Tom Clancy seems to not only have captured the reading audience with his intense novels, he's also been quite effective in the video gaming world as well. With raging successes like Rainbow Six, Rogue Spear, and Ghost Recon for multiple gaming platforms, the proverbial proof is in the pudding (we'll just go ahead and pretend that the dismal Sum of All Fears was never released). Although all of those games were innovative and incredible to play, they all had the same basic gameplay characteristic: team based combat. With his latest game for the PC, Splinter Cell, Clancy has given his design team a little more creative freedom. The end result is a singularly unique title when compared to the writers' previous releases, as well as with other titles currently on the market, and from the past.
Splinter Cell is a stealth driven, third-person action/adventure game that puts the player in the shoes of Sam Fisher, a highly trained and experienced covert-ops soldier. As a member of Third Echelon (a top-secret military organization charged with eradicating global terrorist threats), Fisher takes care of the dirty work, completing the organizations undercover commando work deep behind enemy lines and in our own country. Whether it be assassination, subterfuge, theft, or general mayhem: Sam's the man to get it done. There is a catch, however. As a Splinter Cell agent, any work done by Fisher must be disavowed by the US Government if he's caught in action on a mission. So, if he's caught, that essentially means that he's on his own, with no help from anyone. Sound bad to you, does it? Add the fact that one wrong move on a mission could potentially instigate a global war, and things really get touchy. If this doesn't have the makings of a good Tom Clancy novel, then nothing does.
Unlike previous Clancy games, Splinter Cell is based around a style of solo adventuring, dropping the team-based combat gameplay that was the mainstay of earlier releases. Honestly, we found this different form of Clancy title a breath of fresh air, giving us a much needed break from the massive tactical planning that came with playing games like Rainbow 6. Instead, Splinter Cell gives you a much different kind of gameplay challenge, forcing players to actively participate and submerge themselves in the stealth aspect of the game. Through the 9 nine levels included with the title, players must use their covert abilities and gadgets in order to complete the challenging set of goals while going mostly undetected. This includes hiding in shadows, sneaking through alleyways and corridors, repelling off of the side of buildings, sniping targets with silenced weapons, and keeping a tab on an enemies whereabouts at all times. A missed target or inadvertent noise could tip off the enemy to your presence, ending your mission prematurely, as well as your life.
Being a Tom Clancy game, the use of high tech gadgetry is a must, and Splinter Cell has its fair share of interesting toys. Among the more useful are the optic cable (allowing players to peak into rooms under doorframes undetected), various lock-picks, heat detecting infra-red goggles, robot cameras, laser microphones, camera jammers, and the mainstay of the game, the night vision goggles. Although stealth is the core of the gameplay, the use of force is necessary at various times. For most of the game, players will find themselves with a nasty little silenced pistol, capable of taking out targets in a breeze. Later in the game, an interesting high-tech rifle will find its way into your inventory called the SC-20K Modular Assault Weapon System. This little gem not only can not only kill your opponents with traditional bullets, but can also use non-lethal Ring Airfoil Projectiles for incapacitation, as well as smoke grenades, and even 'Sticky' projectiles that can contain either camera, diversions, or electrical shockers for knocking out enemies quickly. The trick to the weapons in the game is to use them sparingly. Ammo is hard to come by in the game, and you'll never know when you'll need an extra bullet at a crucial point in the game. Powerups, such as health, as also a hard find in the game. Sometimes search around through bathroom medicine cabinets or other closed chests and closets can pay off in the end, giving you that extra boost of strength needed to move on.
Another interesting aspect of the gameplay comes in the unusual activities and maneuvers that players will find themselves engaging in. For instance, one crucial mission of the game forces you to reach a waypoint without stepping once on the ground. If you do, the game ends abruptly. Therefore, you must find other ways of moving around in order to complete the mission. This may include, jumping from wall to wall a' la Daredevil, scaling what looks to be an unclimbable wall, repelling from an roof down a building in order to smash through a large window, sliding down an electrical wire, and even hanging from a ledge in order to drop to another. Taking the time to survey your area and figure out the best route could save you time and pain in the long run.
The gameplay elements weren't the only positive aspects of Splinter Cell The graphics of the game also left an impression upon us, being above average and even exceptional at times. The lighting effects found throughout the title have to be some of the best we've seen to date. Sunlight filtering through the blinds of a darkened room, early sunrise light giving off a faint pinkish hue on a rooftop, the realistic glow of burning fire within an abandoned building: every ounce of visual lighting had a remarkable realistic look to it. Character models found in the game were also quite distinct, not only giving them a true to life look about them, but also adding enough distinct individuality with each character found to allow them to stand out when compared to one another. The game's physics were also quite realistic, allowing players to not only pinpoint their shots for maximum effect (kill shots to the head, etc.), but also interact with almost every aspect and object within the environment. Light switches can be turned off, light bulbs broken in order to darken a corridor, pipes broken to allow steam to escape, and illuminated devices such as TV's and coke machines can be trashed in order to cut sound and light within an area.
Nothing is perfect in this world, and that is most definitely the case with Splinter Cell At first the covert missions are interesting and entertaining, but as the game continues on they become slightly repetitive. Thankfully the change in scenery with the different levels helps alleviate the boredom of the 'sneaking-past-the-guards' syndrome that the game unfortunately creates. The controls also took quite some time getting used to, even with the included tutorial. We even had to return to the manual a couple of times in order to refresh us on some of the more basic moves found in the game. Not only that, but useful moves like throwing objects in order to distract the enemy was completely left out of the tutorial altogether, forcing us to learn it in-game. The game also seemed to drag out at times with extreme lulls in activity all together. At one point, we were stuck on a level for over an hour simply for the fact that we couldn't figure out where to go. All it took was a simple jump onto a trash bin and a push off a wall in order to get onto a overhang, continuing the game. After punching ourselves in the head a few times, we realized that paying attention while playing Splinter Cell is a definite must.
Even with the flaws found in Splinter Cell ,
we still found the game mostly enjoyable. Solid graphics, a great Tom Clancy
storyline, and mostly entertaining gameplay made us come back to this game time
and time again. It isn't the superb game that the hype masters in the console
forums wish us to believe, however, but it does have enough positive elements to
make it enjoyable to fans of the stealth/action-adventure genre.