Review by VaporFox

"Sam Fisher is one old war dog who's learned some new tricks."

Splinter Cell was an instant hit on the Xbox and was also one of the first games which truly showed off the level of graphics the system was capable of. In fact, they were so impressive that when SC was later released on the other two consoles, Ubisoft had to tone things down dramatically just to make the game run on the Playstation 2. Pandora Tomorrow is no exception. Some people may consider this game more of an ''expansion'' than a true sequel, but even so, more than enough was added to PT to warrant its asking price.

Just for the record, this entire review is based on the single player experience, not the online/multiplayer features available in the sequel. So if you're looking for an opinion on the online aspect of this game, check out one of the other reviews here on GameFAQs.

Story - Rating: 7
Pandora Tomorrow's story isn't brimming with mind-bending, over the top plot twists; however, it's anything but predictable either. Things start off approximately two years after where the first SC left off (2006), and the main cast of characters will be familiar to anyone who played the original -- namely Colonel Lambert and Anna Grimsdottir. Personally, I felt PT's story was a bit convoluted and just wasn't ''put together'' seamlessly like the original Splinter Cell's was, yet it's still mostly on par with the kind of stuff expected from a Tom Clancy game.

(The following was taking from PT's manual.) 2006: The U.S. installs a temporary military base on East Timor to train the developing defense forces of the ''world's youngest democracy.'' Resistance to the military presence in Southeast Asia is widespread and passionate, but the threat that Indonesian militias pose to Timorese democracy is deemed sufficient justification. At the same time, the U.S. doesn't mind having an excuse to install active military personnel within easy reach of North Korea and the largest Muslim population in Asia.

Anti-U.S. resentment comes to a head under the leadership of guerilla militia leader Suhadi Sadono, acting with the unofficial support of major corrupt factions of the Indonesian government. Suhadi's men attack and occupy the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, taking dozens of civilian and military personnel hostage.

You are Sam Fisher. You are sent in, not to rescue hostages, but to destroy the top-secret documentation held in the embassy before Suhadi's men can access it.

So this is where Sam's mission begins. Throughout the game you'll end up in locales such as Jakarta, Jerusalem, Paris, and even back in the U.S. in Los Angeles.

Graphics - Rating: 10
Simply put, the graphics in Pandora Tomorrow are stunning; Ubisoft took the job they did with the first SC to an even higher level. Hands down, the lighting effects are the most gorgeous I've ever seen in a game. Instead of just relying on the same graphics and lighting engine to carry the sequel, they added a number of great touches which truly had an impact on the gameplay.

For example, during one level, Sam is caught outside in the middle of a thunderstorm at night. This makes using his nightvision goggles a dangerous affair, because lightning (which happens at random) will cause temporary flash-blindness; the effect just has to be seen to be believed. Furthermore, some soldiers will have headlamps or nightvision goggles of their own this time. So Fisher has to be extra careful around these adversaries.

The character models and animation are also top notch. Fisher definitely looks his age (gray hair), and they improved some of his animations from the original. My only gripe in this area is minor: for some reason they rarely show an enemy's mouth moving when they talk while Sam interrogates them; it's easily overlooked, though.

The environments are slightly improved as well. I guarantee you'll be impressed the first time you see our protagonist up to his neck in tall (*cough-weed-cough-cough*) grass in the Indonesia levels. I miss the ambient life the original SC had, though. Alas, you won't run into any ''giant moth shadows'' cast against the lights in PT. In fact, the only non-humans encountered in the entire game are the rare guard dogs or a few scattered birds.

Sound - Rating: 8
Again, anyone who played the first SC will recognize the sound effects in Pandora Tomorrow, since the majority of them have been recycled (not that it's a bad thing; most of said effects were good). The music soundtrack sets the mood and changes seamlessly depending on the situation (IE: it switches when guards are alerted or searching for Sam). Overall, it's a touch better than the music and sound found in the previous game.

