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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow (Xbox)




By Michael Palisano


Taking stealth-action to the next level, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow from Ubisoft on the Xbox takes players deeper undercover than ever before. Pandora Tomorrow enhances the original game's amazing graphics with even more real-world detail with amazing light-sourcing and shadow effects evident throughout with new techniques that make the gameplay even more realistic. The biggest addition to the series online play where two teams of players compete against one another in several modes. Each team has starkly different objectives and move-sets, making for a brilliant multiplayer experience that offers more than death-matching. Pandora Tomorrow's photo-realistic graphics feel incredibly authentic with richly detailed environments, beautiful light-sourcing and breathtakingly real character models that exceed even the original's high-polish. Pandora Tomorrow is another masterpiece of design, so read our review and find out why it will keep you entertained and challenged for hours.

When a group of sinister terrorists threaten the American Embassy in East Timor, the United States government calls in a top secret Special Forces unit to recover sensitive documents. This unit is a Splinter Cell, consisting of a single highly trained operative named Sam Fischer. A veteran of many missions over the decades, Fisher has earned many scars in his long career in covert ops.He's been called back into service to destroy hidden information, while trying to ascertain intelligence information about the terrorist network. He has permission to do this through whatever means are required. However, his other main objective is to do all of this without being detected, and with as few casualties as possible. This means the use of deadly force is usually something to avoid. Instead, Fisher can disable enemies by sneaking up behind them and knocking them out. He'll also need to extract information from some enemies and can use his leverage to make them co-operate with him. Fischer's mission starts at the besieged embassy but takes him to locations throughout the world including Paris and other international hotspots. During each mission, Fisher's special suit allows him to communicate in real time with his commanding officer, Lambert. Lambert will outline the mission objectives and update him on changes in plan as he progresses through each level.

In order to complete each mission objective, Fisher has a variety of tools, weapons and techniques at his disposal. As a Clancy title, all the weapons and gadgets are based on real-world items, lending Pandora Tomorrow a realism that's quite convincing throughout. His special suit is equipped with special night and heat vision goggles that let him see in the darkness as well as binoculars that let him zoom in for details on far away objects. He has a variety of weapons he can use from a standard assault rifle, several pistols and several types of grenades. There are three basic types of grenades: Standard explosives, camera jamming and chaff grenades which blind the enemies. If non-lethal combat is required, airfoils can be fired to disable enemies. Fisher can also pick up and throw objects to distract enemies and whistle lightly to draw an enemy towards the shadows where he's hiding. Once he has disabled an enemy, Fisher can pick up the body and hide it in a dark area to avoid it being detected and triggering alarms. Several cool gadgets are also included such as a special worm camera that he can slip under doors to see what lies ahead in the next room. Fisher can also use his pick to open locked doors, listen through windows using a special laser microphone, and place cameras and explosives remotely. These gadgets are implemented intelligently, but to be truly effective, Fisher has to use his special physical skills and techniques.

As usual, Fisher has a variety of moves at his disposal that he can use to infiltrate heavily guarded areas undetected. Many of these will be familiar to fans of the first game, but many are new or have been enhanced. The missions have also been redesigned so that all these will be necessary at some point in the game. On a basic level, he can crouch down and crawl underneath tables or items, place his back to the wall to avoid sticking out and can now fire or throw objects. Fisher can also glide down zip lines and rappel off high buildings, then perform a quiet landing so he can land silently. Fisher can also hang onto and climb across metal bars with both his arms and legs to sneak past cameras and sensors, and can hang from these upside down and fire his weapon, which is a cool additional ability that can be quite effective at taking out enemies. In tight corridors, he can use split jumps to climb up these, and can fire when in this position as well. He can also hide behind a wall and look around a corner to see what lies ahead. Fisher has also learned a new SWAT turn which allows him to move while peeking around a corner undetected. Performing all these moves is quite intuitive thanks to Pandora Tomorrow's excellent, intuitive control scheme. While it seems intimidating at first, the controls are smartly mapped to the controller buttons, giving the player a great deal of dexterity when switching from one action to another.

Since stealth and invisibilty is key, you'll need to know the techniques to get from one area to another without being detected. As usual, his suit is equipped with a number of high-tech devices including a special indicator that shows him how visible he is to the enemy. When he's covered by darkness, he can't be seen be opposing guards. However, he can shoot out lights to decrease his visibility, though nearby guards may be alerted to his presence if he shoots out a light. While staying out of the light is important, keeping quiet is also an important aspect of the game. Players will have to stay as silent as possible avoid being detected or triggering alarms, this can be done by moving slowly, since fast movement causes the player's steps to be amplified. In addition to movement, avoiding detection also requires Fisher to keep out of view of cameras and other movement sensors on each level. These can usually be spotted easily by the player. In addition, players might find that the other guards on the level may be equipped with night-vision goggles. He can counter this in a number of ways, such as counter-intuitively moving into the light where the opposing guards can't see you, or shooting a fire extinguisher to temporarily blind them. Some missions also require Fisher to avoid triggering a certain number of alarms, which can be set off by leaving bodies in plain sight or being spotted or heard moving around.

