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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow (PS2)




By Michael Palisano

After storming Xbox consoles earlier this year, Ubi Soft's Sam Fisher sneaks onto the PS2 once again in Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow. Fisher's mission is to uncover the terrorist plot without detection while inflicting minimal collateral damage along the way. Pandora's graphics and presentation are spectacular by PS2 standards and pushes the system the breaking point to create a tense and exciting stealth adventure. The solo mission is superb, but the new online multiplayer modes just as polished and give the game much more depth. Read our review and find out how the series has usurped Metal Gear Solid to become the new standard in stealth titles.

Ubi Soft's initial Splinter Cell title set a new high-water mark for the genre with gorgeous graphics, superb control and realistic plot. The influence of author Tom Clancy was felt in the game's attention to detail, which extended to the authentic weaponry and tactics used by the agent. With the release of Pandora Tommorow, Ubi Soft has again set a new high water mark for the genre. Picking up where the original left off, the new game drops you right in the middle of another intriguing plot. A breakaway faction led by an extremist has taken over the American embassy in East Timor. The US calls in a clandestine special forces unit to recover sensitive documents. This unit is the "splinter cell," consisting of a single operative, Sam Fischer. A veteran of many missions over the decades, Fisher brings skill and ability to the task. He's latest mission is to destroy sensitive documents within the embassy, while trying gathering intelligence information about the terrorist network. He has permission to use whatever means are required. Fisher's secondary objective is to complete these tasks without being detected. He also needs to do this with as few casualties as possible. Instead of firing mindlessly at them, Fisher can disable enemies by sneaking up behind them and knocking them out. However, their bodies left out in the light will be dead giveaways that an intruder is present. He has to carry them into the shadows to avoid detection. He'll also need to extract information from some enemies and can use his unique interrogation techniques to make them co-operate. Fischer's mission starts at the besieged embassy but as the game unfolds, a much broader conspiracy emerges, requiring him to infiltrate locations throughout the world. Fisher's special suit allows him to communicate in real time with his commanding officer, Lambert. During each mission, Lambert outlines mission objectives and update him on changes in plans and tactics.

You have a wide array of tools, weapons and techniques that allow him to complete each objective quickly and cleanly. As you'd expect, Fisher's weapons and gadgets are realistic, lending Pandora Tomorrow a convincing realism that adds to the tension. His body suit comes equipped with special night and heat-vision goggles that let him see enemies in the dark. He can also use special binoculars that let him see magnify viewpoint and snipe his foes. His basic weapons include assault rifles, pistols and three types of grenades. The grenades include standard explosives, camera jamming and chaff grenades that temporarily blind enemies and sensors. When non-lethal combat is required, Airfoils can be fired to disable enemies temporarily and non-lethally. Fisher can also pick up and throw objects to distract enemies or whistle lightly to draw an enemy towards the shadows where he's hiding. He can slip his Optic Camera under doors to see what lies ahead in the next room without detection from nearby guards. Fisher can also use the pick to open locked doors, listen through windows using a special microphone, and place cameras or explosives and control them remotely. These gadgets are quite impressive but Fisher must also rely on his special physical skills and techniques to be truly effective.

Fisher has several methods to infiltrate heavily guarded areas undetected. Some of these techniques will be familiar to fans of the first game, but many are new or have been enhanced. Firstly, 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 to silently pass through. Fisher can also hang onto and climb across metal bars with both his arms and legs to sneak past cameras and sensors. One new ability allows him to hang from beams upside down and fire his weapon, which is very effective at taking out patrolling guards. In tight corridors, he can use split jumps to climb up walls and can now fire in this position as well. He can also hide behind walls and peek around a corner to see what lies ahead. Fisher has also learned a new SWAT turn. This technique lets him to move while peering around a corner. Performing these moves is quite intuitive thanks to Pandora Tomorrow's excellent, intuitive control scheme that uses the PS2 standard controller effectively. Movement and tasks are logically mapped to the Dual Shock's buttons, giving the player a both dexterity and power.

