With the current global climate, is there any wonder about the current rise in counter-terrorism and espionage entertainment? SOCOM, Metal Gear Solid and the America’s Army titles have tried to capture the danger and the action involved with repelling threats to democracy. However, the undisputed king of these titles must be Tom Clancy and his series of games. From Sum of All Fears to the long running Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon series, Clancy’s games have consistently demonstrated squad based counter-terrorism tactics on PCs for years. Now seeking to infiltrate consoles, Ubi Soft will soon slip Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell into stores.
Splinter Cell laces you into the boots of Sam Fisher, top secret NSA espionage agent. Often dropped into highly dangerous situations with minimal information, assistance, or equipment, Sam is forced to rely on his skills, communication with contacts, and, sometimes, his bare hands. Through the numerous missions that he’ll embark on, Sam will stumble upon an international plot that will threaten not only fellow agents, but America as well.
On first glance, players might quickly equate Sam with that of Konami’s legendary Solid Snake. While both have black stealth outfits, seemingly insurmountable numbers of enemies and threats to life as we know it, the similarities between the two are surface at very best. There are at least two major distinctions that you’ll discover. First off, Splinter Cell is grounded wholly in reality, meaning that you won’t see people demonstrating supernatural powers, wielding unrealistic guns, or shrugging off bullets. Both enemies and Sam hold existing firearms, all of which cause massive damage to their targets. There are no bulletproof pieces of armor or food to restore your health, so if you get hurt in a gunfight early in a level, there’s a good chance you’ll have to suffer through the rest of the level injured.
Secondly, Splinter Cell is a stealth game with action elements, requiring you to worry about being detected by guards or cameras. Unlike Metal Gear Solid, where being discovered meant a few seconds of tense activity before life returned to normal, Splinter Cell turns up the heat by realistically depicting guard activity. If Sam is found for any reason, such as cameras or sloppy infiltration work, klaxons sound and reinforcements are quickly dispatched to the site of the disturbance. Once there, the guards will search for Sam relentlessly.
Fortunately, Sam has a lot of tools at his disposal to help him with his missions. Sam is in constant contact with his handlers back at the NSA thanks to his Palm equipment. Similar to Snake’s codec without the cheesy dialog, the equipment is an effective, silent way for Sam to communicate what he finds during his operations. Not only does it keep track of mission goals and updated objectives, but it also keeps track of preliminary and discovered information as well as provides space for mission notes. This comes in handy as he crawls through levels collecting intel documents and hacking computers for classified files.
As for self-defense, he starts most missions with a silenced pistol and limited ammunition, for those moments where violence just can’t be avoided. However, his most important weapon is the most unconventional of all. Sam prefers the tactical advantage of a quiet, stealthy approach to direct confrontation, so he’s best served hiding in the shadows or, if necessary, creating shadows of his own. To this end, you’ll typically find yourself shooting out either light bulbs, florescent light panels, or flicking off light switches to make your surroundings as dark as possible. When things are pitch black, Sam can then switch on either his thermal camera to find out where enemies are by their heat signature, or throw on his night vision and observe his environs as clearly as he would in the daytime.
Graphically, Splinter Cell is phenomenal. If there was ever a title that you’d want to pull out to show the graphical firepower the Xbox can bring to bear on a title, Splinter Cell would rank highly upon the list. 3D models are large, highly expressive, and individually detailed. You won’t find yourself running into Guard #1 fifty or a hundred times, each dressed similarly with identical facial expressions. Instead, each person in the game has a unique face, body shape, and behavior attached to their characters. Additionally, each model’s kinematics are different, so the way that a death animation will occur for one player won’t be the same as that for another. Sam is just as detailed, with different expressions that seem to cross his face when the camera swings around to get a front profile. You’ll also be able to pick out specific details on his outfit, from the placement of his weapon to the shifting of his night vision and thermal goggles.
Environments are extremely detailed and well-designed. Placement of items and background objects feels natural and exactly where it should be, contributing to the atmosphere that Sam travels through. For example, when you go into a storeroom, you’ll see rows of shelves packed with boxes, tools, and other effects, as well as a desk or two for people that take inventory of the room’s contents. Computer rooms are lined with computer stations, coke cans, and other programmer related toys. What’s really impressive is the depth to which you can interact with the background textures and items. Sam will access computers, maneuver through curtains and blinds, and open doors and cabinets for info. Most of these items can also be used as cover should the need arise, although this typically leads to these items being degraded until they’re destroyed. Computers, for instance, make particularly nice explosions when shot.
Considering that the game is designed around stealthy action, and Sam holds an advantage in the darkness, light and shadow are paramount to the title. Fully augmented by real-time shadow and lighting, environments, objects, and people are affected depending upon the quality and direction of light. Walk past a light, and you’ll see the shift in direction for your shadow. Take out one side of a light panel, and you’ll notice the gradation in light throughout a room.
Musically, you won’t notice a lot of sound, primarily because the score wisely plays in subdued tones throughout the background. However, once massive action occurs, such as being detected by enemies, the music quickly picks up to support the onscreen gunfire before returning to a quieter level. Sound effects, however, are definitely top notch within Splinter Cell. Every environment has a distinctive sound effect, so walking on dirt and gravel sounds completely different than walking on concrete or metal. Unlike many games, when an alarm goes off, it sounds as though death is around the corner with the approaching reinforcements. You’ll also pick up different tones emanating from errant shots. For example, a shot fired into metal will make a completely different sound to one fired into glass. Speaking of glass, you’ll also be able to pick up the crunch of glass underfoot as you walk over shattered cabinet, window, or light bulb glass. The sounds are truly topnotch, and add to the atmosphere of the gameplay. Splinter Cell should be infiltrating its way into stores shortly, so check back for a full review soon!
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