Review by antseezee

"Use the environment and stealth tactics to an entirely new depth."

One of the less quantity filled genres out there is stealth action. Stealth games often require that you navigate your character through seemingly impossible environments by avoiding detection and contact with enemies. Unfortunately, very few gaming developers were ever successful at emulating this type of genre. Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell is one of the first games to send stealth to a whole new arena. Unlike previous games such as Metal Gear Solid, where hiding behind crates and objects was the key to evasion, Splinter Cell let's you interact in numerous ways. Basically, Splinter Cell is a game based off of one of Tom Clancy's popular novels. You're placed in the role of Sam Fisher, a former operative of the CIA. Fisher joins a secret branch in the government (Third Echelon), which basically acts as a spying station. Splinter Cell puts you in the role of a lone agent who must infiltrate certain environments, find ways past his conflicts, and complete objectives on his missions. To any other gamer, this sounds like a simple shooting game. However, Splinter Cell takes stealth orientated games to a whole new depth.

Graphics [9/10]
Most stealth games need good visuals to place the gamer in a real environment. Metal Gear Solid was the first to put stealth gaming into a 3D perspective, and Splinter Cell enhances that even further. Most of the game is played from a third person view, with your character Sam Fisher viewable on screen. Fisher looks very realistic, complete with his agent suit and trademark three-eyed nightvision goggles. The actual in-game environments are very realistic, complete with windows, doors, and detailing. You'll notice newspapers lying on the ground, or several empty soda cans on a barren street. Splinter Cell utilizes the X-BOX to nearly full potential with pristine textures, and very smooth gameplay.

The biggest factor is the lighting effects in SC. All virtual games have lighting so that the gamer can guide his character throughout numerous levels. However, the programmers at Ubi Soft actually created a virtual environment. Where ever light is projected, it sort of expands in a radius. Streams of sunshine can pierce through a window. The lighting becomes an important factor since most of your gameplay involves hiding in shadows/dark areas. Shooting out a ceiling light, or turning a switch off will allow Sam Fisher to hide better without being detected. Thus, the power of the X-BOX in being able to display these luminous lighting effects is a key part of the actual gameplay experience. Not only that, but it's amazing how well Splinter Cell appears. Most gamers will truly believe they're infiltrating the CIA's headquarters, or a Georgian embassy. Most levels, while somewhat linear based, do have alternate paths. Cinema scenes look swift enough to get the job done. These are some of the best visuals you can see on the X-BOX. The only downing factor is that framerate tends to slow down during screen-filled effects (rain, scanning areas, bright lights).

Sound/Music [10/10]
As if you already didn't know, almost every single Tom Clancy game features compelling soundtracks, and perfected audio clips. Splinter Cell continues the tradition with a very entertaining musical soundtrack, and well-acted voice sequences/sound effects. To start off, the audio department means a lot during gameplay. Every movement in the game causes a sound. Sprinting through a street, instead of crawling will make a difference in noise. Shattered glass will make a crumpling sound alerting guards to your presence. Thus, Ubi Soft understood that perfecting the sound was a huge task. Every action causes a different sound effect. Shooting bulletproof glass, tossing a soda can, or smashing a glass bottle will each make respective tones. Each type of sound has a different volume amount, meaning that your entire cover can be broken or sealed based on the sound of your moves. Aside from the sound effects, the music soundtrack is varied complete with rock and exciting tunes. If a guard notices you in the distance, the music will suddenly change to a creepy song.

It alarms the gamer that he/she was possibly discovered. When the suspenseful music ends, you know the enemy has returned to his normal scouting position. Thus, the music becomes an influencing factor during gameplay. Certain levels also have spruced up tunes, especially during set combat sequences. You can hear the guitar spruce up when you're be chased by five soldiers. Audio clips are very well acted. Each ''major'' character in the game has their own respective voice. Even enemies in the game will be chatting it up between their other buddies. It's funny as to the various dialogue you can hear during gameplay. It gets so serious that you can hear Chinese Soldiers talking about McDonald's being the cover for a conspiracy. Very few games come close to the detail that Splinter Cell provides in presentation.

Gameplay [10/10]
When you're a highly trained CIA operative, efficiency is the key to success. Avoiding contact and leaving no traces of your existence is the factor as to why your branch is so successful. Splinter Cell is basically the term for a lone agency which gathers information on threats to the security of the United States. To start off, since most of the gameplay of SC is from a third person view, most of your actions have to be performed with caution. The premise of the game is based entirely around stealth, meaning evasion and staying hidden will make your mission easier. Levels usually consist of varied environments, with you navigating Sam Fisher throughout them. Unlike Metal Gear Solid, or most shooting games, using your weapon comes at a second priority. Controls are quite simple. Fisher can jump, engage with objects/targets, crouch, and use special tools, weapons, or accessories.

