Review by Leper_Lord

"Avery fun game with some faults."

I've been a devote fan of the Splinter Cell series since its beginning back in the early days of the Xbox. I've always loved stealth and infiltration games, something that I think goes into my own personality, since I remember trying to be sneaky and stealthy in games such as the classic DooM for the PC and other such games not designed to be played stealthy… not surprising, my favorite franchises include words such as Cell, Solid, Thief and Hitman.

Splinter Cell: Double Agent puts you again in the role of ex-Navy-Seal-now-NSA-super-agent Sam Fisher, who shows up somewhere in Iceland where he and a newbie Splinter Cell are given the task to dismantle a missile sold to Middle Eastern terrorists. Right at the end of the mission, Lambert informs Fisher that his daughter, Sarah, has been tragically killed in a hit and run car accident. Shocked, depressed and pissed, Sam throws his life away and slowly descends into a pit of self inflicted misery that's becoming denser as each day goes on. Making the best out of this, the NSA asks Sam, who has nothing to loose anymore, to indulge in a life of mock crime -while they create a fake body count- in order to get caught and do some time in prison, where he will likely meet Jamie Washington, member of the JBA, the John Brown's Army, a nebulous domestic terrorist cell the NSA knows nothing about. Your mission: gain the JBA's trust, dismantle the cell and do whatever it is necessary to stop their plans.

Double Agent is a unique game in the sense that there are two versions of this game, each developed by a different studio. Ubisoft Montreal (Splinter Cell and SC:Chaos Theory) developed the Xbox and PS2's version, whereas Ubisoft Shanghai (SC: Pandora Tomorrow) was in charge of developing the X360 and PC versions. The difference between both games is abysmal, to say the least. Whereas the Xbox/PS2 version stays closer to the SC gameplay that we all know and love, the X360 has “experimental” written all over it. This is by no means a bad thing, but it is something that will put off a lot of veteran fans of the series.

The game can be broken down in two parts; ordinary missions and JBA headquarters missions. The ordinary missions are two-front operations where you'll be carrying out objectives issued by both the JBA and the NSA; in most cases you'll have to carry out the objectives of both groups, but in some critical cases you'll have to chose between which side of the coin is of your preference. The thing is that you need to balance objectives, because even though destroying the JBA is your prime objective, you still have to retain their trust if you want to carry on successfully with your mission, but on the other hand the JBA is asking you to destroy infrastructure or carry on hits on targets, so you need to also consider how doing these acts of terrorism affects the NSA's trust in you.

The JBA Hq missions are like nothing I've seen before in any other game, stealth or otherwise. These are free roam timed missions that, as the name implies, take place at the JBA Hq. You'll usually be given 24 minutes to do everything that both the JBA and the NSA ask you to do. The JBA's tasks are usually trivial stuff that can be done with in a few minutes, but the real tasty meat is in the NSA tasks. Primary NSA tasks will usually ask you to look for documentation, jam electronic signals, obtain visual confirmation of this or that and you need to carry them out in the particular time the NSA asks you to do it. The secondary NSA tasks, on the other hand, can be done during any other visit to the JBA Hq, giving you ample time to get familiar with your surroundings and the way you're going to move inside. These missions are interesting because they give you a feeling of intrigue not found in any other game; while they believe you're just making your rounds around Hq, members of the JBA have no idea you're actually double crossing them, but be careful, if they spot you in a restricted area they'll become suspicious and you'll loose their trust.

However, the one thing that really puts this game away from the standard Splinter Cell experience are the missions, and by extension, the way you play the game. Unlike past entries in the series, Double Agent's missions take place for the most part in broad daylight and that means there are no longer safe shadows to hide in. This adds an element of strategy, timing and tension that is not found in the previous games, unlike other SCs you cannot easily get away if you're spotted… just a few shots and no shadows to hide and you'll be left dead and bleeding on the ground, so you'll have to think hard and fast the best way to move from one location to the next, quietly and quickly if you don't want to be spotted. Don't worry, though, there are plenty of environmental tricks and objects in the game world that will conceal you, and the game offers some nice hiding abilities if things get complicated, such as hiding in closets or under cars and beds.

The missions, however, are very short and this is a fatal blow to the game. Although pretty fun, one cannot help but feel a bit cheated at the game's length and how Shanghai probably traded length for difficulty. Because trust me on this, the game can be hard (Hard mode puts you in control of Fisher with not a single bullet in his gun and riffle) and it can become frustrating even to some experienced Splinter Cell players. Adding insult to jury, Shanghai got rid of both the sound and light/darkness meters found in the previous games and instead gave us a light that turns green when invisible, yellow when visible and red when spotted, so you're pretty much left alone when deciding if moving from this dark spot to that dark spot through this barely lit corridor will conceal you or not. Although I like this change, for it increases the game's difficulty, plenty of players have already expressed their dislike to it.

As with Pandora Tomorrow, the boys at Ubi Shanghai have introduced some amazing moves that you can use to easily fool and incapacitate your enemies, like the fantastic wall grab, perhaps the best addition to Sam's already impressive athletic catalog. The classic Split Jump is present as ever, and fans of corner shooting, rejoice, Shanghai brought back this great ability that Ubi Montreal foolishly removed from Chaos Theory.

Unfortunately I cannot speak that good about the plot; it's not that the plot is not good, since it happens to be the best (imo) plot in any Splinter Cell game, the problem is that it is not that fully fleshed out and most of the stuff you'll have to figure it out by yourself. The story feels incomplete and sometimes disjointed and there is no real feeling of getting in touch with the main figureheads of the JBA; even Enrica Villablanca, Sam's alleged love interest, feels shallow and incomplete. Never in the course of the game do you feel like you know or care about her, nor do you seem to think anything else about the rest of the terrorists, with the exception Emile Dufraise, the best “bad guy” this series has ever had. All in all, I've heard rumors that the Xbox version's treatment of the plot is far more complete and fleshed out than the 360's.

Amon Tobin, the composer behind Chaos Theory's great OST, is not back this time around, but the game still shows off with a fantastic soundtrack composed by Michael McCann, aka “Behavior”, who treats the game with a very somber electronic soundtrack mixed with some very minor soft rock undertones. The music is very fitting to the game and all songs are memorable, specially the end credits/main theme.

Splinter Cell Double Agent is a very good game and a great addition to your X360 library, although the game's experimental nature and length might perhaps put you off at first (If you become experienced with it, the game will seem to you like a four hours long movie) You can always wait for a price drop, however.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 10/31/06

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