Review by suitcoatavenger

"Silence can be deadly. And fun, too."

When Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell hit the Xbox, it not only gave people on the fence a reason to purchase the system, but it revolutionized the stealth action genre. Splinter Cell became popular only second to Halo on the Xbox, and thus, the sequel was highly anticipated. It's here now, does it live up to the high expectations set forth?

The basic idea is the same as the previous installment: you play as Sam Fischer a so-called ''Splinter Cell'' working for the NSA on high-tech but low-noise missions all across the globe. This time, Fischer must track down and put a stop to Suhadi Sadono, an Indonesian Gurrilla leader who holds in his hands a biological weapon of mass destruction. So, you travel to foreign countries such as France and Jereusalem in your mission to prevent ''Pandora Tomorrow'' from occuring.

If you played the first game, you should be at home here. The same techniques apply; stealth, patience, and ingenuity outweigh brute strength and blind luck. One false move can spell the end of a mission, so you've got to be quick and smart about how you act. Be warned, however; the controls have changed slightly. It takes some getting used-to, as certain moves are handled a little differently than they were in the original. If you don't study the manual, you will be apt to dropping down right in front of a patrolling guard instead of pulling your legs up onto a pipe.

Speaking of moves, you have a few new ones. A half-split jump allows you to jump to previously unreachable areas. It's a nice thought, but as the split-jump in the original game, it proves to only be useful when the designers deem it to be so. More useful is a SWAT turn, a move that allows you spin past an open door while remaining virtually invisible. You also get some ''why didn't they think of that in the first game'' moves, like using your pistol whilst hanging from a pipe only by your legs. Pretty cool, but ultimately, I can't help but be a little disappointed. I had hoped that we would see some more elaborate moves.

Graphically, the game outdoes it's predeccessor. Better character models, more accurate lighting, and even better shadow effects (impossible, but true). Unfortunately, as an odd trade off, the frame-rate seems to skip at times. Particularly if you are panning the camera around Sam to take a look around. It doesn't distract from gameplay, but it is there. One can only hope that the stutter is from the Xbox being pushed to its limits, rather than a lack of optimization. Still, when you are sneaking through thick swaying grace in the light of dusk, you have no complaints.

Soundwise, you get the same sparse soundtrack as you did in the first game. What music is present is rather subdued, and only serves to set the mood. Otherwise, you get competant voice-acting lead by Michael Ironsides who reprises his role as Sam. His deep voice proves that throat full of phlegm is not necessarily always a bad thing.

The most important element of a game, as always, is gameplay. And here, I am glad to say that Pandora Tomorrow has outdone the original. For one thing, it's more forgiving. Now, some may call out cries of ''wuss!'', but it makes for a better gaming experiance. For one thing, Sam is a decent shot now. In the original, you would waste countless bullets trying to pop a lightbulb with your pistol. Now, if you are ducking, and the bulb is in the center of the crosshair, it's dust. Nice to know that all of that special, government-regulated training has paid off. Also new (to the Xbox version, at least) is a display showing how many alerts you have triggered, and how many are allowed. It's a nice little thing that reduces the annoyance of forgetting that you were all out of chances only to get spotted.

Despite some minor gripes (quirky controls and a bit of a lack of innovation), this is one of the best games out on the Xbox right now. Beyond that, it's one of the best action games out there period. If you have the cash and the system, you really can't afford to miss out on this one. So slip on those goggles, duck into the shadows, and get ready to be a hero. Remember: there's nothing at stake except for the world.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 03/28/04

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