Review by Arnhem Knight
"A routine Splinter Cell with a few changes, good and bad."
Since day one I have been a Splinter Cell fan. I have never been the run and gun type of person. I love analyzing a situation and planning and executing the sneakiest way around a tough situation. That is one of the reasons I fell in love with the series. I wasn't turned of by it's difficulty, or it's slower gameplay. Those things actually made me enjoy it more. The first one was amazing. I played it nearly everyday until the sequel was released. While the second was disappointing, what with all the bugs and the weak story, it was still a great stealth game at all times. Then came the third entry, Chaos Theory. This game blew me away. Wide open levels, excellent A.I., a darker feel, and the best campaign of the entire series. An incredibly high bar had been set(for the Xbox version, anyway). The formula had essentially remained the same, so it seems fitting that Ubisoft mixed up the formula for Double Agent. While the changes were not all that huge, some of them affect gameplay quite a bit, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. What we have is a great Splinter Cell game that sticks to the formula, but it has some apparent flaws.
Splinter Cell has always been a game that tells a complex and often confusing clandestine story. The previous games did a great job at this, but terrorists can only do so much, so obviously it is time to change the story. Now you are a terrorist. After Sam's daughter is killed, he has nothing to live for, and he decides to take on an assignment that puts him in the shoes of a double agent, hence the subtitle. The story is lame, and it involves a powerful weapon in the hands of the terrorist group. Honestly, it is nothing new. What is new is the trust meter and the rare opportunity for you, the player, to make a moral decision. These decisions will affect the trust of the NSA and the JBA, the terrorist group. Lose too much on either side, you are done with the mission. Essentially Ubisoft tried to create a more open ended and gamer chosen story, but they didn't fully deliver on this, which is disappointing. Overall, the story is routine and average at best. And each of the multiple endings are pretty...well, disappointing, leaving the player wanting more. One of the better story elements is how Sam is portrayed. Most of us knew that Sam was lonely, but now that he is without his daughter, we see just how lonely he truly is, and while it is depressing, it is also very cool for fans of the series.
Gameplay wise, this game remains pretty much the same, but there are a few changes. There is still stealth, classic weapons and gadgets, cool moves, and multiple ways around various situations. None of this has changed. What has changed is the aforementioned trust meter. Also new are the daytime missions. Several of the missions take place in broad daylight. Cool, but the lack of a decent light meter makes these missions more annoying then cool. Yeah, I said the lack of a decent stealth meter. Now Sam has a light that has three colors. Green means you are invisible, yellow means you can be seen, and red means that you have been identified as an intruder. This method of showing how well you are hidden just doesn't work. It causes quite a bit of frustration, and all of this could have been prevented had there been a decent light meter. One of the better additions is the JBA undercover missions. Several people have given these missions a bad label because they are repetitive. This is true, but it adds a sense of realism to the game. Most terrorists don't have multiple hideouts(not that I would know), so it seems fitting that Sam sneaks around the same one four times, gathering dirt on the terrorists that he is working for. And these missions are purely optional. Failing to complete objectives will result in a loss of trust, but it is easy to gain it back. The only thing is that these missions are timed, but if you were missing for too long, some suspicion would be present. Also returning is the darker, M-rated tone. Sam has his knife again, so there is plenty of violent stabbings and neck breaking, and things of the sort.
The interactive sequences deserve a section all on their own. It started as lock picking, but now there is safe cracking, hacking, decrypting, bomb defusal(if this is even a word), and so much more. There are so many sections like this, and each one presents their own unique challenge. Most are simple, but some are a bit more difficult, but they are never frustrating. This adds so much to the gameplay. Years ago the game would have done these things for us, but now we can do it all on our own, and it is pretty unique. Not many games provide this kind of interaction.
One of the things people were excited about was the game's visual appearance. While the game does look great, I get the feeling that it could have looked better. Certain parts of the game look fantastic. A blizzard near Russia, fireworks in Shanghai, and a view of the sea aboard a cruise ship all stand out as beautiful set pieces. Character models also look great, with near perfect amounts of detail. Sadly, the game does have it's ugly points. Lighting isn't near as good as previous games. When the game says you are invisible, it sometimes appears that you are well lit and clearly present to any person. Splinter Cell has always been built around shadows and lighting, and the fact that this game doesn't have that same emphasis kind of bites. It doesn't ruin the game, but it does take away from it seeing as how it is one of the key elements of the series. Other than that, the game is crisp and clear, just how it should be.
Sound wise, the game recycles several of the same sounds that have been in every other SC game. This is pretty upsetting, considering this is next gen. The soundtrack remains pretty standard. The music is quiet, but if you are spotted, the score speeds up. Michael Ironside returns to voice Sam Fisher, and as usual, he does a damn good job. The other voices are also well done, aside from the minor foreign characters who sport the usual poor accents. While the game never sounds terrible, it is far from groundbreaking. It also would have been nice to have a sound meter such as the one in Chaos Theory. Being heard by an enemy almost seems random, even if there is ambient sound in the environment.
Multiplayer is one of the finer points of the game. It is simple and friendly, but difficult to master. The game starts you off with three maps, but allows you to unlock more with experience. The maps are all fairly large, and complex. None of them are too similar, providing a diverse set of maps to play on, although each one follows a general theme. Also unlockable are skins, and those come only when you reach a certain rank. This game has a ranking system that combines your skills into a score, and when you reach a certain percentage, you will rank up. As for the actual gameplay, it is spies verse mercenaries. The spies do not have any guns, but rather they have non-lethal gadgets to stun or slow down the mercs. The spies can kill the mercs only if they grab them from behind or pull them over a ledge. The mercs are heavily armed with a gun, grenades, and drones, as well as a few melee attacks and a flashlight. The gameplay is basic. The mercs defend terminals while the spies attempt to hack them. The goal for the mercs is to kill all the spies or prevent them from downloading two complete files. The spies have to download two files or kill all of the mercs. The goal for spies is survival. If you die, you lose any data you had, so it is better to live rather than die. There is so much to do in the multiplayer, and it rarely gets boring. Every game is different, and provides a new experience every time you play. Playing as both is a must to rank up, although most will choose to prefer one or the other. This portion of the game is great, and it will last for a while. The downside is the lag, which is terrible. It often times makes the game unplayable, and nothing is worse then finishing a great match, but then losing your stats because your 360 crashes. Maybe a patch will be released soon that will fix this. This is the only serious flaw in the multiplayer.
In a word, this game is good. It isn't amazing, but it gets the job done. For die hard fans like me, it isn't what was expected. It is short, and fast paced, and that isn't what Splinter Cell was based around. The changes had real potential, but that potential was never explored, and that is the main flaw in this game: missed opportunity. What the game messes up in the single player is more than made up for in the fantastic multiplayer, though, so it is still worth a purchase. At least the story sets us up for a sequel. This gives Ubisoft the chance to bring back the classic Splinter Cell.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 11/01/06
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