Genre: Stealth Action
Release Date: March 27, 2004
Ubisoft has made a name for itself based on its Tom Clancy series, and Splinter Cell is probably one of the more popular titles. It was first released on Xbox in 2002 and then ported to PS2 for 2003 (with a few bug fixes), and now, in 2004, Ubi has decided to release a sequel to the critically-acclaimed series. Can it meet the expectations set by its predecessor?
To those who are playing this for the first time, Splinter Cell is a game of stealth where you must move slowly, observing enemy movement and utilizing the surroundings to your advantage. This isn’t a simple spy game – this is state-of-the-art spy warfare. You are equipped with top-notch cells that prevent you from being detected and advanced weaponry necessary to complete Sam Fisher’s mission. Who is Sam Fisher, you ask? He is the character you play throughout this game, traveling through several countries and stages in an attempt to locate and eliminate the terrorist threat.
With this in mind, let’s start the infiltration. You are a one-man army, with support arriving before and after a mission. During the missions you will also receive some sort of support, not physical but rather you receive radio transmissions informing you of the current situation and how to get through it. Although the radio transmissions will give possible suggestions on how to overcome the situation, they are not direct, requiring you to figure out the method on your own. The only times I’ve thought the communications were useful are when they warn you to capture someone to use the retinal scanner, or when they notify you that there are land mines to watch out for. Otherwise, you just hear useless chatter from them, almost always stating the obvious. Another thing your group members actually help with is giving you information through your OPSAT.
The OPSAT provides you with all of the information necessary to complete your mission, filling you in on your objectives and possible actions throughout the game. For example, in some missions, you must go through the level without killing a single soul, but later, they may permit lethal attacks. Other things the OPSAT informs you of are the passwords for keypad locked doors, pictures of the people you are required to capture or meet, your current inventory, and notes. Whenever you get new data, you will see this little e-mail icon above your stealth meter, and it is usually wise to check your OPSAT at that time.
Even though your OPSAT cautions against lethal kills, you may use your discretion in certain cases, especially if the person you are supposed to rendezvous with is about to get killed. You must take any measures necessary to ensure the completion of your mission. However, some of these helpers are more than they seem and may come back to haunt you. This is war – all tactics can occur, even killing unarmed women. You will understand what I mean when you get to that specific mission.
There are a total of eight missions, each in a different setting. The settings include a submarine, a jungle, urban and rural settings, and even within buildings. These missions require great skill from Sam Fisher; he must climb over obstacles, defuse traps, and draw out the maximum potential from his equipment. Being part of Echelon, he is equipped with the standard items: the good old trusty pistol capable of killing an enemy if you hit them in the head (but more useful for taking out lights and cameras), flares (pretty useless for anything other than luring away turret fire), frag grenades (self-explanatory), and the trusty SC-20k (your sniper and multipurpose launcher capable of shooting Ring Airfoils, sticky cameras, a sticky shocker, a distraction camera, gas grenades, flash bangs, and an optical cable to spy on that person next door). During some missions, you may also get additional equipment, such as the chaff grenades which are capable of halting almost any electronic device (other than X-ray machines), a laser microphone as your all-purpose eavesdropping tool, and a camera jammer. If you noticed, the equipment is identical to that in the original game; the only apparent change between the two is the addition of online play.
When playing online, you can play as one of two different factions: Shadownet or Argus. I’ll distinguish them by calling the Shadownet “spies” and Argus “terrorists.” The objectives are usually pretty simple: Neutralization is where the spies have to find the viral containers (ND133s) and neutralize them; in Extraction, you try to find the ND133s and bring them to an extraction point (much like a hostage rescue situation); and lastly, Sabotage is where you find ND133s and neutralize them by placing a modem nearby. The equipment for the spies is the same equipment that you would expect to see in single player, but for the terrorists, the multi-player mode is where the new equipment comes into play. If you didn’t already know, Splinter Cell is mainly played in a third-person view, but in the interests of balance, the terrorists have a different view first-person. This gives the player less visibility for things that aren’t right in front of them, but they are equipped with motion sensor detectors and EMF vision (something that allows you to locate all nearby electronic devices, such as spies’ special goggles). Let me say this: the system is very innovative, but the game-play is so damn hard! When I finally decided to go online, I took the beating of my life. I haven’t been so embarrassed since the time I took a bet to wear a dress in high school. I truly feel sorry for my teammate; I really didn’t mean to kill you that many times. It’s just that I thought you were the enemy. I hope you accept my apology. Well, this is probably what most first-time gamers will experience online. A word from a more experienced (albeit not by much) player: watch your radar. It shows a dot to indicate your partner.