The game's outstanding balance of action and strategy makes for an incredibly intense and challenging experience that requires a great deal of patience and planning to complete. The missions themselves aren't as linear this time around, giving players more latitude in the paths and techniques they use to complete them. The game's well-spaced checkpoints let you continue without losing too much progress. While the first few missions are basic, they serve to effectively introduce the player to the parameters and techniques they'll need later on. As you progress to the later levels, the objectives become increasingly complex and difficult to complete, though the game never really becomes that incredibly difficult. You'll definitely need to pay attention to your orders and parameters as you progress, since some areas allow you to use deadly force, while others require you to get through without firing a shot. This definitely adds to the game's realistic feel, giving it an edge that most other stealth titles lack. Pandora Tomorrow's elaborate level layouts and multiple objectives give the gameplay a sophistication and nuance that makes playing the single player mode immersive and challenging. However, the game's 17 levels seem to go by too quicky and the lack of replay value hurts the game's value slightly. The good news is that the single player experience is complimented by an addictive, smartly designed online component.

Using Xbox Live, players will have the opportunity to form a team using one of two factions. The Shadownet team consists of members from a government agency who's movements are based on the techniques Fisher uses in the main game. A private contractor group called Argus Corporation are mercenaries who's mission is guard their bases while ferreting out the players in the opposing team. There are three unique modes of play in online mode: Neutralization Mode, Extraction and Sabotage. In each, the objective as the Shadownet team is to find an object and destroy or move it to a checkpoint. The objective for the Argus mercenaries is to find and eliminate any Shadownet members they come across. Since each team has a different goal and objective, they come equipped with very different abilities, gadgets and weapons. Playing as a Shadownet member is most similar to the main game, with each player having a similar moves set and abilities, though they move faster and have more weapons at their disposal. Since the Argus team isn't as good at stealth and don't have to worry as much about being spotted, these members have access to better weapons and more types of gadgets to find their opponents. It's really impressive how the online mode has been implemented. Instead of settling for a simple deathmatch mode, Pandora Tomorrow mimic's the main game's stealthy maneuvers and strategic elements, which makes for an engaging and exciting experience throughout. While online, we encountered few problems with lag and setting up and starting games was quite simple thanks to the game's seamless interface that lets you jump right in the action with little effort.

From an aesthetic standpoint, few games in any genre can match Pandora Tomorrow's technical brilliance. The first game's trademark light-sourcing is back, but now its more elaborate and widespread use makes for a more exciting experience. Light-filters create stunningly realistic shadows and particle effects that make the environments far less sterile than the first title. The intricate attention to detail is quite astonishing with more objects and realistically placed level layouts that add to the game's sense of authenticity. Speaking of which, the trademark of most of the recent Tom Clancy games is their realism, which extends to the weapons and objects in the game. Each one looks, and also feels and reacts, just as their real-world counterparts would. Pandora Tomorrow's environments have also benefited from a substantial upgrade and they are now more colorful and realistic. Plants, trees and other fauna are realistically rendered along with outstanding water and fire effects that deliver quite a visual feast for the eyes. The game's use of darkness and contrast is superb throughout, allowing the player to more fully immerse themselves in the action. The improved character models are also quite impressive, with improved character movement. A higher-level of detail is evident throughout, and you'll spot small details such as the individual scars on Fisher's face, text on computer screens and more. The overall effect of this visual splendor is quite impressive throughout, creating a plausible environment that creates one of the most elaborately realized virtual worlds to date.

Despite Pandora Tomorrow's abundance of graphical flourish, it's still the actual gameplay that matters most. The game's highly polished, realistic design should appeal to players looking for a sophisticated challenge. The gameplay is challenging, with intelligently designed single-player missions that make it probably the most engaging stealth-action title on the market. Ubisoft has created an engrossing and exciting gameplay experience that should keep you entertained throughout. The fast paced, intriguing plot feels realistic and gives you strong motivation throughout. Pandora Tomorrow's intuitive controls are responsive and tight, letting you switch positions and perform cool moves almost effortlessly. Pandora Tomorrow far surpasses the original Splinter Cell with additional moves, and exceeds expectations in the graphics department, with even more extensive light-sourcing, more varied environments and more realistic character models. The online component is the icing on the cake, and should keep you entertained long after you've completed the single-player missions. Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is one of the best looking and playing stealth titles to date, and another essential addition to the Xbox library.

Grade: A

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