Maintaining stealth is key throughout each mission and you'll need to know the techniques to get to your objective without being detected. Fisher's suit is equipped with an indicator that shows him how visible he is to the enemy. When he's covered by darkness, he's invisible to opposing guards. If an area is brightly lit, he can shoot out lights to decrease his risk, though nearby guards may be alerted to his presence if he does this when they're nearby. Staying out of the light is important, but keeping quiet is another important way to maintain a low profile. Patience and moving slowly is an essential skill, 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 motion sensors on each level. Sensors can usually be spotted easily by the player. Later on, other guards are also equipped with night-vision goggles, which makes things more complicated. He can counter these opponents' sensors in a number of ways, such as counter-intuitively moving into the light since this blinds the goggles. A simple technique involves shooting fire extinguishers or hoses to limit your visibility. Some missions also require Fisher to avoid triggering a certain number of alarms and alert levels. This is tricky, but the alert levels decrease the longer he stays in the shadows.

Pandora Tomorrow's balance of action and strategy is nearly flawless and makes for an incredibly intense and challenging experience. The gameplay is quite sophisticated and it requires patience and planning to complete each mission. The missions themselves aren't as linear this time around, which allows more latitude in the techniques used to achieve their objectives. The checkpoints occur at decent intervals, so you can continue without losing much progress. While the first few levels seem a bit too easy, they introduce players to most of the techniques they'll need later. As you progress, the objectives become increasingly complex and difficult, though the challenge never becomes impossible. You should pay close attention to your mission briefings since some levels allow force, while others require infiltration without causing casualties. This adds to tension to the experience, giving Pandora Tomorrow a sophisticated and tightly wound feel. The elaborate, multidimensional maps and brilliantly interwoven objectives give the gameplay a remarkable sophistication and nuance. Its 17 levels seem to go by quickly once you've immersed yourself into Pandora's world, but the experience is an unforgettable and engaging one. While the single player mode is outstanding, the developers have taken the series to the next level with a brand new online component that's just as immersive and engaging.

Using the PS2's Network Adaptor with a broadband connection unlocks an entirely new multiplayer game. In the online mode, players can form a team using one of two factions. The first faction is Shadownet. This is the same agency that enlisted Fisher and they use similar techniques. Their rivals are private contractors from Argus Corp. These character's are mercenaries who must guard their bases while ferreting out the players in the opposing team. There are three unique variations of online play: 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 or base. Argus members must locate and neutralize any Shadownet members they discover. Each team is equipped with very different abilities, gadgets and weapons. Playing as a Shadownet member is similar to the main game, with each player having a similar moves set and abilities, though they move faster and have more weapons. Since the Argus team isn't as good at stealth, they have access to better weapons and more gadgets to find their opponents. It's impressive how the online mode has been implemented. Pandora Tomorrow's online modes transpose the solo game's stealthy maneuvers and strategic elements, which makes for some intense online battles. While online, we encountered few problems. The excellent menus systems and lobby system makes starting games was quite simple. This is one of the best-executed online game's we've seen on the PS2 and is up to the high standards of realism and tension set by the Splinter Cell series.

While Pandora Tomorrow on the PS2 doesn't quite match the brilliance of the Xbox edition, this version offers a surprisingly close conversion of the Xbox version. The trademark light sourcing looks nice on the console, and illuminates each area brilliantly. Pandora Tomorrow's attention to detail is impressive throughout the realistically mapped level layouts. Each weapon in the game benefits from the impressive engine, looking and feeling closely to their real-world counterparts. Pandora Tomorrow's environments look more colorful and realistic this time as well. This is only enhanced by the smooth, intuitive camera system that makes changing angles on the fly easy to accomplish. The brilliant use of darkness is ingenious, transporting you directly into the shadows effectively. Superlative environmental effects such as water and fire add further to the believability. The improved character models offer lifelike animation and movements. 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 for the action to occur. The conversion is as good as you could realistically expect. Its one of the best-looking PS2 titles on the market and sets new standards on the console effortlessly.

This is an outstanding title by every measurement. It's easily one of the most polished looking and playing games on the PlayStation2 to date. Pandora Tomorrow's highly polished, realistic storyline will appeal to players looking for a sophisticated challenge that doesn't insult their intelligence. The focused single-player missions give the game an immediate appeal, but there's a surprising amount of depth underneath the flash visuals. Pandora Tomorrow's intuitive controls are responsive and use the PS2's controller effectively. The superlative online mode is an outstanding addition that extends the game's replay value exponentially. It's smartly designed and fits the atmosphere and tone of the single-player game perfectly. Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow far surpasses the original in every significant department, making it one of the best PS2 releases to date by a long shot.

Grade: B+

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