The long awaited Splinter Cell has finally graced the Xbox gaming system. Let me tell you right off the bat, this game ranks up there with the now legendary Halo.
Not only is it ‘the’ game to buy for the Xbox this Xmas season, but it’s also a very deep and immersive game that gives you just enough realism to make you feel as if you were actually part of the action.
The background story to the game is that you play Sam Fisher, an NSA (National Security Agency), who is a member of the Third Echelon division, responsible for fast reaction stealth missions to counter terrorist threats. Your purpose is to investigate and collect intelligence for each proposed mission in order to help the NSA gather information that will lead to solving crimes committed across the globe.
Since Splinter Cell is a single-player game, the only options available are to Start Game or view Extra Features. If you have an Xbox Live subscription, there is an option to ‘Download Levels’…when and if developers Ubi Soft make them available for you. For first time players, once you start a game, your first mission is basically a tutorial scenario that guides you through the various facets of gameplay. During this introductory mission you are taught how to use weaponry and mission specific gadgets, sneak stealthily, incapacitate enemies, interrogate hostages, and much more. In order to undertake the dangerous and covert solo missions, you must first prove yourself to the NSA and finish the first mission without error.
The name of the game here is stealth, and Splinter Cell gives you a wide array of options when it comes to gameplay. Here is how the controls are laid out:
(Right Trigger) – Primary Fire
(Left Trigger) – Secondary Fire
(Left Thumbstick) – Move
(Right Thumbstick) – Camera
(Back) – View Controller
(Start) – Inventory
(Left D-Pad) – Night Vision
(Right D-Pad) – Thermal Vision
(White) – Back to the Wall
(Black) – Quick Inventory
(A) – Interact
(B) – Crouch
(X) – Aim Weapon
(Y) – Jump
As you can see, there are a whole bunch of different controls to learn. Don’t be discouraged, though, gameplay is easy to pick up, and you’ll quickly understand why the many different functions on the controller are needed. The object of the game is to pass, preferably unnoticed, through the intense missions that you’re assigned to. All of these missions are covert/stealth operations and the only way to pass each one is to be secretive and disappear without a trace. To give you an idea as to how the game should be played, you must realize that your environment plays a big role throughout each mission.
The Stealth Meter is your indication of how visible you are at any given moment. Shadows and dark spaces allow you to hide yourself almost completely from enemy sight. If your Stealth Meter reads full, the indicator is all the way left. If you are highly susceptible to being seen, the indicator is all the way to the right. To avoid being seen, it is always best to find the darkest available areas to hide yourself. What differentiates Splinter Cell from other games is that you can actually create an environment for yourself, instead of just relying on what’s around you. By this I mean you can shoot out lights, throw objects to distract and enemy’s attention, disable security cameras, sneak through vents, hide on ledges and rooftops, and even repel down the side of buildings. Of course, you can go in guns blazing, but it’s unlikely that you’ll get very far. Ultimately, the way you approach any given situation is entirely up to you.
Your gear also plays a major role in maintaining your stealth. Some of the tools you will utilize are the following: an fibreoptic camera to allow you to see into rooms by peeking beneath doors, a lock pick, combined night vision and thermal vision goggles, and a grappling hook to climb down buildings. However, your most important inventory item is the silenced pistol, it often gets you out of tight jams when dealing with terrorists. You must be careful, though, shooting to kill isn’t always the answer; sometimes you may need to get information from a particular individual, or force them to use a security device such as a retinal scanner. Splinter Cell gives you the freedom to choose whatever gear you need for a specific task. You are not limited by any type of instruction. You choose the destiny of the game.
The environments are fully immersive and interactive. It’s as realistic as you’re likely to get from a covert op game. Lights flicker and cast shadows, just as they would in reality, wooden planks make creaky, hollow noises as they are walked over, grass and foliage fluffs and billows as you walk in and around it, curtains move in the wind, and even aluminum cans make noise depending on how they are picked up or thrown. Your environment can be either your friend or your enemy. It’s up to you to make the right decision in order to remain unseen.
What makes Splinter Cell the great game that it is, is that although it may appear to be linear, you have the option of approaching any given situation differently. Even if you get through the game once by employing a certain strategy, you could play through again from a different tactical angle. Although there are certain mandatory tasks to be performed in each situation, there’s no ‘correct’ way to successfully complete a mission. This game immerses you by making you think twice before taking that next step.
Graphics and Sound
Splinter Cell fully utilizes the Xbox gaming platform. Since it was built on the Xbox from the ground up, you’ll notice the many different in-game effects and absolute attention to detail that are only possible on the most powerful console available today. From the gorgeous lighting and shadows, to the fluid and authentic character animation and models, everything has been crafted to perfection. The game moves smoothly, and there are no extreme signs of slowdown. The graphics were made with realism in mind, and as you immerse yourself in the Splinter Cell world, you realize how beautiful the game is and how closely it resembles real-life physics and aesthetics. Ubi Soft have done a wonderful job in creating an atmosphere that is highly convincing and realistic. If there are any gripes to be had with the graphics, then it’s that Ubi Soft could have used more FSAA (Full Screen Anti Aliasing) in the game. That’s a personal thing, though, and reduced FSAA doesn’t, in any way, detract from the overall experience.
Splinter Cell’s musical score also ranks up there with the best ever made for a video game. The music establishes the atmosphere undoubtedly well and gives you a great sense of stealth and urgency. Sometimes, depending on given situations, you will experience the music becoming more intense and urgent or more relaxed and sombre. It does wonders when it comes to fully immersing you into the game environment. On top of the musical score, all the sound effects are exceptionally well done. From cracking bottles to echoing footsteps, you will treat this game like a real life situation, always concerning yourself with what type of floor surface you are walking on, or which objects in your immediate environment may be hazardous or beneficial to your mission.
For the home theatre advocates out there, this game features Dolby Digital positional audio that makes you feel as if you’re playing an interactive movie.
Although Splinter Cell is a linear experience, it can be played in a variety of ways. Even when you do beat it, you’ll still want to go back and approach the missions a different way. The game is suspenseful and keeps you wanting more. In addition to the advanced playability, it is an Xbox Live enabled game, and will eventually feature new missions for you to download online. This adds tremendously to the replay value because it will increase the shelf life of the title.
Splinter Cell is, quite possibly, the best thing on the Xbox since Halo. In no way are its play mechanics similar, but the caliber of the game ranks right up there with Master Chief. Not only is Splinter Cell deep and engaging, but it also draws you in through the sheer amount of realism and attention to detail. Ubi Soft have created a game that is not only fun to play, but makes you think, too. No bad thing in today’s hack and slash, button mashing marketplace. Stealthy decision making makes or breaks you in Splinter Cell and, if you’re short on a few thousand brain cells, I suggest you pick something else up. You can’t approach Splinter Cell with a run & gun attitude. You must learn to adapt situationally and create an environment for yourself in order to complete missions without being detected. The amazing thing is that, although this may be a thinking game and one where you have to make potentially life altering decisions, there is no degradation in the amount of fun you’ll have. Overall, Splinter Cell is an interactive gaming experience that no other current title can provide, and if you’re shopping for something to get you through the holidays–then this is it. Splinter Cell has proven to be a game that sets itself apart from the rest of the pack, and one minute after slipping it onto the Xbox disc tray, you’ll understand why.