As Much Stealth You Can Have in a Side-Scroller
The GBA version of Splinter Cell, unlike the next gen systems, is a 2D side scroller. As one can predict, pulling off the feel of a stealth mission can be difficult when restricted to only a forward and backward movement. In this shrunken down version of the game, Sam Fisher doesn’t have all the moves that he did on the console versions but he has enough to get by. Instead of shadowing (no pun intended) the 3D versions, the GBA version tries to generate a feel all its own. Using a similar engine as Prince of Persia or BlackThorne, Splinter Cell for GBA is average at best.
This game has about as much stealth as you can have in a side scrolling adventure. In the process of being shrunken down to fit the GBA, many of Sam’s unique moves left him. Sam no longer can hold and threaten enemies, wall kick, or drag bodies. However, one main problem in Sam’s control is the inability to run and gun. Players must first stop, remove the gun from the holster, and then shoot. This process takes way too long, especially when you find yourself in a firefight. Besides these flaws, the rest of Sam’s movements are pretty steady. “A” jumps and “B” is the weapon button. Sam will either punch or fire/throw his weapon if a weapon is active. The “L” button takes out a pistol and if hit again, holsters it. The “R” button will be used a lot as it allows Sam to see what is beyond his regular line of sight. He will also be able to see the view of surveillance cameras with the use of this button. The player must select between his normal and night vision goggles in the pause menu. However, even without night vision equipped, the player can still see his surroundings quite accurately. Going through an options menu isn’t the best way to switch to night vision, but what can you do with the four-button layout? Sam also has the ability to climb, hang from ledges, and run quickly with a double tap of the D-pad in the desired direction. At times, the player will notice a darkened area in the background. With a tap of the “Up” button, Sam will hide in this darkness. Whenever one of these shadowed areas is in the background, you know that a guard is coming. This brings a lot of predictably to the game as the designers would not have put this hiding place there for just any reason.
The A.I. is probably the weakest part of the game. If you think about it, the A.I. doesn’t make sense. You can stop about ten feet from an enemy (as long as they are out of the screen) and they still won’t see you even though they are very close to you. This is the problem with side scrolling stealth. The enemy’s line of sight doesn’t make sense. Also, sometimes guards will just start running back and forth after they see you. It’s like they are confused that they found you. Occasionally a guard or civilian will be looking out at the screen through a window. To avoid being seen by these guys, the player just simply needs to crouch then walk right below the window. This grows repetitive because you always have to do the same thing to get past this situation. If a guard spots you, he will set off an alarm. A red meter will begin to deplete from the bottom of the screen. If you don’t stop the alarm before this meter runs out, its game over. Straying from the main game, the player will occasionally encounter a mini game type mission. One example of this would be a mission where you must take pictures of people in a Silent Scope type way. It is here that the player will take control of a cursor that must be zoomed in when the proper person is found. After you found the designated person, a button is pressed to take a snap shot. The player must do this quickly before the suspects walk away.
The game doesn’t have a great variety of weapons, but this is okay since you are supposed to knock enemies unconscious with your hands. The handgun will be used occasionally, but the player might find that they never have enough ammo. I highly doubt that a real life government secret agent will enter a mission with only a handgun and five bullets. The player also has the option to throw gas grenades. This tossing system can be difficult to judge due to the bounce of the grenade and the fact that you must tap the “L” button until the desired throwing distance is met. This can be a long, difficult process when you are trying to take out an enemy. Besides these weapons, key cards will also be obtained to move further in the level. To find keycards, the player must usually go through at least one of two mini game type objectives. First is the lock pick. Once the “Up” direction has been pressed on a safe located in the background, the screen changes to a set of gears. The player then has a specific amount of time to line up the lock pick using the shoulder buttons. A door lock can be picked in a similar fashion. The player must trigger a blue notch in sequence in order to open locked doors. These actions work well as they serve their purpose by providing a quick way to reach new areas in the game.
One big plus about this game is that it is linkable to the GameCube version. Several new missions will be unlocked if connected to the Cube. This brings a little more depth to the game. The GC version also supports the GBA while in play. If connected, the GBA will create an overhead map of the surrounding environment Metal Gear Solid style. This is very useful when predicting enemy movements and finding the location of surveillance cameras. The GBA can also be used as a weapon or item during play. Whatever action or task the Sam must perform in the GC version, a player can do it faster and quieter on the GBA. For example, if Sam needs to hack something out of a computer, the player on the GBA can do this when the “A” button action script pops up. Whatever the “A” button will do in the Cube version, a player can do it on the GBA. It would be of great use if a second player manned the GBA and guided the other player playing on the GC. If another player cannot be found, then the GBA SP will come in handy as you can prop it up right next to your television with its flip top design. A new weapon can also be used only in the GC version of Splinter Cell. Once the proper weapon and ammo has been found, the player can detonate a sticky bomb on the GBA at will after it has been fired through the secondary weapon button in the Cube version.
I started to laugh as I realized I was encountering the same guard over and over. Enemies and civilians all look very similar with the same character animations; the only difference is a slight change of color. More variety is needed here. Sam’s movements are pretty well done. His “take the gun out the holster” animation is especially cool as he quickly pulls it out in a threatening manor – it’s just cumbersome during a firefight. The backgrounds are nicely done but lack the same quality as the console versions. Switching between normal, thermal, and night vision all produce screens with different looks, but seem unnecessary as you can still see your surroundings with or without them. Also, I didn’t know Sam shot green worms out of his gun. Whenever you shoot your pistol, a slow, green, wavy bullet will launch in the direction you are facing. What better way to strike fear into your enemies than by shooting bullets that look like live bait. On another note, the music fits the mood of the game. A slow beat will play through most of the game bringing about the feel that you are sneaking around. Also, some of the sound effects that were in the console versions were emulated to the GBA version. The most noticeable is the beep that you hear when your CO talks to you via your OPSAT.
Splinter Cell is made for a 3D environment, not a 2D one. However, the programmers and designers at Ubi Soft did a good job of bringing about a stealth aspect to a 2D game. Don’t look at this game and think that you are going to play the same type of game that you did on the Xbox, GC, or PS2 because it is just way to different. This game is pretty average do to a good game concept that encounters a few hiccups throughout the adventure. However, it does offer some good quality aspects by linking it up with the GC to unlock more levels and enhance game play. It is encouraged to own both. If you are looking to play a great stealth adventure on Game Boy, it is better to play Metal Gear Solid for GBC as it offers so much more in the department of game play, story, and replay value. Splinter Cell is good, but Metal Gear Solid is much better.