Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell (PC/Xbox)
Stealth covert-ops missions backed by powerful game engineering -- a blend that threatens to leave the player speechless and amazed.
By Andy Eddy | May 09, 2002
Hundreds of game titles are released each year. Many are released to stores where they sit on shelves for a few months and run their course with adequate sales. Some are released with the sheer satisfaction that they're going to market at all and with little expectation. Others are pushed through development to the pinnacle of achievement, though few end up hitting the mark they were intended to make. A very few others hit that peak and offer moments of brilliance and spectacular execution. I remember playing an early demo of Ecco the Dolphin on the Genesis console that offered little more than swimming Ecco through the water and flipping him over the waves -- and it was mesmerizing. Others in the same category were Diablo and Half-Life.
In all likelihood, we may want to nominate Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell for addition to the list.
Playing Patriot Games
While Splinter Cell carries the Clancy name, this is different from previous titles under his influence. It's a stealth game with a feel similar to Deus Ex, but it's rich with detail and tension. And a theme driven by the government's shadowy machinations runs through it, so it has consistency with others under the Clancy banner. It's said to be set in the "near future," so the catalog of gadgets and weapons in the game may feature items that don't yet exist, but may soon.
The story centers around Sam Fisher, the game's lone hero, who is with the Third Echelon, a subagency of the National Security Agency (NSA) that's made up of elite field ops. Cells of these agents have been created, and are sent out to gather information as well as to protect U.S. sources and privileges. They may use whatever means necessary to achieve their goals, but none of the agents knows an entire plan, so if one is caught, the information he has can't bring down a whole operation. While Fisher is one among a group of these agents, he acts mostly alone -- in a Mission: Impossible style -- so that if he is captured or killed, the U.S. government can label him as a rogue or "splinter cell," thus the inspiration for the game's name.
The anything-goes nature of the action, however, sets it apart from other Clancy games, which end immediately if there are unnecessary civilian casualties. Splinter Cell's forces operate on a different level, where collateral damage might occur in the course of completing objectives, though it's not like Quake or Unreal where the intention is to take out anything that moves. In fact, like Deus Ex, an important consideration is to limit the victim count in order to maintain Fisher's ninja-like covertness.
To that end, Splinter Cell's creators have given Fisher a lot of moves he can make and weapons he can use in order to accomplish the game's 14 missions -- and most of the action takes place in third-person view, so you can clearly see how it plays out. He needs to be versatile to get through missions, so he has the ability to crouch, hang Prince of Persia-like from a ledge, climb a fence, slide down a pole or ladder, and even move through a "chimney," a rock-climbing move that enables him to navigate between two tight walls by wedging in the space with his feet and back. He can also drop down with a soft landing, springing through a crouch to minimize the noise. I said versatile… I meant versatile.
When it comes to entering a new area, Fisher can go in with reckless abandon and with guns blazing. However, he's much more successful sneaking into a room, grabbing someone around the neck, using them as a human shield from other opponents in the vicinity, shooting an oil barrel so the contents leak on the floor, and then exploding them into flames with another shot. Yes, it involves a little more thought than storming a room for a dangerous run-and-gun assault, but it's also more rewarding and truer to the nature of Fisher's mission: Get in, get it done, and get out as fast and as quietly as possible.
Seeing Clear and Present Danger
An enhanced version of the Unreal engine is at the heart of Splinter Cell, which serves as a broad underpinning to the game. Even if you're a veteran gamer, you'll come to moments in the game that will surely take your breath away such as entering a room that's striped with rays of sunshine coming through a window or seeing a cloth shade blowing in the breeze.
The cool effects also come via the weapons and utilities that are offered throughout the contest. A fiber optic camera can be slid under a door so the contents of a room may be scoped out before entering. Another camera, the "sticky cam," can be stuck to a wall and remotely viewed with night or heat-sensitive vision capabilities enabled. A taser provides a way to handle an opponent in a non-lethal manner, to help the retrieval of information. Ballistics are minutely precise as well -- Ubi Soft demonstrated how a bottle sitting on the floor could be blasted to bits with a central shot or have its top surgically removed by a carefully placed shot to the bottle's neck.
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell promises a lot, and even at a point well before release, it looks like it will deliver with innovation and quality craftsmanship. Best of all, it's likely to draw a wide audience that's comprised of military game fans as well as action / strategy fans who may not have tried a Rainbow Six title before. When a game can offer that kind of broad appeal, it's got to make the developers and publishers happy. Oh, and the players too… •
Now this is one more to look for..............do the top notch games ever stop................nice problem to have.......