but we can at least demand that the sequels don't suck. And boy howdy, Pandora Tomorrow is about as un-sucky a rehash as you're gonna find, so go buy it already.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 05/23/04


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