For some time, whenever anyone thought of a stealth game set in the modern era, the first game that would come to mind would be Metal Gear. The actions of Solid Snake made for exciting gameplay for those who preferred sneaking up to their foes instead of a full-on assault. At the time, it was also the only stealth game set in the modern era. Then came Splinter Cell, which took a whole new approach to stealth with some acrobatics from its protagonist and the constant struggle between light and shadow. While Xbox 360 owners have access to the full series through a combination of native games and original Xbox games, PS3 owners without backward-compatible systems could only play the fourth game in the series. Thanks to the current trend of remastering previous generation games, all PS3 owners can now experience the first three games via Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Trilogy. While this may seem like a godsend for stealth action lovers, there are a number of things that greatly mar the experience.
The first thing you need to be aware of is the fact that the game comes in both Blu-ray disc versions and downloadable versions, where you have the option to download each title separately or as a bundle. If you choose to go the disc route, you'll need to install 5.5 GB of data to the system's hard drive before you can play the game.
The package includes the first three games of the series, and aside from the expected differences in plots, each game either introduces or modifies mechanics that end up being used in later games of the series and other stealth games. As mentioned earlier, Splinter Cell's contribution to the stealth genre is the use of light and shadow in a modern setting. You're given a light meter to determine how exposed you are in an environment, and you also have goggles capable of both night vision and thermal vision. Additionally, you have an assortment of weapons at your disposal but a very limited amount of ammo, with no option of picking up more along the way before the mission is complete. As far as moves go, you can do the usual wall hugs, crouched walks and peeks around the corner, but you can also do a split-jump between two nearby walls and hang from pipes to let guards pass or get the drop on them to knock them out. You can also grab enemies to use as shields or as a means of interrogating them before knocking them out.
Unlike most stealth games, Splinter Cell has some very strict rules per level that must be followed unless you want to experience a mission end screen. Some require no deaths at all while others require you to never be spotted. That rule applies to bodies as well. Leaving a body under some light will alert others, effectively ending the mission in some circumstances. It is stealth at its strictest, and while that may annoy genre novices, the veterans will appreciate it the most.
Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is largely the same as the original but has enough tweaks to make the experience still feel fresh. Sam now has the ability to do a SWAT turn when near two walls on the same plane. He can also do a half-split to climb up nearby ledges, and he can hang upside-down and shoot from that position. There's also a laser sight that can be placed on the pistol for better aiming. Other than that, you can expect the same moves, gadgets and strict stealth requirements for this outing.
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory introduces even more gameplay mechanics and relaxes the strictness of the rules just a bit. You're now given a sound meter in addition to the light meter to help determine how likely you are to be caught. You also have a range of close-quarter moves and execution moves at your disposal. Players can hang from ceilings to strangle, shoot or knock out enemies. Enemies can also be stabbed or, if within close proximity, can be thrown off high ledges. The game has also been tweaked to so that players can mess up a little and still complete the mission. Getting caught merely raises alarms, and the missions change slightly if you mess up a few times.
After all these years, the games still hold up in their replayability. The strict stealth requirements really force you to hone your skills while the relaxed atmosphere in Chaos Theory and emphasis on a little more combat come through once you see your scores. This may require many frustrating checkpoint restarts, but the elation of snapping a neck or getting through a part virtually unseen is still thrilling enough to experience over and over again.
Despite the use of the original level architecture, the game actually has content removed. In particular, the multiplayer modes for both Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory are nowhere to be found. As good as the stories were, the unique Spies vs. Mercenaries multiplayer mode really made the games special because of its marriage of stealth tactics and first-person shooter action. With it gone, this game doesn't stand out over the original Xbox versions since those modes could still be played over LAN. Also missing from the package are the submarine-related missions that were later released as free DLC to PC and Xbox owners. With those essential elements gone, it's difficult to call this package anything close to being complete.
The package sports a 1080p resolution as well as widescreen support, but the graphical performance varies wildly from game to game. The original Splinter Cell has some very bad lip-synching during in-game cut scenes, and the mere up-conversion in resolution makes it easier to point out the now-primitive architecture used for just about everything. Even some lighting flaws stand out now, where whole sections of light disappear when viewed from certain angles. The frame rate dips often enough that one has to wonder why the PS3 has a hard time with the game. Pandora Tomorrow's architecture fares a little better, with the lighting and texture bugs fixed up considerably. Aside from the use of pixelated icons for your items, it looks fine though the frame rate drops occur less often than its predecessor.
Chaos Theory suffers from a bug where the 1080p resolution won't appear unless you shut off the 720p option in the XMB, but aside from that flaw, this game fares the best out of the three in the package. Character models look beefier, the lighting is much better, and the game stands tall with Sony's other remake efforts. The cut scenes, though, weren't treated in the same manner, and you'll view every one of them in 4:3 format with very noticeable compression. Like the Prince of Persia collection, this one ranks in the lower rung of conversions from a graphical standpoint.
The control layout is exactly the same as the PS2 versions. Aside from a slight change made between gun holstering and quick item selection during the transition from Pandora Tomorrow to Chaos Theory, every button function is exactly how you remember it. The big complaint, aside from lacking button customization, is the exclusion of an option to invert controls. Just about every first- and third-person game includes this option, so it's curious to see it omitted here. With any luck, this will be fixed via a patch.
For a game where sound is essential to life or death, what you get here is very solid. Both the effects and music still play out cleanly and haven't lost their impact since their original releases. The voice work is still top-notch, especially Michael Ironside's work as Sam Fisher, with the gruff pitch and delivery adding some personality to the character. The big complaint with the sound lies in the codec. This is one of the few PS3 games where the sound codec isn't Dolby Digital 5.1 but Dolby Pro Logic II. With the original Xbox versions capable of Dolby Digital 5.1, one has to wonder why the PS3 collection has to take the lesser version.
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Trilogy should have been a must-have game. After all, each of these games still adhere to the strict emphasis on stealth that made the series so popular in the first place, and all three have stories that are interesting without being too convoluted. Unfortunately, the graphics don't feel worthy of being called HD, and the frame rate feels like it's making the system struggle. Furthermore, the omission of multiplayer modes and extra downloadable levels outweighs the presence of PC/Xbox level architecture that added new things for PS2/GameCube players. If you don't care much for looks and don't care much for multiplayer, then get this game since the single-player experience is still superb. Otherwise, you'd be better served going for the game on PC, which is a more complete — but less expensive — experience.
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