Review by NeoTS

Reviewed: 06/29/04

Sam Fisher Is Clearly Superior to Jack Ryan

Could you imagine being a terrorist late for work? Could you imagine opening the door to your base of operations, and realizing the lights not only work, but have been shot out? Could you imagine finding the dead bodies of your comrades tucked in shadowy recesses? A bullet hole in the head of each one, their rifle still slung around their back, like they never even saw it coming. Could you imagine searching for something that will help you find the killer, but finding nothing but blackness as you progress even further. Could you imagine the thoughts that must be racing through his head? Could you imagine your entire world crumbling about you, could you imagine feeling this shadow sneak up on you, though you couldn't do anything about it? This invisible, soundless ghost that doesn't even exist. Could you imagine what your last thought would be? What is happening here??

Sam Fisher, my friend, is what is happening.

You may remember hearing about Mr. Fisher, and how his work brought down a foreign power and averted a war at the last moment. Sam belongs to Third Echelon, a highly classified government agency that works outside the authority of the other government agencies. He is the splinter cell, as he infiltrates quietly, splintering apart cells of terrorists and other factions that pose a threat to the United States of America. 2 years after the last world crisis, one of the most dangerous terrorists in the world, Suhadi Sadono, has taken over the U.S. embassy in Jakarta. It's up to Sam to infiltrate the embassy, and destroy top-secret intelligence before it can be found by Sadono's men can retrieve it. Of course, his exploits in tracking down Sadono will take Sam all over the world, from the steamy jungles of Indonesia to a speeding bullet train on the way from Paris to Nice.

In all honesty, Pandora Tomorrow is little more than an updated version of the original game. Everything has been streamlined, and problems have been solved, but overall, the game feels exactly the same. It's all about the stealth, in a much more fanatical way than many other games are. Most stages will end if the enemy manages to raise the alarm, so you have to be very, very sneaky. You have plenty of age-defying moves at your disposal, like the ever popular wall split, which lets Sam so a split in mid-air in between a narrow hall, to elevate himself above any patrols. If necessary, he can shift his weight, and leap to a greater height. Sadly, there is still not much use for this move, as cool as it is. Sam's best friend is the darkness. If he hides in the shadows, he is practically invisible, and enemies will walk right on by and not realize they're about to go down hard. The game makes it easy for the player to see how well hidden they are, with the opacity meter on the right side of the screen. If the slide is all the way left, you're invisible. If it's all the way on the right, you better get moving because the bullets are about to start flying. Moving slowly is another factor. If you clomp around at full speed, you won't have much look sneaking up on people. Pressing the circle button allows you to go into the 'stealth mode' and Sam will crouch down. Gently press that analog stick forward, and you can stalk your foes without making a sound.

Once you're behind a terrorist you'd like to subdue, you have many options. You can take the cheap way out, and shoot him in the head with your rifle or pistol. You can throw an elbow to his head, which will knock him out, or you can grab him and take him hostage. Once you've got him in the hold, you can force him to use computers, retinal scanners, and some characters actually have information that you can interrogate out of them. If you have an enemy in the hostage position, other enemies won't fire back, but you need a plan of escape once you let him go or it'll be curtains for Mr. Fisher. He can take a respectable amount of damage, and various healing points are scattered throughout the stages, but if an enemy has you lined up just right, your health will plummet. If you can't get in close for whatever reason, Sam has plenty of gadgets that can handle just about every type of problem. From gas grenades that can knock out a group of guards, to sticky shockers that can incapacitate people without killing them, Sam has an answer to everything you could possibly think of. Too dark? Flip on those nightvision goggles. (You'll have to get used to that.) Room full of mist? Turn on the thermal goggles to spot mines and make guards highly visible. There is nothing this guy can't do that.

Except aim with the pistol. As with the first game, the aiming is very strange when using the pistol, and the rifle will become your best friend. You could have the target reticule right on a terrorists head, from a relatively short distance, and Sam will miss completely. It can be frustratingly inaccurate, which makes the pistol obsolete once you acquire the rifle. It's only good for shooting out lights at a close distance, as far as I'm concerned. There's nothing worse then missing your mark, and watching the guard run for cover and the alarm. The physics could use some work as well, as you can a guard anywhere on the body, but he'll never react to it. If he gets shot in the leg, he shouldn't still be running full speed. A shot to the chest should at least knock him down, if not kill him. The only sure shot is right to the head.

The graphics are, quite simply, gorgeous, and some of the best on the PS2. The lighting effects are back in full force, and are really shown off in the outdoor environments like Jerusalem. The city is black, with moonlight pouring into the streets, and lights inside houses casting eerie shadows into the street. The jungle is really shows off the graphical prowess, as it is dense and packed with vegetation, rippling rivers and the sky grows darker as you progress further into the mission. Sam looks great, right down to those spooky goggles of his. His character moves extremely fluidly, giving even more realism to the game. The music is much more of a factor, and very well done. In jungle missions, it is a very tense mood, with soft drum beats rolling throughout it like an actual jungle rhythm. In Jerusalem, the holy land, the tense feeling is back, but with a choir in the background. It's very creepy, and almost feels like it's trying to psyche you into making a mistake. Michael Ironside voices Sam Fisher in the same gravelly manner as the first game. He's easily the most distinct voices in gaming this side of Solid Snake. Dennis Haysbert voices Lambert, Sam's superior officer. He adds an authority to the game, and the dialogue between the two of them is often quite funny and witty.

For those fortunate enough to have online connections, Splinter Cell can be taken across the world in a game of cat and mouse. There are two teams, one Shadownet spies, and the other are Mercenaries assigned to stop the spies from completing whatever their objective is. Mercenaries are played through a first person view point, and they are armed to the teeth with huge guns. Spies on the other hand, can still be very stealth, thus rendering all that automatic hardware useless. This online mode adds a much longer life than the original game.

Aside from too many load points, and a questionable aiming system, Pandora Tomorrow is an excellent game. It doesn't fix too much, but it does offer the most refined stealth experience to be found on any of the consoles. Metal Gear Solid 2 is all well and good, but if you're looking for a pure stealth game that doesn't pull too many punches, then this is the one. you'll be consistently wowed by the graphics, and once in a while, an awesome gameplay element will leave you amazed. And if you still aren't convinced, allow me to leave you with a line of dialogue between Mr. Fisher and a hapless guard he's interrogating:

"Sam: I need information.
Terrorist: I don't speak english.
Sam: I'm willing to bet your life that you do.
Terrorist: I speak some english.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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