Your partner is actually a crucial asset when you are playing as the spies, especially when both of you know what you are doing. You must constantly communicate (via a headset) with one another because the levels are almost always set to your advantage. You need to utilize the darkness, secret paths, and thermal and night vision. You can almost always win, or so I thought. Well, to my dismay, I found out that I suck even more as a spy then I do a terrorist. Perhaps the first step any player should take is learning the maps and figuring out how to get around. Once you have that down, I’m certain that whipping the socks off of those terrorists will be so much easier. Even though I have been insignificant in the online game system, I actually enjoyed it. As I said before, the online play is very innovative, but with only four players, it is kind of weak compared to other online games. On the other hand, I can also understand the reason to limit it to this number; with more, it will just not be as balanced.
While I enjoyed the new online portion to this game, single-player is still my favorite part. This is espionage at its very best and will tide me over until MGS3 comes out. The only differences I’ve noticed between the original Splinter Cell and Pandora Tomorrow are that they got rid of the more annoying missions where you had to jump over trip wire, and they added a few more moves to the aging Sam Fisher. One move which is used quite often is the Swat Turn (the ability to switch from one side of the door to the other without being noticed). Another new move is the ability to climb higher using the previously useless Half Split Jump, allowing Ubi to add more obstacles and greater variety to the game. Yet, the game still plays pretty linearly, which can be both good and bad. The advantage is that you can always figure out exactly where you are supposed to go, never getting lost, but the disadvantage is that once you beat the game, the replay value isn’t that high even with the alternate paths. But beating the game alone is very satisfying, considering how easy it is to fail. Thankfully, the developers at Ubisoft felt our pain and brought back even more checkpoints and save points. After every difficult section, there is usually a checkpoint, something that I really appreciate since I hated the fact that one simple mistake after passing these trials can still end with mission failure. In this sense, the single-player mode is identical to the original Splinter Cell, just with a different story and some modifications for most of the complaints we gamers voiced about the original.
The story for this game is based on - you guessed it - Pandora Tomorrow, a special codename for an operation organized by the terrorist organization. Their goal is to release a widespread virus similar to smallpox, causing a great deal of damage to the population. Their reasoning is to get revenge on the US. Whenever there is a threat, we want to stop it, but we aren’t psychics. We can’t predict an enemy’s every move or method of attacking, and this is where Third Echelon comes into play. Its purpose is finding out where the terrorists will hit and try to prevent a crisis. Sam goes from one place to another based on leads, attempting to reseal Pandora’s Box. So, are you ready to recommision Sam Fisher?
If you aren’t, Ubi definitely was, and they have brought back the original voice cast as far as I can tell. I don’t notice many differences, and I’m truly grateful for this. I dislike it when voices change, because once you have become accustomed to them, you can’t separate them. The vocals aren’t the only thing that didn’t change; the background noises and music are back and as superb as ever, giving you the feeling of intensity, upcoming trouble, and just soothing music that makes you enjoy the scenery. For that split second, you’re allowed an opportunity to forget about your mission. It is a nicely compiled orchestra symphony that just blows me away.
Not only did the audio really impress me, but so did the video. As we all know, we thought the PS2 couldn’t do too much more considering its system (which I admit to having said many times before), but it’s truly amazing to see these more impressive graphical representations maximizing this system’s potential. Where Pandora really stands out from its predecessor is in the graphics, with better facial features and expressions giving a more realistic feel. However, while the graphics improved, the water effects are still bothersome; when someone is in the water, the waves should change slightly or at least show some ripple effect. Unfortunately, the water keeps the same motion and looks rather odd; it would almost seem like your character isn’t really in the water at all. Other than this detail, I can’t complain, since everything else is pretty detailed. It even informs you when you place a body in a good hiding space.
Overall, I feel this game meets expectations and even breaks barriers with its innovative online system, and as for choosing which system to get it’s clearly your choice. From what I hear, both games play fairly similarly, with the Xbox having superior graphics but the PS2 offering free online play. While it will not be as many players as you see with SOCOM II, you can always find a room to play in, even between 2am-5am. The game kept to its original feel, almost playing identically, and if Ubi were to combine the two, I would almost say it would flow smoothly because of the controls and the vocal cast. You will only be surprised when it transition from the older video system to the improved system. If you played the first and enjoyed it, like I did, I would strongly suggest playing this one. So if you are wondering if this game is worth the rental or a purchase, well, I strongly say purchase, but it’s up to you. At least try it out and decide then. Good job, Ubi, for bringing out another fine game.
Score : 9.2 / 10
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