Some maps are linear based, with one way of reaching your objective. Basically, when you come across enemies in the game, you can do two things. The first option is to hide in the shadows and avoid detection. Thanks to Splinter Cell's unique lighting system, a meter near the bottom of the screen will let you know the amount of lighting in a certain area. So if you want a guard to pass by without even seeing you, your best choice is to hide in a spot that is pitch black. You can also slouch against walls and behind doors, or destroy lighting so the area becomes darkened. The second option you have is to engage your targets. Whenever an enemy walks past you, you can knock them out with a swift elbow, grapple them by the neck, or shoot them. Obviously, most gamers would prefer to shoot the enemy, but Splinter Cell was specifically designed to use wits. Sam's aim was purposely designed to be somewhat flawed, meaning that hitting your targets with a bullet can be a tedious and gutwrenching process. Tossing a soda can to distract an enemy, turning off the lights, all of these methods are used to confuse your enemies.

As you advance through the single player mode, missions eventually become harder and more complex. The game has an impressive storyline, which you'll eventually uncover through news clips and intel updates. Cutscenes will clue you in on what's going on, and hooks the gamer to the actual gaming scene. Fortunately, Splinter Cell features very realistic environments, making you feel like a true government operative. Sam can navigate in many ways through levels. Crawling on pipes, grappling walls, gliding on zip lines - they're all introduced in the first level. SC takes stealth gaming to a whole new level, further than your simple ''hide-behind-the-wall'' gameplay.

Fun [8/10]
Unlike many third person shooting games (Tomb Raider, Metal Gear Solid), Splinter Cell provides an enjoyable experience because of the conflicts you will come across. Some levels will feature broken bottles, video cameras, and security guards, which you must figure a way to get past. In fact, some levels force the gamer to not use weapons at all which really puts the player in the hot seat. Stunning your enemies, and then hiding the bodies will decide how cunning you really are. SC really goes beyond the call of duty. You can hide any body after the person has been knocked out/killed. Gathering information from computers and consoles will provide future passwords and data that you require. Sometimes you have to set up distractions just to get a guard to move out of the way. While Splinter Cell only features two measly guns, the pistol and rifle both have adequate accessories to keep them entertaining. You have to remember, the entire gameplay process is based around stealth. This isn't your typical James Bond or super action hero game where you come guns blazing.

Replayability [5/10]
Unfortunately, this is what prevents Splinter Cell being one of the most complete games in anyone's X-BOX collection. SC simply lacks replay value. While the game provides a refreshing single player adventure mode, the game offers nothing else close. After you beat the 10+ missions, you're offered nothing else. There is no multiplayer or secret unlock mode. In fact, there aren't even official codes for the game. Aside from two difficulties (normal, hard), Splinter Cell offers nothing compelling to come back. Most gamers may find a mission they'd like to play once or twice, but after that, it simply lacks any depth whatsoever. There's only one add-on level, and plans for future downloadable levels via XBOX live has been halted.

Difficulty [6/10]
The challenges in Splinter Cell range from patrolling guards to ways of being detected. Since stealth is the key to success, gamers have to play with a different attitude. You simply can't sprint around levels like Terminator on a motorcycle. The idea is to make it past your conflicts by avoiding contact, period. As you progress through levels, many events will occur that will block the way. For example, on an oil rig, an explosion will occur forcing you to take an alternative path of travel. On further levels, you'll come across mine fields and incoming ambushes from opposing enemies. Once you gain a learning curve on Splinter Cell, the game becomes a breeze. There are two different difficulties, but hard only increases minor things like bullet damage.

Final Factor [9/10]
While there have been so many great action paced games, many of them have failed to capture any type of stealth essence whatsoever. Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell is one of the first games to take stealth action to an entirely new level. Ubi Soft was able to simulate a real world environment, allowing players to hide in the shadows while accomplishing missions. Not only that, but in the meantime you uncover a hideous plot and end up saving the world. Splinter Cell is one of the few games that balances action, suspense, and wits to make a very creative game. This is by far one of the must have classics if you're an X-BOX owner because of how much innovation it has brought into stealth paced games. While its replay value can be cut short at times, it will make a welcoming addition to your collection.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 08/14/03

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