Splinter Cell is a tough game to review. For everything it gets fantastically right, it has an inherent level of frustration contained within that made me reach the limits of my patience. Such tough games as Contra: Shattered Solider did not give me the fits this game has. This really is a great game, I just think it has a good chance of rubbing some people the wrong way. Splinter Cell is the lead game vying for Game of the Year awards for the X-Box. It faces stiff competition from Metroid Prime on the GameCube and it will be interesting to see who wins out in this race.
Splinter Cell is the story of Sam Fisher, the lead operative of a Splinter Cell group formed off of the National Security Agency called Third Echelon. Sam Fisher is a person that has been allowed the Fifth Freedom: the right to do anything (including killing) to make sure that the original Four Freedoms (Speech, Religion and from want and fear) are kept safe. Think of a Splinter Cell as something akin to the Mission Impossible gang: they do their own thing and their identities will be disavowed if a mission goes wrong or they are caught. This is Sam Fisher’s former world and the opening animation has him coming back into the fold (kind of the old Godfather III cliché…”I try to get out and they pull me back in”). It seems the president of Georgia has created his own army and it is up to Fisher to stop them and weed out the possible moles in our own nation’s intelligence agencies. Since this is a Tom Clancy-based game, the good old Russian and Chinese conspirators are in the game as well.
Splinter Cell contains 9 missions. Some of them are medium in length and some of them are quite long and frustrating. It took me about 15 hours to finish this game, but I have a feeling someone might be able to beat that time. The prelude mission is training exercise. It explains to you most of Fisher’s moves and how to use them. It also shows you how the stealth idea is prominent in this game. It is a great beginning for a game that actually has a lot of moves you can do. In some cases the moves seem very stilted. Cases in point: Fisher doing double jumps off the wall and the wall split (where he does the splits up near the ceiling). The animation for these two moves is not the most fluid ones this game offers. Everything else is top notch though.
The name of the game in Splinter Cell is stealth. This game will be compared to Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, but in some ways it is an unfair comparison for both games. Splinter Cell is firmly rooted in the stealth idea while MGS2 was a game where you could choose stealth or just go on an all-out killing spree. Splinter Cell is the stealth idea of MGS2 taken to an extreme degree. Remember when you could pick up a knocked out guard and put him in a locker in MGS2? That was not necessarily a requirement in the game, but in Splinter Cell hiding the knocked out or dead guards is paramount to you finishing your mission. If you leave them out in the light, someone will find them and your mission will be a failure.
The main thing to remember in Splinter Cell is that the darkness is your friend (and so is your night vision). If you venture into the light where someone can see you, it could be mission over for you. There is some strategizing that must be made in this game. Sometimes it is impossible to get by a guard unless you shoot out some lights and get him to start patrolling the area and walk past you in the darkness. Then you are able to get past him (or you can slowly come up behind him, grab him and knock him out). There are many ways you can confront each situation, but the situations themselves are still linear. No matter what you choose you will be going onto the next scripted area. There are no shortcuts that I saw.
The graphics in Splinter Cell are a sight to behold. The lighting and shadows shown in this game are second to none. This is a game to show your X-Box off to your friends. There is a bit of jagged edges in the first field mission, but after that they are few and far between. Everything looks so real and most of the levels are huge. There is a bit of fast loading here and there, but it is not too distracting (you see a picture as the next area loads). The hard drive has obviously been put to good use on this game. If you want to compare this game to Metal Gear Solid 2 in this department, Splinter Cell wins by a mile. Then again, MGS2 is a year old.
The controls take some time to get the hang of. I use the original controller on my X-Box since I do not have the money to go out and get an S-controller. I have a feeling the S might be a better option for this game though. For most of the game the controls are quite responsive. The one problem I had was when I needed to lean against a wall. For some reason a simple press of the white button was not enough. I had no other problems with other buttons, but the white one sometimes gave me fits. The controls: A is the action button, X is to draw your weapon, Y is to jump and B is to kneel or go upright again. The R button is used for primary fire and the L button is used for secondary fire (for your modular assault rifle that you get a good bit into the game). Left on the digital pad is for night vision and right is for heat vision (when you get it…Mission 4 is the first mission to use this), the left analog stick is to move and the right analog stick is for the camera. Press the right analog stick in and the camera goes behind Fisher. I had a problem with the camera, but it is set up much the same way as games like Super Mario Sunshine were. Compared to MGS2 in this area I would say MGS2 by a nose, although that game does not have camera control. There were just a few motions in Splinter Cell that brought it down a bit.
