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HAROLD
01-10-2003, 11:20 PM
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell
Gadgets, guns, stealth and the Unreal engine. You're going to be in love.
With Metal Gear Solid 2, Konami managed to pull off what game companies have been trying to do for years -- find the perfect blend of video gaming and Hollywood in order to ship a game that was an interactive movie. Early attempts at this task were pathetic to say the least. If you ever had the misfortunate to play a Digital Pictures game I pity you.

Like a traditional movie, Metal Gear Solid 2 was high on production value, but short on length. It was wild ride while it lasted, but in the end many gamers were wishing for more game. Konami is attempting to fix that problem with the upcoming release of Substance, but it looks like Ubi Soft may very well beat it to the punch when Splinter Cell ships. Splinter Cell may not have the flashy cinemas that were Metal Gear's trademark, but it has gameplay and it has it in spades.

Covert Ops

Splinter Cell drops players into the role of Sam Fisher (voiced by B-movie superstar Michael Ironside), a NSA agent who has just been selected to join the Third Echelon -- a new, top-secret division. You will work independently but have a support staff connected via radio.

The first thing you will notice when starting up the game is the level of control you are afforded over Sam. You can jump, sneak, crawl, climb, dodge, peek, and just about anything else you can think of. Compared to other games in this genre the sheer amount of flexibility you are given is astounding. You truly feel as if you are moving about a virtual world.

Adding to the realism is the lack of any sort of radar. When you have to avoid a sentry or a camera you are required to use your eyes and ears to judge when you are in range. At times this can be challenging, such as when a mounted camera is in the distance slowly scanning back and forth, but it works well within the context of Splinter Cell.

One thing that Splinter Cell does incredibly well is the camera. There is no first-person view in the game, everything is played out in third-person, but you do have full control of the camera at all times. This is crucial when scouting out a new area or trying to target an enemy with your weapon. In case you get disoriented, a simple click of the right analog stick re-centers the camera right behind Fisher.

The only downside to the camera is the fact that it is "tied" to your character via an invisible tether. Once or twice I ran into a narrow area that I could not pass unless the camera was adjusted perfectly. If it was at the wrong angle the camera would hit a wall and I would be unable to move. Hopefully this is just a quirk in the preview code.

What Wonderful Toys (and Blatant Advertising)

Pulling from NSA and CIA lore, the missions in Splinter Cell are never fully defined. Granted you are told what to do, but you are never let in on the big picture. If you knew everything all at once you would be a liability if captured.


A scene right out of Timecop. Overall, the plot driving the game is decent, but nothing groundbreaking. As expected the game is fully voiced, however, none of the characters actually move their mouths when speaking. This may be a conscious design choice as it would make localizing the game a bit easier.

Because you are working for the US's top government agencies you have access to a wide range of gadgets including thermal goggles, lockpicks, and more guns than a law-abiding citizen should ever have own. Not everything is available from the start, though the game designers don't leave you out in the cold either.

Strangely enough, Fisher's main tool in the game is a Palm Pilot. Yes, a Palm Pilot. Both the title screen and all of the information menus are designed to look like a Palm, complete with the little circular logo at the top. Makes you wonder how much Ubi Soft charged Palm for the privilege. It is also mildly amusing that Microsoft's competing PocketPC product wasn't featured instead (given that this is an Xbox game).

Before you start playing Splinter Cell making your way through the training level is required. As I mentioned earlier, the game allows for a lot more control than previous titles in this genre. It can be a bit overwhelming at first, though the training level manages to ease players into the game rather quickly. You could probably skip the training level if you read the manual, but who bothers with that anymore?!
:eek:

HAROLD
01-10-2003, 11:24 PM
A Work of Art
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Visually, Splinter Cell stands out from the pack, thanks in part to the use of the Unreal engine. The developers over at Ubi Soft have done an amazing job in pushing the engine to its limit. From the complex architecture to the destructible items and dynamic lighting, the world of Splinter Cell feels much more "real" than you might expect. Subtle touches, such as the shadow of leaves on a tree shining in a window and fluttering in the wind, remind you that the world is alive.

Because stealth is such an important component of the game you will want to pay careful attention to your visibility. Sneaking around in the shadows is a definite plus, however, sometimes you must venture out into the real world. One of the gadgets on Fisher's suit is a light meter. It displays, on a scale of one to four, how visible you are to other people.

If you are too well lit, it can be impossible to sneak by a security system. In that case a little sharpshooting is in order. Putting the engine's dynamic lighting system to work, Fisher can use his weapon to shoot out individual lights in a room. As the lights go out the room darkens and you become less visible. Of course, you can always go in guns a-blazin', but if you wanted to do that you would be playing Halo, right?


Complementing the sharp visuals within the game is an excellent ambient soundtrack. Sounding something like a cross between a Bond theme and the old Prisoner TV score, Splinter Cell's music mix always fits the action on hand.

Rounding out the list of game features are the DVD extras and the Xbox Live support. Players will find a short "Behind the Scenes" documentary covering all aspects of the game's development. Sadly, the Live support appears to be limited only to content downloads. There was no option for online multiplayer combat. At this point the content downloads could be anything, but the most likely candidates are extra weapons and extra levels.

Assuming that Ubi Soft irons out the camera issue and continues tweaking the computer AI, there is no doubt that Splinter Cell will be a must have game when it finally ships. It may not be able to compete with Metal Gear Solid 2's cinema scenes, but when it comes to gameplay, there is a very real chance that Splinter Cell could be a Metal Gear killer. Solid Snak