Review by JW ACE
"More Splinter Cell but with some iffy changes"
Double Agent is the fourth installment of the very popular and successful Splinter Cell series. After the success of Chaos Theory, the third installment, it would seem that this game would be a sure bet. Unfortunately, that is not quite the case...the interface has been changed, the controls have been tweaked, and the story features a Sam Fisher much different than in the last 3 games. Change isn't always bad, and it isn't always good. In this case
the change is for the worse.
The graphics are better than Chaos Theory, and they are on par with the graphics of other games. The game requires Shader Model 3 to play, which forced a lot of people at the time the game came out to upgrade. Although, its now quickly becoming a standard in all the graphics cards. That's not the problem; the problem is that even with the recommended system requirements this game runs VERY slow in some levels. This games was played on a PC with AMD Duel Core 6000+, 2 gigs of RAM, and an ATI 2900HD, and there were still plenty of slowdowns, and the settings were not even maxed.
The level that you most notice this is when you are at the Terrorist base. For some reason, that level is a pig on resources. The game also gets a little slower each time you do a quick-load. After 4 or 5 quick loads, you might as well just quit the game, and restart it. This is clearly a sign of lazy programming on the graphics back end. The game is just not optimized at all to run on the PC. In fact, it looks like they did very little tweaking for the PC at all, which is ridiculous because the game was originally made created on the Xbox360, which has similar hardware to that of a PC.
The sound, thankfully, is as good as the ones before it. The music is very good and adds to the atmosphere, increasing tempo when you get caught. The voices are good to. Michael Ironside returns again as Sam, and the rest of the voices are all great. The ambiance is realistic too; best example is the Africa levels. You are in the middle of a civil war and you hear gunshots and rockets flying everywhere.
Here is the biggest departure from the series. Chaos Theory seemed to have perfect controls, yet some things were just thrown out in this game. The most notable is interacting with the world. Fans of the C.T. game will find it a little awkward now because you can't stop an action once you start it. For example, if you select to hack a PC, but then decide to cancel you use to just hit a key to stop yourself from the long animation to go up and attach the hack tool to the PC. Now, you have to live with it and then quit. Also, in the PC's, when reading emails you can't use the mouse, don't know why, but you will have to use the Enter and escape keys to navigate the emails. What OS are these laptops? DOS? Or maybe, old school UNIX? Plus if you hit Esc too quickly you could just get the games menu screen instead of exiting the PC screen, and that we getting annoying after a while.
The other main difference is that the interaction display is shown in the middle of the screen, and it only shows one action at a time. You get use to it but its too easy to just press space bar and do the first action that comes up instead of realizing that you want to do something different and you need to scroll the list. This was mostly only and issue in heat of the moment type scenario's, like trying to sneak up behind a grunt to take hostage.
Most of the other controls remain untouched. The movement keys are the same, the lock-picking is the same, and the gun controls are the same. Although, I also found inventory a little harder to manage, maybe that is because it's a different interface now.
The game play is both better and worse. Let us start with the worse. First, the light meter is gone. Instead, you have a light on your back that is Green, Red, or Yellow. Green means you are hidden, yellow means you are NOT hidden but not seen, and Red means you are seen by an enemy. This system is not that great, because the yellow is too ambiguous. The other problem, due to the fact that the graphics engine is un-optimized, the controls are way less responsive. If you are repelling down a building, and you hit the key to jump so you can quickly lower yourself in hopes of not getting spotted, everything will be slow-mo. You will be preying that that guard is as slow to turn as you are to jump. This leads to a rather bad gaming experience.
Next, one of the new things to do is crack safes. This would be cool if not for a really bad bug that happens on 4 out of 5 safes where the controls are unresponsive. Your other favorite pastimes, like picking locks and hacking computers, all seem to work fine. There are some rather annoying mini games, like creating mines and decrypting emails, that can get on your nerves but you do get the hang of them.
Now, one of the biggest changes is that you are not given a clear set of mission requirements for each level. Instead you are given a bunch of optional goals and you gain or lose trust with either the NSA or JBA depending on which goal it is. You usually loose trust if you get spotted doing something you should not be doing in the JBA headquarters, and NSA trust if you kill civilians. Some levels are better than others for example, one level has you place a transmitter on the roof antenna to broadcast info to the NSA and you get points for that. On the same level you are asked to run an obstacle course in a period of time to show your skills to the JBA. Later levels are a bit iffier with the mission goals but still, it actually adds a nice new equation to the mix of the game play. Although, there is almost no point to having high trust in either group, because the only time it affects the game is when you run out of trust and then the game is over.
In fact, the game is most affected by decisions you make in 2 spots during the game. One of them determines if one of the other characters will survive or not, and the last just determines if the first half of the last level will be very easy or moderately hard. The second half of the last level is always the same, and the ending is the same. The ending is mutually gratifying meaning that regardless of your choices you should like the 1 ending.
On the bright side, the core game play is the same as before. You have to hide and silently take out guards and do various objectives without being spotted. The only big change is that there are a bunch of optional objectives that really just determine which side you are on. All of the gadgets are back, the sticky camera, smoke grenade, sticky shocker, and many more.
You again take on the role of Sam Fisher, and are give the most difficult assignment of your career. You need to infiltrate the biggest terrorist threat to the US. Interestingly enough, most of the terrorists are home-grown from the US. You need to earn there trust, yet continue to report to Lambert, your boss. It is hard to recognize Sam as he is out of his full one-piece body suit and his shaved head. The back story now is that he has nothing to loose, as he apparently has lost his family.
You continue to climb the ladder at the JBA, and take on more dangerous missions. You are forced to do things that put civilians in harms way but you need to do this to earn there trust right? The story gets better as it unfolds and the climax is good. Although, unlike the last few games where there was closure, there isn't any in this game. You are left wondering what the hell is going to happen next. It really makes you wish the next installment was available right now.
Overall, the main problem with this game is the bugs and the poor optimization for the PC. On the Xbox 360 it is much smoother from what I see, you might want to consider getting this game on the console. If you can deal with the few bugs, then go for it, its more Splinter Cell!
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 10/16/07
Game Release: Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent (US, 11/07/06)
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