Review by dwashbur

"This Isn't the Sam I Know"

I love the Splinter Cell games, but the trend they have taken in the last couple make me wonder. First we had Chaos Theory, which has a good interface, some fun new moves and a great story. But we also have those stupid scores, and the only way to get 100% is to not kill any of your enemies. Where's the fun in that???? This trend continues in Double Agent, and you even get docked points for killing people that Lambert TELLS you to kill. WTF??? That's just plain stupid. My goal is to get through the levels alive and achieve the objectives. I don't need some arbitrary scoring system.

The worst part of this game, though, is the massive set of changes made to the basic interface. In Splinter Cell, Pandora Tomorrow, and even Chaos Theory, when there was something to do, the popup box told you what to do. In Double Agent, we now have stupid little icons that might or might not actually mean something. You're supposed to know what they mean, but there's nothing anywhere on the disc or in the booklet to tell you what they mean, so you just have to guess. The most common one is a little hand, and the position it's in may be a hint about what the game designers were doing when they came up with this one. I was happy to see that the med kits are gone; Sam now heals progressively during time periods when he's not getting shot. But in place of the health meter, we have more stupid little icons that change color as his health deteriorates. How much is it down at a given point? There's no way to tell, because the changes go by so fast it's hard to grasp. It's the same with the stealth meter; instead of an actual meter you have a little light on his back that's green, yellow or red. How much light does it take to change it from green to yellow? You can't tell.

There are lots more "improvements." The night vision is horrible, all warped at the edges and out of focus. Thermal vision? Don't get me started. It's useless. And the sniper scope is worse than useless, it's a pain in the butt. It zooms about as well as a child's toy magnifying glass, and the little red dot that has replaced the crosshairs is pretty much never on target. As you move through a level, new objectives are added, but you're never told about them. Apparently you're supposed to check your OPSAT every 10 seconds or so to see if a new one has been added, like rescuing some hostages or some such. But since the bad guys don't stop shooting while you're checking your OPSAT, that's horribly impractical. At least with games like the Rainbow Six series or Timeshift, when a new objective is added something pops up on the HUD to tell you so. In Double Agent you're just supposed to get it by psychic link, I guess.

A little of the story: Sam goes on a mission to Iceland with a young recruit in tow. The kid blows his part of the mission and gets killed, which has Sam rather bummed. But then, on the chopper after extraction, Lambert has to tell Sam that his daughter Sarah has been killed in a car accident. Sam falls into a deep depression and starts taking the most dangerous assignments he can come up with. This one involves breaking a man out of prison. Jamie Washington is a member of a group called JBA that appears to be a domestic terrorist group. Sam's task is to get put into prison, help Jamie break out, and use that as a pathway to infiltrating JBA to find out what they're up to. Half of the levels take place inside the JBA headquarters, and you have various objectives assigned by both JBA and NSA that you're supposed to do. Obviously, the NSA ones need to be done without JBA knowing about them. Your HUD includes a pair of "trust meters," which tell you how much each organization trusts you at the moment. If either one falls to zero, it's game over/mission failure.

The JBA headquarters is a freaking maze, and there's no way to tell what is where because the map is meaningless. To make matters worse, every mission inside JBA headquarters is timed. That might be all right except that the locations of and paths to the assorted objectives are so counter-intuitive it would take at least a dozen tries to figure half of them out. I wound up using one of the walk-throughs on gamefaqs to get through each one, because at my age life's too short for that crap. And the objectives are frequently vague; in one, you're supposed to get retinal scans of certain people, but all the main objective says is "obtain retinal pattern to use on retinal scanners." Until you scroll down through an impossible list of secondary objectives, you don't find out that you're supposed to get FIVE retinal scans, even though you only need one to get through the scanners.

Certain objectives unlock new gadgets, such as sonic grenades and various types of wall mines. That's cool until you discover that YOU NEVER GET TO USE ANY OF THEM! So what's the point? Certain unlocks, like improvements to the OCP and the hacking gear, are occasionally useful, but most of them are just there. Big deal.

Sam's delightful sense of humor is gone. He's morose, grouchy, and bitter. In Pandora Tomorrow, we got wonderful exchanges like "The elevator's stopped." "Thanks, Lambert." We get none of that here. Sam is no fun, in fact he may be one of the bad guys. This is not the Sam I came to enjoy in the other games. I don't know who decided to make this turn in the story, but they should have been kicked in the whatchamacallits just before they made that decision. My local store told me that Double Agent for the Xbox was a major bomb, the vast majority of people didn't like it. Count me among them. There are much better games to waste your time and money on, because this one just isn't worth either one.


Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 03/09/09

Game Release: Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Double Agent (US, 10/17/06)


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