Splinter Cell broke out onto the console market in late 2002 and the PS2 in early 2003. It was a blockbuster title that scored a big hit for UbiSoft. The game was essentially a first/third person shooter that seriously emphasized stealth and sneaking around over going in with guns blazing. The plot followed a secret U.S. operative named Sam Fisher, a highly skilled espionage agent with little time for anything but getting the job done and a bit of dry humor. Now the sequel, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, has arrived, bringing more stealthy “action” to the table and another call to duty for Sam Fisher.
The graphics for Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow are good… definitely better than the first game in the series. I was initially impressed with the game’s water effects and outside environments, and extremely impressed at the variety of environments and the obvious polish on each of them. The lighting seemed a bit off in sunlit areas (what few there are) but still looked good. Animations are extremely fluid and well done: I couldn’t spot an skip in the framerate anywhere. Between mission videos are well-rendered and exciting to watch. The camera effects make it all the more realistic with focusing blur and motion jitter.
Sam’s thermal goggles look pretty good except for some environment effects. I’m not an expert on thermal imaging but I’m pretty sure that fire will register extremely high on thermal glasses as compared to a clothed human being. The goggles displayed fire at a much less than expected sensitivity. The night goggles, however, work fantastically. Bright lights pretty much blind you but they become invaluable in dark rooms. The game also does a really good job when dealing with smoke, steam or water sprays. Impressive!
Unfortunately, the PS2 is getting old. I found quite a few spots where a better resolution would have helped a lot. Being able to tell if that blur on the wall is a camera or a Penthouse calendar often means the difference between mission failure and success.
Sounds for Pandora Tomorrow aren’t just for effect. They are very important for you to identify possible threats near your location. You’ll have to listen for the whir of active security cameras, wall mine beeps and enemy movement. The game would be much more difficult without sound effects. I thought the sound effects were used superbly and made the game more fun to play.
Voice acting is done very well which should be expected with professionals like Dennis Haysbert and Michael Ironside. The script is fairly well done and interaction works like clockwork. There is very little music to speak of in-game due to the fact that listening for other sounds is much more important, but the theme music is well done.
This is the main problem I have with games like this. I get so frustrated with the controls that the game just isn’t fun anymore. I definitely felt this way while starting out in Pandora Tomorrow. The game plays from a third person perspective with the left analog stick controlling movement and the right analog stick controlling the camera. The biggest gripe I had with the controls was the fact that you couldn’t invert left/right movement for the camera. There are so many third person games with a camera that switching between them is very confusing due to the camera controls. It did have up/down inversion but without the right/left inversion that just made it more confusing.
There are quite a few other controls so getting used to them was just a matter of practice. The only other issue I had was the aiming speed with weapons, which is very slow. This might have been done on purpose however to push the fact that this is a stealth game and not a shoot-em-up game. Overall controls worked well overall except for the aforementioned camera.
The game begins with a brief video a group of enemy soldiers blasting their way into a U.S. embassy, followed by a brief bit of storyline. Next the player is placed into Sam Fisher’s shoes, outside the embassy with the objective to sneak in. Thus begins the “tutorial mission.” The tutorial is less detailed but more exciting than the previous game’s training mission. Instead of guiding you through a military obstacle course (as in the previous Splinter Cell), you actually get to learn during your first mission. This makes for a more interesting way to learn but also leaves out some valuable information. There are a couple instances where you have to drop guards but the tutorial doesn’t tell you how to do that until a bit later in the mission. There are also a few things missing. Like how to deal with wall mines or how to use melee attacks. A quick flip through the manual will solve that dilemma, however it should have been in the tutorial mission.
There were a few other annoying things. The game has a bug that causes it to lock up every once in a while loading a previous checkpoint. There are also a couple of places where you can be interrupted while receiving pertinent mission information by enemies which causes the mission to end when the game should really be paused or uninterruptible. Some of the conversation pieces, and in-game cutscenes cannot be skipped and some of them are in really bad spots that will cause you to watch them over and over and over again. There definitely should be a way to skip those sequences.
The environments are well designed and very pretty but also are very linear. In almost every map anywhere, the next way to go is obvious. This could be good or bad depending on the player’s playing style/likes. Unfortunately it makes some buildings and houses feel very strangely designed.
Because this is a Tom Clancy game, you should expect a decent storyline. Pandora Tomorrow has that in spades. I was intrigued and caught up from the get go. Characters are well thought out and the interactions and conversations give them credible depth.
Pandora Tomorrow is extremely well made and presented with just a few hiccups. There are approximately 15-20 hours of gameplay on the Normal difficulty, and more on Hard difficulty that should please stealth/espionage fans. Unfortunately, the game is very linear and likely won’t offer much new content on a second playthrough.
The game is priced as a premium title. Fans of the genre will get their money’s worth but this may be a little rich for the tastes of those who aren’t into the gameplay style.