Review by Razorskin
"Stealth action at its finest"
Sam Fisher is a new operative under the Third Echelon of the NSA, but he's not new to espionage. With time spent in the CIA and the military, he's a battle-hardened operative who's familiar with his role. Under the Third Echelon, Fisher is a ''Splinter Cell'' - a covert agent that doesn't exist, so he must remain invisible while on his mission. His duty is to not be seen or to remove those who have seen him. Fisher has all the looks of Nick Fury (minus the eyepatch) and is ''carved-in-stone'' voice-acted by Michael Ironside (Total Recall, Starship Troopers). The story begins as Sam is sent into the former Soviet Republic of Georgia to discover what has happened to two CIA operatives that have turned up missing. From there, he's given information as he goes, revealing new objectives and further details about the mission he has become involved in.
In Splinter Cell, the main focus of the game is stealth-based action, where the player must use physical techniques, gadgets and weapons to complete objectives during missions. But, as in most cases, the mission objectives often change as events dictate. At your disposal are gadgetry which may not be as outlandish as something James Bond would use, but are far more practical and realistic in application. In fact, Splinter Cell's greatest strength is it's attempt to be as realistic as possible. It takes very few shots to retire Sam Fisher and he doesn't have the benefit of auto-aim to make his task easier. In fact, Sam may not be the most accurate shot, depending on whether you're moving while firing or in a crouching position. It's in the player's best interest to stay to the shadows and keep from being seen. You can take enemies as hostage, interrogate them or use them as bullet shields. And when you're done, give them a whack to the back of the head and drag them into a dark corner to keep others from finding them. To help seeing in the many dark spaces, you can switch to night vision or infrared. You also can use a lockpick, optical cable and mini-cameras that can be shot from a gun.
To go along with the underlying theme of a fairly realistic game world, the game engine for Splinter Cell is slopping over with detail. While not everything is interactive, you will be pleased with all the minor touches, like being able to pick up cans or shoot out lights. Every location is finely detailed and you can tell that Ubi Soft has really spent some time trying to get the most out of every level. And on top of the basic level detail, including some nice bump-mapped textures, are some touches like curtains blowing in the wind. But to accent it all is some finely realized lighting effects that are key to both the look of the game and the gameplay itself. Little touches, like light through cracks in a wall or real-time shadows from either Sam or the NPC characters have both a visual and gameplay effect.
The only real flaws I had with the graphics are that the character faces pale in comparison to the rest of the game and the animations during some of the cutscenes are rather unrealistic. Luckily, the game doesn't rely on the story sequences much, because a few of the cutscenes just look ugly.
Audio plays a huge part in the game as you need to pay attention to clues in the environment, especially the sound of your own footsteps. Ubi Soft has done a fine job even making the smallest variations of Sam's footfalls on different types of ground (wood, concrete) an essential part of the game. And with the game built to support Dolby Surroundsound, you'll get to give your system a fine workout. The in-game voiceacting, while fairly conservative in tone, is well done and provides the essential story and in-mission information that the player needs. My only complaint is that the non-English characters are voice-acted with cheesy accents rather than speaking in their native tongue with subtitles. It's purely a preference thing that doesn't take away from the game.
There is no doubt that Splinter Cell does a lot of things right and the player is given a wide breadth of what they can do during the length of a mission. Most gamers will appreciate the intense challenge the game provides, but you won't be able to pass up that a good bit of the game is fairly linear. While immersed in the game, you may not realize that the path you're on is a straight one, but after failing a certain segment a few times (whether by death or by setting off the alarm too often), you'll begin to realize that the mission is not as open-ended as you might have thought. This in itself is not a major limiting flaw, but in certain instances, you may find yourself perturbed by having to perform the same serious of tasks multiple times to get to the next checkpoint.
Splinter Cell is a finely crafted stealth action title that's in a rare league that few games can reach. It's as good as its nearest competition, Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance, and in certain instances, like the deep realism and stronger focus on the action rather than story, is a better game. Xbox owners should be pleased to own this title. I sure am.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 11/26/02, Updated 11/26/02
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