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Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell

Review By:  Jared Black

Developer:   Ubi Soft
Publisher:   Ubi Soft
# of Players:   1
Genre:   Stealth
ESRB:   Teen
Online:   Yes
Accessories:   Xbox Live (content)
Date Posted:  

1-7-03

In our preview of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell (written before E3 last year), Nick made a number of references to and ultimately compared it to Konami's Metal Gear Solid 2. While it's easy to see why he did so (after all, we didn't know a whole lot about the game back then), in the end Splinter Cell is really a totally different experience. Ubi Soft has seemingly done the impossible: they've not only expanded a seemingly limited genre, but have also managed to create a game that is on many levels superior to Kojima's masterpiece.

I don't want to talk too much about the storyline, but here's a brief overview of what's happening. The player assumes the role of Sam Fisher, a NSA agent armed with a number of different gadgets, weapons, and a lifetime of experience. Though an initiative know as Third Echelon, the NSA sends out agents dubbed Splinter Cells to gather intelligence, carry out sabotage, and in general protect the interests of the United Sates of America through any means necessary. As a result Sam's greatest weapon is the "Fifth Freedom", which basically gives him the ability to operate above and beyond the law when necessary to protect US interests. Set in early 2004, the CIA has lost contact with a couple of agents operating covertly in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. Thus Sam's mission is to locate the missing agents, and determine whether they've been compromised and/or killed. The storyline obviously takes on a much larger scope as the game progresses, and is moved along via between mission cutscenes featuring Sam and his team or news briefs giving a general overview of what's happening in the world at that time. Included in these briefs are some funny ticker news stories and they feel realistic enough, but at times they don't give a clear enough picture of exactly what's taking place in the world before the next mission.

While the core gameplay is much the same as MGS2 (sneak around and accomplish a variety of tasks using whatever means necessary), Splinter Cell is really an entirely different experience thanks to the emphasis on light and shadow. Every light in the game illuminates the area realistically, and every object in the game is self-shadowed. As a result, the player must learn to effectively utilize the shadows created to hide and sneak past the enemy. While MGS2 places an emphasis on hiding behind objects or under boxes, Splinter Cell often has the player hiding in the dark right in front of the enemies' eyes. This creates many more tense situations, and ultimately makes passing objectives feel like more of an accomplishment. This also creates many interesting gameplay situations, as often there'll be one of several ways of getting past a given situation. Do you shoot out the lights and create a path for yourself at the risk of alerting patrolling guards, or do you use the existing shadows and try to time movement just right? Or do you just kill them and move on?

Ubi Soft really paid attention to the interaction with light and shadow throughout the game, and created many different situations in which unique use of them can create often-easier ways of getting through a tough spot. For example, in one level you start out overlooking a large courtyard. If you shoot out the lights then while no guards are around, later on when you come back through the courtyard it'll be a much easier task to do. The lights can still be shot out later, but at the risk of alerting a patrolling guard.

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