Review by kdavey1000

"Too Short... But Still Great"

The Splinter Cell series is, in my opinion, the best of the Tom Clancy range of games (Rainbow Six now a close second with the addition of Vegas). One of the greatest virtues of the series so far has been the length of the games. Each game managed about 12-15 hours on my first playthrough, not bad for a stealthy actioner. This game however is far too short, clocking in at an estimated 7-9 hours I felt slightly short-changed as the credits rolled. But still it is a great game with awesome gameplay...

The gameplay feels essentially the same as in the previous games; you play as Sam Fisher, a "Splinter Cell" agent in a secret government organisation known as "Third Echelon". You travel around the world infiltrating various strongholds and bases collecting information on and occasionally assassinating the world's most dangerous terrorists. Sam is the ideal man for the job as he has years of Special Forces training and experience under his belt and he is right at home skulking in the shadows of the most hazardous environments in the world.

One of the most prominent features of Splinter Cell gameplay is the sheer amount of freedom you have when sneaking, you can take down a grunt in a great number of ways and pulling off the most stylish ones is immensely satisfying. The best example of this in Double Agent is probably in the 4th mission which finds you traversing an ice field in search of a stranded Russian tanker. You can swim up beneath enemies on top of the ice and break through to drag them down and deliver a swift knife blow to the chest. Trust me, this kind of coolness feels good to pull off.

As with most (if not all) Xbox 360 games, Double Agent has a variety of Achievements to collect, they range from simply completing the missions to doing slightly trivial things such as taking out 20 light sources with your pistol's EMP function. They provide you with a reason to go back to the game after finishing it, especially if you have Xbox Live as the majority of the goals are only available through online multiplayer.

There is a big change to the gameplay in Double Agent however, this is the new undercover system, you spend most of the game as a NOC (non-official cover) agent. This means you must not just keep your superiors in the government happy but also the terrorist group you are infiltrating. This is executed wonderfully by way of simple meters that track the trust you have with the two different groups, if one of the trust meters is completely depleted you are in serious trouble. The way to keep the meters topped up is to complete objectives in the levels; each objective will be specified as NSA (the good guys) or JBA (John Brown's Army, the terrorists). Each complete objective boosts your meter for that group but will also sometimes deplete the meter of the other group meaning that you have to be selective in the optional missions that you choose to carry out. There are also a few key decisions that you will have to make that determine the outcome of the game.

The levels are as carefully detailed and intricate as a veteran of the series would expect, each scenario contains multiple paths and methods to achieve your objectives and there won't ever be one way to get from one side of a room to another. They are also quite diverse as well, in one mission you will find yourself in the middle of a huge gun battle in a typical town in Africa while another mission has you sneaking through a luxury cruise liner. Also interweaved amongst the different world missions are multiple visits to the JBA headquarters. These missions are in a new format, you will be given a task to complete and a time limit to complete it in by a member of the JBA. The task will never take the full time limit so you are free to wander the headquarters and complete other objectives in your spare time as long as you make it back to where the original task was before the timer runs down. These missions work quite well and provide a refreshing break to the same old Splinter Cell gameplay.

Now to talk about the aesthetics of the game, namely the graphics and the sounds. Splinter Cell: Double Agent is a damn good looking game, easily one of the best looking 360 games to date. Each scenario is carefully crafted to the point that you will sometimes find yourself stopping to inspect parts of it. The daytime missions really showcase the great visuals and for this reason they are a particular highlight of the game. The character models too show similar quality, each of Sam's various costumes seem carefully crafted as do the supporting cast. The sound also does not disappoint, each area sounds just right and in particular the African level in which there is a huge gunfight taking place for most of the level sounds awesome. The voice acting is competent but not great, it never bothered me but I never thought any one particular piece of the character's voicing was good.

I have only briefly played the online multiplayer as of this moment in time (I don't have Xbox Live yet) but for the short time I played it, it was superb. You either play as a spy attempting to sneak into a building or stronghold and hack important information from specific points on the map or you play as a member of the Upsilon force attempting to stop them. It was addictive and thoroughly enjoyable.

To summarise, Splinter Cell: Double Agent is a well crafted, good looking and very fun to play game that suffers from being too short. I wouldn't advise playing full price for it unless you either have Xbox Live or enjoy playing through games multiple times or both, otherwise after paying full price you may feel a bit ripped off. If you have played the previous instalments and are looking for the next Sam Fisher fix then Double Agent shouldn't disappoint, be warned though most fans don't consider it to be as good as its predecessor Chaos Theory.

Final Score: 9/10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/19/07

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