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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Action

 

Publisher

Ubi Soft

 

Developer

Red Storm Entertainment

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q1 2003

 

 

- Impressive graphics

- Great sound

- Fun gameplay

 

 

- Minor polish issues

- Occasional choppy animation

- Lacking port

- Little replay value

 

 

Review: Splinter Cell (Xbox)

Review: Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance (Playstation 2)

 

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Splinter Cell

Score: 9.0 / 10

Let’s face it.  Metal Gear basically invented the stealth sneaker genre.  There have been clones and copies, some of them successful, like Hitman.  Successful as they may be, none of them really topped Japan’s coveted espionage thriller.  Red Storm’s offering, Splinter Cell,  a new series under the Clancy name, is the latest to challenge Metal Gear’s dominance.

splinter-cell-pc-1.jpg (19316 bytes)         splinter-cell-pc-2.jpg (18447 bytes)

Splinter Cell places players in the shoes of operative Sam Fischer.  As per the press sheet, “When two CIA agents mysteriously vanish in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, the NSA’s secret sub agency, Third Echelon, deploys Sam Fisher–its most capable splinter cell operative–to recover them. Fisher soon uncovers a deeper conspiracy: a plot that threatens to destabilize the world order and spark nuclear conflict.

Fisher, like all Third Echelon Splinter Cells, is granted the use of the Fifth Freedom–unprecedented latitude to safeguard America’s security by any means necessary. Acting alone, he uses terrorists’ own tactics against them.  Should he fall to enemy hands, the U.S. government will disavow any knowledge of his existence.

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No more time for negotiations and diplomacy. The time for decisive action has come. Strike from the darkness… Fade away. You are Sam Fisher, you are a Splinter Cell.”

 

If you didn’t think that the official synopsis sounded like a Hollywood film, the presentation and the cutscenes will.  From the intro, which is very well done, and slightly reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid 2’s intro, to the pre-mission cutscenes, 

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all of them are pre-rendered, high quality, and not boring.  The news style intros are very nice, and add immersion to the game.  They help the game not to feel so empty and dead.  My only gripe is that the opening introduction I spoke of before is not stretched to the ends of the screen.  You end up with this black border, which is odd, as the pre-mission cutscenes are stretched.

Splinter Cell is played from a 3rd person perspective, and utilizes a pretty standard mouse / keyboard control scheme.  Mouse aim is a godsend especially when compared to the difficulty of shooting out certain lights in the X-Box version.  The one thing special about the controls is the mouse wheel’s functionality.  While the X-Box allowed the game to rely on analog controls to control items such as movement speed, the PC’s keyboard is simply an on/off switch.  To compensate for this, the mouse wheel controls the speed setting of all movement.  This works very well, and makes up for the PC’s lack of native analog controls.  Overall, controls work out very well.

The gameplay itself is very stealth oriented and linear.  Totally opposite from games like Deus Ex, the game forces its stealth persona and situations usually have little leeway in the amount of ways to resolve them.  Weapons are weak and inaccurate, so John Woo style gunfights are out of the question.  One-shot kills, if not impossible, are a rarity.  There are very little side routes to explore and travel, while events are scripted all over the place.  One early mission has a colonel scripted to arrive in the room for you to manipulate him to get past a retinal scanner.  Linear?  Yes.  But actually, linearity in Splinter Cell is good.  You feel immersed in the environment and there are enough scripted events to really make the game feel more alive.  It is truly an experience to play through Splinter Cell - linearity in this case enhances the game, and only hinders replay value. 

Further enhancing the experience of Splinter Cell are the graphics.  By now, Splinter Cell has made quite a name of itself through just its graphics, and boy, is it worthy of such praise.  Splinter Cell is based upon the next generation Unreal engine, and furthermore, the team was able to exploit it to the fullest, adding very pretty and complex projected shadows, and great lighting.  Night vision and “thermal sights” are very convincing.  Rays of light breaking through cracks in the wall produce beams, which are amazing on even the most minimal of graphics cards like a GeForce 2.  Not only to gawk at, the graphics help you judge and feel safe in the shadows, and really enhances the stealth theme of the game. 

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Sound is also very well done.  3D sound, support for EAX, as standard fare have been included.  Voice acting is pretty good, and is immersed in ambient music that isn’t too intruding during gameplay, and sounds are crisp and convincing.  Shooting out a light or throwing a bottle yields a nice crispy sound of broken glass.  Walking on broken glass itself, on wood, on metal, are all different in sound, and also affect gameplay.  You really listen in Splinter Cell.  And the end result: suspense is created. 

My gripes about the game go beyond just the opening cutscene’s size.  First off, the interface is a bit too intrusive for my tastes, and gives a claustrophobic feeling.  No biggie, but worth mentioning.  Replay value, just plain sucks.  Once you finish the games, no real secrets will hold you over, and the title will be shelved, except for being a technical show-off title.  The environments also feel more like obstacle courses rather than cities or large complexes, as they really should.  Many doors are closed off unless you really need to go in there.  Cameras seem to be in your way all the time, positioned along your path, sometimes in the most odd of locations.  As good as the graphics and architecture designs are, sometimes you can’t but feel like you are on a straight lined course.  Another item is that while you seem to have an arsenal of moves and abilities, you do feel like you are using the same few tricks to subdue and sneak around guards and cameras.  I mean, there isn’t even a way to coerce a guard to “freeze” and drop his weapon, etc.  A little variety would have gone a long way. 

Worst of all however, the AI as in most games, has major flaws.  While following the lead of games such as Metal Gear Solid 2 in that guards are not godly perceptive and must investigate into sounds that they hear, that incentive is seemingly all that has been taken into effect when designing Splinter Cell’s AI.  If they notice you visually, even remotely, they will assume you are an intruder, and not some civilian or comrade.  Guards also one-track think their investigations, and only resort to violence, which is a bit annoying.  They’ll shoot you on notice, and even civilians will cry out, “Ahh!!!  BIONIC COMMANDO!”  Not only resorting to violence, but they all seem to feel they can handle the situation on their own, and do not radio for help.

Overall, Splinter Cell holds its own, even in comparison to such established giants as Metal Gear Solid.  While I do not feel it takes the accepted throne of stealth action games, Splinter Cell is highly polished, and extremely solid as a game.  Sure there are bugs and problems with the game, but what game doesn’t?  What is important is that it really does present a fun and entertaining experience – something that few games do today.  The game, while cloning a genre, innovates, and does this to the highest quality.  Splinter Cell is definitely worth checking out.

 

- James Hsu

(April 20, 2003)

 

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