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GBA Review - 'Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow'

by Agustin on April 16, 2004 @ 12:56 a.m. PDT

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow will push the original version to the limits of the stealth/action genre. Sam Fisher is now launched into a series of new adventures. The player will continue controlling Sam Fisher in a 2D Perspective Side-Scroller game. Read more for the full review ...

Genre: Action
Publisher: UbiSoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Release Date: March 24, 2004

Buy 'SPLINTER CELL: Pandora Tomorrow':
Xbox | GBA | GameCube | PC

As seems to be the pattern with more and more multiplatform releases as time goes on (incluing those that skip the Gamecube!), publishers often release a quickly thrown-together Gameboy Advance version of their (hopefully) hit console games in order to cash in on the wave of momentum the console versions might cause. And if they don’t create as much of a splash as anticipated, well, the GBA versions weren’t so expensive to throw together in the first place, now were they? The handheld Splinter Cell games follow this pattern. The first release was a slightly clunky side-scroller that played nothing like the original Splinter Cell – I.E., a not a solid stealth action game. If anything, it felt more like UBI Soft’s other GBA release – which was also based on a home console release - the handheld version of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. To coincide with the release of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow on all platforms, UBI Soft threw the same team that worked on the original Splinter Cell GBA game, had them recycle the engine, and give it another go. The game does feature more stealth elements, making it play more like a Splinter Cell game, but these very same elements make it a much worse experience than its predecessor.

If you’ve already played the original Splinter Cell GBA game, you know the drill here. If you liked it then, you’ll probably like this one. If not, stay far away. Simply put, the game is a side-scrolling stealth game. Players control Sam Fisher, a Splinter Cell, as he accomplishes more than 22 objectives over nine missions. Unlike most action-esque games, killing is usually the last resort in this game. You’ll have to do your best to make use of the (sparse) environments as much as you can to avoid being spotted by your enemies. Only on rare occasions will you be allowed to use deadly force. As a matter of fact, unlike other stealth-oriented games such as Metal Gear Solid, killing an enemy in Splinter Cell will often lead to a failed mission.

Sam’s climbing abilities are the focus of the level designs, and rightly so; this gives the player a sense of tenseness and excitement that they might not feel otherwise, though this excitement is harder to notice when you’re looking at a blurry (but smoothly animated!) pre-rendered figure hanging onto a pipe above a blurry (but smoothly animated!) guard. These pipes are the main source of “stealthiness” that can be found throughout the levels, along with a feature unique to Pandora Tomorrow: players can move Fisher into some of the backgrounds, providing an extra layer of stealth. Since there are more enemies in this game, this feature is extremely helpful. Still, as with most parts of Pandora Tomorrow, it won’t help you as much as it should, and pure luck will be your best friend when avoiding the guards.

A big issue with trying to have a stealth side-scrolling game is the line of sight – you can’t see too far ahead of your character, and the screen can only display so much at once. Pandora Tomorrow deals with this major inherent flaw in two ways: radar and a forward-look option. The radar is a new addition for this sequel. Since it is much more stealth-heavy, it is relieving to know that the developers spent a little extra time implementing a feature to make it slightly more stomach-able. It simply shows whether or not the enemy guards are within eyeshot or not. The forward-look option allows players to scroll slightly further ahead. This is helpful, but it leaves Sam vulnerable since he cannot move while looking ahead. Also, if you’re looking to see when a guard is about to turn around, you won’t find much help here – the guards may be animated smoothly, but they do not have many different actions. When they turn, they turn immediately leaving no room for an evasive maneuver. If there was some sort of warning, even for a split-second, this game would have been a much smoother experience. Instead, players will likely spend most of their time in constant paranoia – hoping, praying that the guard does not turn around. Or they could just stop playing and not worry about it anymore, since it isn’t really any fun.

I’ve alluded to the graphics a bit already, but to get a little more in-depth: the animations are smooth. Smooth as silk. This makes the jarring speed of turnarounds (ahem, with them being instant and all) seem very out of place. The pre-rendered characters are sort of silly looking as always; standard sprites are always a more fitting look for a 2D game, in my opinion. The environments are a bit bland, and don’t reflect the console versions of Splinter Cell very much at all, cementing the “cheap side-scroller” feel of this game.

Pandora Tomorrow sounds like a generic GBA game is expected to: muffled and cheesy. The sound effects don’t have the kind of force behind them that they need. Musically, the game is an annoying wreck, filled with horribly cheap sounding MIDI guitar sounds. I’ll take the horrid butt-rock from the Guilty Gear series over this trash any day!

Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is not a love/hate title in the slightest – it is mediocre in every sense of the word. Some things work right, while the broad scope of things is a failure. Side-scrolling stealth simply does not work. The lack of a multiplayer component doesn’t help things. The console versions got their multiplayer shot-in-the-arm, so why not something similar for handhelds? Nokia’s N-Gage somehow did get a multiplayer Splinter Cell title, making the lack of link-up support in Pandora Tomorrow GBA even more perplexing. The graphics aren’t bad, but they haven’t changed at all since last year’s GBA release. All in all, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is just a quick upgrade of the first Splinter Cell, and one that plays worse in the end, thanks to a greater focus on stealth.

Score: 6.0/10

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