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Game Over Online ~ Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow (c) Ubi Soft

Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow (c) Ubi Soft

Published: Monday, March 15th, 2004 at 05:28 PM
Written By: Thomas Wilde

Within the action genre, I find very few games grab me the way a good stealth game does. Outwitting a few security guards, running silently amok with a suppressed weapon, or sneaking into a highly guarded facility using nothing more than a couple of soda cans and some conveniently placed shadows, just makes me all warm inside. It's all the fun of being a raving psychotic without the associated police pursuit.

In that vein, Splinter Cell was, by any stretch of the imagination, an intensely satisfying experience. You had plenty of high-tech gadgetry, with custom-made machine-gun bullets and the handy Optic Cable, but most of the time, you were still relying on a few polished acrobatic moves, your night-vision goggles, and your wits. Hiding bodies, avoiding surveillance devices, knocking civilians unconscious... it was a good time.

That game, though, as polished as it might have been, was really just a tutorial. Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is the real thing.

Sam Fisher's capabilities have not changed, to any great extent. You are still one of, if not the, sneakiest badasses to ever drag a body into a dark alleyway. His split jump has evolved, to some small extent; no longer does it let you bounce off walls, like Jackie Chan, to reach much higher ledges, but you can use it to shimmy up alleyways.

In a similar vein, the elbow strike has become more useful. Now, when you smack somebody across the face, they're briefly stunned, if they aren't instantly knocked unconscious. They will no longer react to being punched in the face by a previously-undetected guy in black by pulling a pistol and shooting you seven times in the chest. Instead, they sway for a second, giving you enough time to put them away with a second shot.

The biggest change to Fisher's moveslist might be his new ability to whistle. It sounds goofy when you say it like that ("...and in Splinter Cell 3, he'll be able to ride a bicycle! Without training wheels!"), but it allows Fisher to produce his own distractions. If you want to lure a terrorist into a dark room after you, just press the Black button, and you'll get their attention without needing to hunt up an aluminum can or something.

What's really changed is the control scheme. Splinter Cell had a lot going for it, but using Fisher's gadgets was not the most intuitive thing in the world. Pandora Tomorrow streamlines his inventory. Now, your lockpicks and Optic Cable become simple options on the pull-down menu, whenever you're confronted with a closed and/or locked door. Hugging a wall is now done with the left thumbstick, with the option of a fast, quiet "SWAT turn" to let you safely get across doorways. Medical kits have been taken out of your item bag, and placed on walls in safe rooms throughout the game. Each one's got the capability to restore maybe 150% of Fisher's health, and he'll only use as much out of them as he needs to.

Fisher's old Palm Pilot has been replaced by a different OPSAT gadget, still glowing oddly green from his back, and still completely and inexplicably invisible to anyone looking at him. (Why don't the guards see that, anyway? "Nothin' here but the guy with three glowing eyes on his head, boss.") You'll still be grabbing data sticks off the bodies of guards, and out of hacked computers, but the gadget itself is far more intuitive to use. For one thing, your inventory and data are now on a separate menu, keyed to the Back button, from your pause options.

Fisher's arsenal returns in full in Pandora Tomorrow, with a few new options. From the beginning of the game, you'll be equipped with thermal vision, night-vision goggles, a handy rappel line, and a pair of binoculars. In addition to his specialized rifle rounds, Fisher's packing chaff grenades, emergency flares (just the thing for distracting a heat-sensitive automated turret), and motion-sensitive wall mines.

Pandora Tomorrow begins about a year and a half after the conclusion of the first game. I seriously recommend that if you haven't played Splinter Cell, you probably want to do so now, before you pick up Pandora Tomorrow; the tutorial and storyline both operate on the assumption that you're a veteran of the first game. (Do us all a favor while you're at it, and see if you can find the deal where it's packaged with Prince of Persia.)

Fisher is called into action again, when Indonesian terrorists take over the American embassy in Dili. Sahadi Sadorno, a deeply paranoid and charismatic man, is up to something that threatens the interests of the United States, and worse yet, he has popular support across the world. Fisher's job is to follow Sadorno and his contacts across the world, to find out what they want, what they're doing, and how they can be stopped. As usual, he has to do all this without anyone knowing he was ever there.

The singleplayer story in Pandora Tomorrow flows a lot better than the original game's did. Most of the characters are familiar now, and the plot is more straightforward. Here is a good guy; here are the bad guys. Go make the bad guys stop moving. It's not without its twists, especially a sudden moral decision that'll confront you at one point, when Fisher is suddenly ordered to kill an unarmed woman. The villain of the piece, Sadorno, is by no means a sympathetic character, but you have to admit he has a point. There are quite a few shades of gray, here and there, if you care to look.

The real draw of Pandora Tomorrow is probably its multiplayer mode, complete with functionality over Xbox Live. Up to four players can compete against each other in teams of two, as either spies or mercenaries. The spies play in a third-person viewpoint, with only Sticky Shockers to defend themselves, and must try to evade the other team long enough to accomplish their objective. On the other side, mercenaries operate in first-person perspective (it looks a bit like the Rainbow Six games), and have the advantage of pure lethality. A spy can get the drop on a mercenary and put him in a headlock, holding him hostage just as Fisher can in the main game, but the mercenary can feed a spy thirty silenced bullets. It's not wholly without balance.

Pandora Tomorrow is, at the end of the day, a revised and improved version of Splinter Cell. The graphics are better, the controls are smoother, the challenges are more intricate, and the multiplayer mode adds hours, if not years, onto its playtime. Nothing's been changed to any great extent, but it improves on the original in most areas, while furthering its engine to encompass a new multiplayer experience. It probably won't win any new fans over to what's sure to become a franchise, but Pandora Tomorrow is still a solid and varied experience.

Questions or comments about the upcoming release of Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow for the PC and Xbox? Talk to us!

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