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Splinter Cell

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal | Publisher: Ubisoft
Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 11/17/02 | Genre: Action

Finally, there is game that begs us to use our intelligence. Tom Clancy's authentic stealth action game, Splinter Cell, is the closest to perfection gamers will see for a very long time. Unlike Clancy's previous group strategy shooters, Splinter Cell is a lonewolf title, sending you in alone to accomplish the impossible. And, unlike Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, running in guns a blazin' is not an option. An easy control scheme, fluid animation, and extremely impressive lighting and sound programs makes it easy to see why this game will most definitely be on the top o' many Christmas lists this year.

The story is classic Clancy style, deep in national governmental mystery. It will not be easy to pry your hands from the controller once you start into this adventure, as, since you are on a "need to know basis", you only get pieces of the puzzle as you complete missions. Who are you? Sam Fisher, the best operative the U.S. has; a cell working for the splinter group Third Echelon, an organization denied to exist by the government. Your mission is to gain information using classic methods of espionage.

Controlling the agent is smooth, thought-provoking, and unbelievably easy. You move from the third-person perspective, with most actions comprised of single button presses. Sam Fisher has a number of cool secret agent movements such as creeping, wall jumping and peeking, rolling, climbing on poles and fences, repelling off roof tops, and the wincingly flexible wall split move. Explanation on the wall split: if an area is about as wide as Fisher is tall, you can perform the wall jump then quickly hit the jump button again to have Fisher place each foot on opposite sides of the area and brace himself there in the split position. An inventory menu is at the bottom of your screen where you can easily access your lock picks, health packs, gun, grenades, and other assortments of gadgets that come with the job. Since this is not a first-person shooter, whipping out your gun is not quick, but rather, an appropriately slow and quiet motion. But Fisher is incredibly accurate, able to hit the onscreen crosshairs effortlessly.

A huge part of Fisher's list of movements is his ability to subdue adversaries. After sneaking unnoticed behind an enemy, pressing the "interact" button will cause Fisher to jump up and put the surprised foe in a headlock-like position. From here, you can use the body as a human shield, coerce or interrogate them (indicated onscreen if applicable), and/or knock them out. Important: DO NOT leave a body just lying around or they will find it. Simply pick up the body and carry it to a secluded spot. This should be pretty easy to understand as you aren't supposed to exist.

While the arsenal isn't lengthy, it is cool. For the most part, you are only equipped with your silenced pistol for a weapon (sometimes no gun at all). Action junkies should probably rent before buying this one, just for that reason alone. However, you do get an silenced assault gun and a rifle with a scope, but, since equipment is mission based, being armed with them is scarce. Other goodies include grenades, sticky cameras and bombs, a camera jammer, and an optic cable. These pieces of equipment are all used to better see what is up ahead and avoid detection at all cost, though the choice between leaving a witness or a corpse is no choice at all.

The really nifty part of this secret agent is his ever-present pair of goggles. These babies have two settings: thermal and night. Thermal lets you see heat levels, while night lets you see everything in green when the lights are out. In addition to this light-adjusting equipment, there is an onscreen "light gauge" which indicates how visible you are based on surrounding luminaries.

Enemy AI is perfect in Splinter Cell. The balance between difficult yet easy, and believable yet forgiving is right in line. Leave a body behind in the open, it will be found. Make a sound or turn off the lights, enemies will notice and come looking for you. Find a good hiding spot, and you will be hidden and possibly forgotten. It is challenging to figure out ways past guards and cameras in order to remain a mere shadow easily passed off as nothing, but there is a way to do it. Check Points allow you to save your progress as you reach certain spots in missions. While this obviously leans towards over-replaying areas, a "save anywhere" feature would completely steal away the enjoyment and purpose of the game.

In stealth action games such as Splinter Cell, lighting and sound are crucial components. Mess them up, and the game is shot. Clancy's title is flawless. Shadows dance across everything, and echoes can be heard in appropriate areas. Different surfaces give off different levels of sound. Some lights can be shot out for better cover, while others will swing around, throwing shadows and rays of light everywhere. The AI reacts amazingly well to changes in both elements, and you can use this to your advantage at times. In addition to these perfected elements, the graphical presentation of this title is mind boggling. Fluid character animations and incredible atmospheres inside and out show the attention that was paid during the making of Splinter Cell.

Replaying this game is fun just to see how good of an agent you really are. Some levels allow you forgiveness when setting off alarms, so seeing if you can avoid that adds more challenge to the game. There are two difficulty settings: normal and hard. In addition to these, wisely included is an Xbox Live feature, which allows you to download new levels. This feature makes good use of Microsoft's new online service, adding even more replayability to an already intense, intriguing game.

Overall, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell is worth every amount of hype and anticipation it received before its release. After playing this game, it became obvious how it set the record for number of preorders. A perfect stealth adventure complete with an intriguing, intelligent story true to Clancy's masterful writing, Splinter Cell is a must have for all gamers.

By Peter Humpton - 12/07/02
ESRB Details: Blood and Gore, Violence
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Screenshots for Splinter Cell

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