Review by sbn4

"Is it worth being a double agent on Xbox?"

For a series that was originally introduced in 2002, the Splinter Cell franchise has become synonymous with the Xbox, and has become a very well known franchise. Already on its fourth outing in as many years; Splinter Cell Double Agent attempts take the series in a different direction. Just like the title implies, our hero Sam won't be the goody goody he's always been. Not only will he be working with the terrorists, but he'll be working against them at the same time. In the end SC:DA comes out with mixed results, but is still a very solid and worthy sequel for the series.

I'm willing to bet that most people are worried how well this version of the game will turn out. And you wouldn't be out of line for feeling this way. It's almost a written law that past SC games are terrific on the Xbox and PC, but pretty underwhelming on PS2 and Gamecube. Earlier this year, Ubisoft released the stellar Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter for the Xbox360. However, it looked like little effort was put into the PS2 and Xbox versions, because they were quite abysmal in comparison. Many fans who hadn't gone "next gen" for whatever reason, were worried Ubisoft would pull a GRAW on us Xbox owners. I'm here to tell you they did not.

Story

Sam's past three adventures have all been pretty similar. He has been tasked with taking down groups of underground terrorists, revolutionaries, or any scum that threaten American freedoms. Past games were filled with plenty of political jargon, government conspiracies, and international conflicts. Story telling has never been a strong point for the series. This is due to the fact that most of the plot unfolds in news broadcasts similar to what we would see on CNN. The series never really put too much emphasis on it characters or their struggles. Also, cutscenes never presented as dramatically as the Metal Gear Solid series. Many gamers found the stories dull, un-interesting, and difficult to follow. Most of us just wanted to jump in and use Sam's cool new moves or gadgets.

Double Agent attempts to break the mold by adding a more personable story. In this regard, it succeeds somewhat. The story is more involving than past games, but it doesn't handle all its story elements that well. On your first mission, Sam and his support man Hisham Hamza are dropped off to infiltrate a foundry which has been taken over by a group of terrorists. You must investigate the new weapon that the terrorists are planning to use. Midway through the mission, you get an urgent call from your commander, Lambert. He orders you and your partner out immediately. On the chopper, Lambert informs Sam that the weapon they were searching for (Red Mercury) was stolen from the foundry. To make matters worse, Sam's daughter was killed in a car accident. This is when Sam loses it and goes over the edge. He becomes extremely depressed over losing his only child. With nothing left to live for, Sam decides to take his most dangerous assignment. His latest mission is to infiltrate the ranks of the JBA (John Brown's Army) as a mole and investigate what they are planning with the Red Mercury. In order to do this, Fisher must do some hard time. His only hope to get into the JBA is through an inmate named Jamie Washington. There he must win the trust of Jamie and the JBA. But at the same time, he must stay within the moral jurisdiction of the NSA as well.

While the story sounds intriguing and interesting on paper, its execution could have been a little better. Ubisoft obviously wanted players to feel for Sam's loss, and root for him. While Sam is a very cool character, he still isn't as deep as I'd hope he would be. For instance, when Sam loses his daughter, there still isn't a whole lot of insight into his character. We never see him mourn or depressed. Instead we are given a jumble of scenes where Sam picks fights with strangers on the street and him getting thrown into jail. The game just throws these scenes at you while Lambert narrates. While everything is cohesive, it would have been nice for a little more development to Sam's character. Especially considering that was what Ubisoft was aiming for.

Gameplay 9/10

Let's clear one thing out of the way right now. The Xbox version is almost a completely different game than the 360 version. The basic story and premise is pretty much the same. However, a lot of levels and new moves that appear in the 360 version are altered beyond recognition or are completely absent from this version. That leaves us with a game that is pretty identical to Chaos Theory. Some may be a little disappointed that the most exciting looking levels from the 360 version (Africa and Shanghai) don't even make a presence in this game. Also a lot of the interesting moral decisions are gone. Despite all this, the Xbox version of Double Agent still plays extremely well. And in some ways, it's even better than its 360 counterpart.

The first mission serves as a tutorial. However, it's still a surprisingly long mission that opens the stage for the rest of the game. In this mission, you'll have support from Hamza. Here you will gain access to a few moves that were featured in the co-op mode in Chaos Theory like the human ladder. You'll also be using a lot of these two man moves in the prison level with your “buddy” Jamie. While the prison mission is still straightforward, it's an interesting departure for the series. Sam will not only be stripped of his usual gear (night vision goggles, SC20K, SC pistol, etc), but he'll also have to find weapons and ammo as he makes his way through the level. Once you manage to make your way out of prison, you'll be accepted into the fold and become a member of the JBA. You'll be back in familiar SC territory.

What are my order…sir?

The rest of the game consists of Sam doing missions for the JBA. At the same time, Sam will also have orders from the NSA. Sometimes you'll have to make some decisions on whose orders to obey. In one of the levels, your JBA boss (Emile) will order you to kill everyone you come across. Your NSA cohorts will tell you not to have a single casualty. Based on what course of action you take, your trust will either improve or deteriorate depending on whose order you decide to follow. If you completely lose trust from one agency, you'll end up having a limited amount of time to access a computer and open a secure line back to their HQ. If you do this, you can continue the game. If you fail, the game ends. This is a little disappointing because I was anticipating something more interesting to happen. For instance, if you lose complete trust from the JBA, I was hoping they would send their own agents to kill you in the middle of the mission, or something like that.