As for the voice acting, it's a mixed bag. Michael Ironside delivered another solid performance as Sam Fisher; the role was practically made for him. (Fisher's cynical humor is prominent in Pandora Tomorrow, too.) I have one question for Ubisoft: Are voice actors who can actually use an accent really that hard to find? It got tiresome hearing all these so-called French terrorists or Indonesian guerillas who sounded even more ''American'' than Sam. Furthermore, most of the soldier and NPC's voices were horribly grainy, as if they were recorded on a $10 tape recorder. It just gave the impression Ubisoft was trying to conserve money by using the same 3 or 4 (talent-less) voice actors for about 20 different roles. They didn't ruin the game, but they sure tarnished some of its polish.

Gameplay - Rating: 8
If you're one of the few who didn't touch the first Splinter Cell, allow me make it crystal clear that if you don't have patience or do not like stealth-reliant gameplay, Pandora Tomorrow isn't for you. While it does have its share of action and gunplay, it's not a game in which you can just zoom through rooms with guns blazing and have any hope of coming out of it alive.

Sam's survival depends on your ability to guide him through the missions undetected for as long as possible. Ubisoft changed how the ''alert system'' works in PT to a degree. Whenever a guard is alerted (See: spots Sam), every guard in future areas will be on ''stage one alert,'' meaning they'll be wearing flak jackets (until the alert is dropped). Stage two alert is even worse, because they'll be wearing helmets too. Stage three? Well, that = mission over.

An array of improvements have been added in order to make life easier on poor Sam, however. Now he can actually open doors while carrying an unconscious/dead guard. Also, the ''shadow meter'' (which tells you how visible Fisher is to anyone) will now ''blink'' when he's carrying an enemy if he is standing in a place dark enough to hide the body; this helps cut down on those frustrating ''We've found a dead body!'' alerts many people complained about in the first game.

The aiming cursor/hit detection? Ah yes, this has been greatly improved. Long gone are the days of missing headshots from point blank range. Sam also now has the option to switch to a laser dot sight (pistol only) for even greater accuracy. However, the guards can ''see'' the laser dot if you're not careful with it; so this feature has its drawbacks too.

Other tweaked gameplay facets include the ''splits jump.'' Many gamers griped about how rarely this maneuver could be used in the first game. Well, by popular demand, now you'll find yourself using it a lot more. What's better is Sam can now do a ''half-splits jump,'' which is used in even narrower passages; it can also be used to scale to higher places that would normally be out of reach. Also added to Fisher's moves list is a ''SWAT turn,'' which allows him to spin quickly (and undetected) past an open doorway, and he can hang upside down and aim/fire his pistol while suspended from horizontal poles.

All these new features augment the gameplay without overwhelming the player with the number of things Sam can pull off. My only disappointment with the gameplay was how Ubisoft didn't really add anything new in the weapon/gadget department. A careful/skilled player can usually get through an entire mission using little more than just the pistol or occasional ring foil/sticky shocker. I was hoping they'd set up more situations during missions that would require Sam to use everything within his arsenal.

Playtime/Replay Value - Rating: 7
The back of Pandora Tomorrow's package flirts dangerously with false advertising. It says, and I quote: ''17 levels of gripping Clancy action.'' However, the single player game in reality is more like 8 ''levels.'' Ubisoft will probably try to justify this by saying the missions were ''split up'' into 17 segments. But whatever the case, I think it's a bit underhanded. All this aside, I finished the game in about 3 days. It will likely take anyone who's new to the series longer than that, though. The missions didn't feel quite as linear in PT as they did in the original, but I still think they could have been a bit more open-ended.

If you buy Pandora Tomorrow for the online aspect, the replay value will probably be much higher for you. So if you have an Xbox Live subscription, check it out and judge it for yourself.

Final Recommendation
Some people may say Pandora Tomorrow is just ''more of the same.'' But to me, more of a good thing is never bad. Fans of the first Splinter Cell should definitely pick this up, whether you have Xbox Live or not. Ubisoft improved virtually every aspect of the game; it's still not perfect, but its the best stealth/espionage game I've played in a long while. As mentioned earlier, however, this isn't a game for everyone. If you don't enjoy ''sneaking around'' often and can't resist the urge to shoot everything that moves, you should rent PT first to make sure it's your thing. There's a lot of trial and error involved in getting through the missions, which can eat on some people's nerves.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 03/28/04, Updated 03/29/04

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