When you think of the Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell franchise the first thing that probably comes to mind is gameplay. Next would most likely be graphics, and after that would probably be the sometimes frustrating difficulty. My point is that if someone mentioned Splinter Cell to you, one of the farthest things from your thought process would be the story telling aspect of the series. Basically what most people remember from SC is the spot on controls and gameplay, and that's a good thing. But now Ubisoft has decided they want their cake and to be able to eat it too. Ubisoft Shanghai (the group behind Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow) is gearing up for what seems to be the next evolutionary step in the Tom Clancy videogame universe- a truly compelling story to compliment the stellar gameplay which has been its staple for years.
How does Ubisoft Shanghai plan on making you care about its story? Simple, base everything on your choices throughout the game. In the fourth installment of Splinter Cell, you are a Double Agent. To the NSA you are an enemy of the state, to a terrorist group operating on American soil you are an ally. How far will you go to protect your cover? How far will you go to save thousands of lives? Will you disobey orders from Third Echelon? Will you kill innocents? Will you murders friends? These are but a few questions you will have to answer in Spinter Cell Double Agent. By giving the player tough moral decisions you force them to care about the outcome of the characters and story. This is the backbone of the new look of Splinter Cell. Player immersion based on situations, decisions, and repercussions (ultimately in the form of multiple endings) certainly seems like a solid way to make gamers pay attention to the story instead of automatically pressing the start button to skip past a cinema or important plot point.
Double Agent begins with Sam Fisher's daughter, Sarah, dying in a car accident which sends Sam into a deep depression. After months of said depression, Fisher is offered an "NOC", non-official cover operative (for those of you that have never seen "The Recruit" ), undercover assignment from Irving Lambert. Obviously Sam accepts and gets sent to jail to infiltrate a terrorist group called the JBA, or John Brown's Army. While in jail Sam will have to escape during a full scale prison riot in order to get his foot in the door of the terrorist organization and start to gain their trust. Prison will just be the start of things for Sam Fisher though. He will travel all over the world to complete his mission including going to places such as the Sea of Okhotsk, the Congo, and Shanghai.
Another change for Splinter Cell is the graphics system. With the new technology the 360 brings to gaming, the people at Ubisoft are able to create environments and artificial intelligence for SCDA, far beyond anything the Xbox and PS2 were capable of doing. The game looks extremely crisp and detailed. SC has always set new benchmarks in the graphics department, but as a first generation, next generation game, Double Agent looks amazing. Since Fisher's outings no longer only take place in the darkness, it will be much easier for gamers to marvel at how gorgeous the world of Splinter Cell is. Clothes ripple in the wind, fireworks bathe the night in bold neon, and the lighting and shadows are more dynamic than ever before. Movements are much more fluid, and judging by early demos and trailers there will be a lot less clutter on the screen in the form of menus and the like.
With new direction comes new gameplay, elements, and strategies as well. Since some levels will now take place in broad daylight it will be a lot harder for you to sneak around undetected. Therefore there is more of an emphasis on action and not just stealth all the way through. Since the missions will be varied, there will also be multiple paths (enemies seem to be placed in somewhat random spots as well) to success for levels which will help suit most types of players. Be the stop-and-pop type, slow and meticulous, or run-and-gun (which will most likely still be the most insane way to play), this title offers a little bit for every type of gamer. Multiple paths also include if you want to play more like a good or bad guy. If you play more like the traditional Sam Fisher you may not get certain missions you would have to carry out if you played more like the terrorists, and visa versa. Along those lines your weapons will vary as well. The NSA will give you more high tech gadgets, while the terrorists will give you less state-of-the-art weaponry. Some parts of the game will even have you completely weapons free. As with every sequel you will have new moves as well. Fisher now has a nasty head butt, new grapples, and he can sky dive and swim under water in frozen conditions. The sky diving is especially cinematic with trying to pull your rip cord while plummeting towards the earth. The underwater swimming looks just right, with light barely passing through the thick ice while the thinner ice shows nice soft shadows of those walking on the surface above you (and yes, you can break through the ice to pull unsuspecting enemies into the water).
The new direction Ubisoft Shanghai is taking with Splinter Cell Double Agent looks very promising. It's quite refreshing to see such a respected company like Ubisoft not resting on past laurels and just rehashing the same product over and over again. This is a bold path for the Splinter Cell franchise which has many devoted followers. How they will react to this semi-revamped world of Sam Fisher is still up in the air. What is not undeniable though is the fact that Splinter Cell has always been substance over style, and Double Agent seems to be following in those same kind of footsteps. While there will be more of a focus on the plot and story telling this time around, the series will still be grounded in reality, and the main goal for the developers is still fantastic gameplay over everything else. We'll have to wait just a little while longer to find out if Ubisoft has achieved all they've set out to accomplish though.
Splinter Cell Double Agent is scheduled for a 10/17 release for the Xbox 360. As of now the ESRB rating is still pending.