The sound and music are top notch, although the voice acting outside of the main Third Echelon characters could use some work. This is a great game to show off your Dolby Digital 5.1 system if you have one. This game easily outdoes MGS2 for Playstation 2 in this case because it only had cutscene DD 5.1 options. With MGS2: Substance for X-Box out I would have to see if Splinter Cell outdoes that now that there is an equal ground.
Now we get to the frustration. I put Metroid Prime aside for a while to play Splinter Cell. I question whether this was a good idea or not. I loved Metroid Prime, but I just felt I needed to finish Splinter Cell. As I was playing through some early missions, especially missions 2 and 4, I started to get a sense of frustration. After some checkpoints I would go through the same thing time after time. Eventually I got so frustrated that I turned the game off and came back to it later. In some ways I wish this game would allow you to save at any time. I realize this may not be feasible as the checkpoints do give you a chance to go back if you seriously screw up, but I just think being able to save anywhere would have worked wonders. Mission 4 was just so difficult in one section between checkpoints and it got very annoying having to do the same 5 minutes over and over again. This game just lost the fun factor with the constant trial and error. I can understand where Gamespot comes from when talking about the trial and error. It is a good thing in games, but I think this game takes it too far in this case.I dare say Splinter Cell is the best looking game so far on the X-Box and possibly the best looking video game of all time. The jagged edges in the first mission were a little jarring, but the farther you got into the game the more beautiful the graphics become. The game does get 5 points off (I rate only multiples of 5 or 10) for the clipping in the game. It is only apparent (or was to me) when I put bodies into an enclosed small room. I put them down near a wall and they suddenly became headless. Their heads were in the wall. I am not sure how hard it would have been to fix this, but it does take the score down a notch. I know I am seriously nitpicking here too, but I have to be honest. Some of the best sound I have ever heard from a video game. This is the pinnacle of Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation on the X-Box. All speakers and the subwoofer are used in this game. You can often tell where your enemies are coming from if you are not looking behind or to the sides of Fisher. This is a game to experience in 5.1 sound if you have it. It will greatly enhance your game experience.
Overall the control is quite good. I talked about the controls in one of my paragraphs in the main review, so I won’t go over them here. The only problem I had with the controls was the camera and the white button (used to lean up against a wall). Other than that everything was perfect. The camera is a bit difficult, but there is always the ability to push in the right analog stick to center the camera behind you.
Stay in the dark, that is how simple the game is. Staying in the dark without letting people know you are around them is the hard part. There is a lot of strategizing to be utilized in this game. There are many ways to go through a situation, but whatever you choose will still move you onto the next linear situation. The frustration factor in this game is extremely high. I love trial and error, but after about 20 tries on the same 5 minutes your patience starts to wear thin. This is what brings the game down the most for me. I have not wanted to throw a controller at a television in a long time, I came very close with this game.
Unless you are a master at stealth, this game should take you 10+ hours to beat. There are only 9 levels and the trial and error elongates your game. Problem is that I do not like games that synthetically create difficult trial and error situations. I akin Splinter Cell to what I like to call the SWAT 3 effect. I am not too much into the covert ops/SWAT style of gameplay, which I found out when I first played SWAT 3 on my PC. I got so frustrated I almost punched my monitor (by the way, I am not as violent as I sound). I like to just shoot everyone instead of playing “sneak around to finish your mission” type games. Splinter Cell is in some ways the extreme of the SWAT 3 effect. I will say I liked Splinter Cell a lot more than SWAT 3, probably because of the fact that Sam Fisher is just one man and not in a team.
There are other extras in this game, including making of videos that you can access from the very start. The replay factor to me is not very high. Once you have gone through the whole game you may not want to go through it again. Then again maybe there are some people that would like to see how fast they can get through the second time.