Review by Showtime1080

"Good levels and good gameplay"

To kill a human being by snapping their neck, you must demolish the four vertebrae housing the spinal cord that feeds the brain. Only strong forearms can twist the neck hard and fast enough and you must precisely position the body so that the spine is lying straight. But aside from the physical exertion, probably the more arduous task is keeping the victim stagnant enough to gain proper leverage on his head, so that your forearms can generate enough torque. Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow uses surprise as a means to obtain the devastating grip and the only way to surprise the enemy is to surreptitiously grab your opponent from behind, usually under a cloak of darkness. Sneaking around is the nature of the game as most missions given to Sam Fisher disallow the use of lethal force, preferring stealth over Rambo-esque shootfests. The stealth mode leans heavily on the environment, in particular the lighting, as it provides dark spots to conceal your body. In fact, the luminosity of the lighting becomes the most crucial aspect; creating truly dark areas where the enemy cannot see you, Ubisoft's lighting engine works well despite the PS2's limitations.

Light bulbs populate each and every setting in Splinter Cell, almost forcing you to shoot them out. When you do shoot them out, the enemies' vision realistically weakens to near blindness. It's possible to crouch directly beside an enemy and remain completely unnoticed. However, the Ps2 cannot process the technicalities of light and shade as well as the Xbox, therefore its tough to gauge if your current position is truly aphotic and safe from enemies, or merely dark. To help out, a meter displays the level of darkness, but glancing between the meter and the game screen distracts your concentration from the ongoing movements of your enemy. Strangely, though, the enemies don't react to a sudden blown light bulb, which is slightly peculiar. When a light goes out, the guards remain unnerved, staying in one spot, refusing to investigate the change; unless they happen to hear the gunshot in which after a meek, vulnerable walk around, they'll return to their original spot to fumble around in complete darkness. At this moment, especially during the walk around, their toughness dribbles down to weakness, making them easy prey.

Knowing you can toy with an enemy's safety confidence, the stealth missions become relatively easy. The tasks you're asked to perform usually require you to infiltrate an area, suppress a couple guards, then either make contact with an important person or salvage an item. The easy part is taking out the enemies; you can shoot your weapon close enough for him to hear, force him to investigate, then attack him at your will. Their inquisitiveness runs in hyperdrive and you'll frequently use it against them, but it makes for a rewarding experience. Dehumanizing a target after perfectly luring him out from his position brings extreme pleasure, but tiptoeing around the levels plays out slowly, rendering the pace of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow to a crawl.

Tension reaches paramount levels as you lurch in the dark corner, staring at your opponent, hoping he'll adjust his body enough to allow you an opportunity to grab him. But you'll need patience to grab him from behind and though it's exhilarating, the pace can get mundane after a while. Fortunately, to scatter the pace, Sam Fisher receives orders from his employer that permits lethal force to take out enemies, providing a refreshing change of pace as you unload bullets from a fantastic weapon.

What makes the SC-20K so fantastic is the steep variety of ammo that can be employed. Some of the artillery is ingenious, elevating the coolness of spy gadgetry to sky-high levels. For instance, some bullets function as sticky cameras allowing the placement of indiscreet cameras anywhere the gun can shoot. Another bullet sparks out 400,000 volts of electricity that pulverizes every neurological element coursing through an individual. Of course, the good old-fashioned lead based bullet still exists, exploding from the barrel at a very high rate of speed. All the fancy gadgetry and tight gunplay construct a solid action element, but more importantly, they break up the monotony of the drowsy stealth aspect, creating a kill-suppress balance of pure harmony. Indeed, the game plays well on both aspects, if only one critically acclaimed portion played with the same harmonious construction.

When playing with the mercenaries online, the multiplayer is dull, dark, shallow, and utterly cheap. Many publications praise it for sidestepping the normalcy of deathmatch where gamers have a certain amount of time to run around and obliterate whoever they see. Here, you still run around, but chasing after just two other people brings nothing but irritation to the online experience. At first, you'll scroll through the list of gadgetry, gleefully pondering which fancy trap you'll set to catch your opponent. Both the mercenary side (who plays in 1st person mode, equipped with an automatic weapon, and responsible for protecting the computer nodes) and the spy side (who lacks lethal firepower and instead uses other methods) feature all kinds of goodies and traps but with so few people you hardly get a chance to use them. In fact, after combing through the unpopulated areas, you'll be so startled to find someone that instead of equipping a gadget you'll frantically shoot, hoping he won't escape to leave you wandering around again.

While, avoiding the dangerous mercenaries, the spy side plays out a bit differently since they seek computer nodes. Fighting the mercenaries isn't a requirement, therefore the powerful gun mercenaries use proves too heavy for the nimble spies; instead, they rely on wit and “soft weapons”. Spies can throw a smoke grenade that chokes the lungs of a mercenary and if inhaled long enough, can put them to sleep. Or, they can throw a chaff grenade that doesn't damage the mercenary, but disrupts their machinery and night vision goggles. However, the single greatest move, one requiring extreme cunning and luck to perform, is the neck break. Overall, multiplayer isn't much fun, but the exhilarating emotion exuding from the fact you outsmarted another human being so much that you were able to grab him from behind, shines above the lackluster play. The spy side also shines above everything else because they battle with a more purposeful status considering they always have the hacking computer objective, yet more often the game becomes a multiplayer deathmatch where spies camp in the darkness and wait for a multiplayer stealth kill. And just like the single player portion, lighting and darkness play key roles in matches, as all levels are hellbound on shade. One level, the Warehouse, is almost completely bathed in darkness providing easy opportunity for spies to camp out among a room of dark boxes. Almost every level has dark spots, but the level design accommodating the darkness is very creative in both multiplayer and single player. Aside from the wonderful neck breaks in multiplayer, the world's immersive architecture is probably Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow's greatest asset.

Imagine sprinting through a futuristic hospital that's so bright, moving just a few feet seems a dangerous task. Add thick plastic blinds that form privacy separations to the brightness and you'll have a creepy level. Or, meander through the cramped halls of a train as a team of guards sits on plush seating reading the sports page, using tiny overhead lights. When Sam fisher drops down into the train, he finds himself in a packed storage room: walking Doberman dogs, rolling rubber balls, spinning bicycle wheels, jumping plastic toys, all kinds of goodies to gaze at that push the believability factor sky high. Each indoor level has an intricate level design, yielding many hiding spots; and the light sources weave themselves into the level beautifully. But the outdoor levels, again due to the PS2's hardware, aren't so beautiful with bland colors and confusing landscape structure---What looks like a downhill slope is actually the wall of a mountain. Not only are mountains confusing, but the foliage used to compose the jungle levels pixelate the screen too much causing you to spin around in a desperate attempt to catch your bearings. Still, Ubisoft created an immersive world, pacifying the various goals headquarters will bestow on you. Headquarters provides just enough information for each mission to guide you throughout, but the overall story reads a little ambitiously.

In fact, after playing through the entire game, you still may be confused as to just what Pandora Tomorrow means. You may also be confused by the numerable character twists and plot deviations. No matter. Plug in a headset, listen carefully to the instructions spoken to you in the earpiece, and dutifully carry out each mission how a normal special agent would: with no remorse nor subjectivity. And with the immersive atmosphere (especially the great voice acting), intelligent use of lighting, and cool gadgetry, carrying out each mission is an absolute joy. Online, you may have to fight for the spy side because most people confine themselves to them, but the delight you'll feel from the slick neck-break raises it slightly from total failure. All in all, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow captures the world of special agents well enough to make it a pleasing game.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 08/25/04

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