Another thing that sort of bugged me about the trust meter is that most decisions don't make a big enough difference in the game itself. In one mission, Sam will be ordered by his JBA comrades to test a sample of the Red Mercury explosive on a luxury cruise line with 2,000 people on board. Sam will have the expertise from his supposed love interest, Enrica Villablanca. Obviously, the NSA doesn't want this bomb to explode. So you have a choice of either going through with the operation, or sabotaging it completely. While these options are cool, the end result doesn't seem significant enough for it to matter. Only a few lines in the following cutscene will be altered. Like I said before, everything is cohesive and makes sense for the most part. But the cutscenes and story telling don't really do a great job of portraying these intense situations.

Being a Ninja 101

Fortunately, those are the only real gripes I had with the game. Everything else about Double Agent is quite good. The game operates on the same principles of Chaos Theory. So if you've played that game, the controls and mechanics should be very similar to you. You'll still have to rely on the shadows to stay hidden. Also, the game isn't as strict as the original SC or Pandora Tomorrow. However, SCDA does follow an alarm system similar to Pandora Tomorrow. The number of alarms triggered won't end the game, but it will make the mission increasingly difficult to get through. If you are spotted on camera, pass through security lasers, or cause guards to get suspicious, the alarm level will increase. On lower alarm stages, guards will become a little more alert, and trip wires will become active. Alarms triggered after that will cause guards to equip helmets and body armor. In the final stage, they'll break out the heavy guns. Gun emplacements, and drone guns will become activated. While it's quite possible to get through the game by running and gunning, you'll find the game much more rewarding if you remain stealthy. The AI does a pretty convincing job for a stealth game. They are good shots, check areas thoroughly in groups, time shots with comrades, etc. If you are tired of the somewhat predictable enemy AI from the MGS games, you should be able to appreciate the AI here.

Xbox > 360?? No way!!

Despite all this, is the Xbox version worth playing considering there is a next generation version with better graphics and gameplay? If anything, I'd have to give the overall edge to the original Xbox version. Not because it has more co-op content, or better online, but also because the solo campaign plays better. The 360 version, which is still a great game, changes a lot of unnecessary things. For one, there are a lot of daytime missions. This is not really a bad thing, but the light, sound and health meters that the series has used since the beginning is gone. This leaves a lot of tedious guessing. In its place is a traffic light system which doesn't work so great. Green means you are completely hidden. Yellow means guards have spotted something suspicious, and red means guards will open fire. Unfortunately, the system doesn't make too much sense. Sam could be in a fairly well lit room with little shadows, but guards will still have trouble seeing him. This is especially weird because Sam will be wearing some pretty unconventional clothing for some of his stealth missions. Not to mention the 360 version isn't as graphically impressive as past SC game, and is brought down by occasional framerate issues and some jerky animations. The Xbox version is traditional SC, while the 360 version feel a lot different.

That's enough about the 360 version. The original Xbox version also has a robust co-op mode which can be played online. Just like Chaos Theory, two players can play as Splinter Cells in training. Here, they will have access to some really cool two man moves and maneuvers. Xbox owners also have access to a 3 vs. 3 spies versus mercenaries online mode which is not featured in the 360 version. The online feature is a pretty similar affair to last years Chaos Theory as well. Player can choose to be either a spy or a mercenary. Spies play extremely similar to Sam Fisher. They are agile and have few weapons. Their goal is to access terminals on the map, and download information. The gun toting mercenaries are restricted to a first person view similar to game like Halo. Their task is to eliminate spies. Each side obviously has their pros and cons. While online mode might be an acquired taste for most, it certainly is a fresh and exciting change from most online games.

Graphics and Sound 9/10

Like I mentioned before, you needn't worry about the quality of this port. The Xbox version looks pretty similar to last years SC. The Ubisoft Montreal team, who were responsible for Splinter Cell and Chaos Theory, were in charge of this version. While the game does rival Chaos Theory graphically, it's not quite as sharp as CT was in some areas. Some textures and character models aren't as impressive, and there are some loading in the middle of a few missions. Overall, it lacks the polish that Chaos Theory had. None of this really hurts the games overall appearance, and you'll probably still think this is a great looking game. Nonetheless, you should be prepared for some subtle graphical blemishes.

Honestly, I thought Chaos Theory had one of the best soundtracks I've heard in a long time. Amin Tobin really hit the nail on the head with the sound track for Chaos Theory. Each stage meshed perfectly with the music and environments. Even though SC:DA has a different musical composer, it's music is still very good. While it's not quite as memorable as SC:CT's soundtrack, it really fits the theme of the game quite well. The voice acting is top notch once again. Michael Ironside turns in another amazing performance as Sam Fisher. The rest of the cast is very well done and they all perform very convincingly. Ambient sounds and environmental sounds are also well done. Things like gunshots, footsteps, and guard conversations all go a long way to create an extremely immersive experience.

Replayability 9/10

I consider Chaos Theory to be the perfect package. It was pretty much three games in one. It featured the amazing solo missions, co-op missions, and the online multiplayer. SC:DA is pretty much more of the same in this regard, even if the solo campaign is pretty short (9 missions that could be beaten in 10 hours). However, the co-op and multiplayer is what will keep you coming back to this game. If you've got a friend, or Xbox live, these modes can offer hours of fun. You could play the solo missions on different difficulty settings too. Some of the later difficulties offer a pretty stiff challenge. We're talking one hit kills you you're spotted.

On the whole, Double Agent is an amazing package just like its predecessor. It offers some exciting solo missions, an addicting co-op, and multiplayer mode. Unfortunately, it doesn't have the same “wow” factor as last year's game. While it does try to do some new things, it still stays true to it's roots and doesn't change much. Still, it's an amazing game that any fan of the series would love. If you couldn't get into SC:CT because of the story, I suggest at least renting SC:DA since the story is a lot more engaging. However, if you couldn't get into SC:CT at all, then SC:DA definitely isn't for you. Everyone else would do good to play this game. Hopefully SC5 can combine excellent gameplay and story, and offer one of the best stealth games ever made.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/02/07


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