display | more...
Splinter Cell is a "stealth-action" game, released by Ubi Soft Montreal in November of 2002. It is the latest of their Tom Clancy line of games - including Rainbow Six, Rogue Spear, and Ghost Recon.

The game features Sam Fisher, an NSA "splinter cell" - an agent operating out of the fictional Third Echelon, under the (so-far) fictional Fifth Freedom. In other words, he can do whatever is necessary to protect his country, unless he's caught. At one point, your supervisor makes this clear: "your existence privileges have been revoked until the end of the mission."

The gameplay, graphics, and sounds of the game all come together to form a very enjoyable playing experience. I'll say this for Tom Clancy - he can't hold a candle to, say, David Foster Wallace, but who'd want to play Infinite Jest: the Game (Eschaton not included)? If nothing else, he's given Ubi Soft a chance to whip out some very fun, very realistic games with a big name attached.

The focus of the game is primarily upon stealth - gunning it out with more than one enemy at once is an almost guaranteed death. On some missions, you're not allowed to kill anyone or set off any alarms. Some are more lax, though, and you're certainly going to see some action. Pulling off a good headshot with the silenced pistol or the multipurpose rifle is often the best course of action.

Much of the time, however, will find you creeping through the shadows, taking out enemies from behind or avoiding them all together. Things become nasty quite quickly on most levels if you're spotted. Information is the underlying basis for most of what you do, not mayhem.

Fisher has a number of tricks up his sleeves to get around this, though. Physically, he can sneak, roll, climb, leap, and rappel through the levels, honky western ninja style. It's quite fun to hang one-handed from a pipe, whip out your gun, and pick off an enemy or simply jump upon them and be scary. The animations for everything are beautiful, and almost always very fluid - things don't magically jump from one place to another, and neither do you. They don't fudge things - if you don't quite make a jump, you fall, and more than likely die, unless you're lucky and get close enough to grab the ledge you were jumping for and pull yourself up.

You've also got a number of gadgets that, while not up to the wild niftiness of Q, are a lot more realistic and quite fun all the same. From night vision/infrared goggles to a light pipe that you can peer under doors with, these reinforce the stealthy nature of the game. The assault rifle has a launcher that can fire taser-like projectiles, non-lethal stunner rounds, and even sticky cameras! Of particular note is the way lock picking is handled. Disposable picks will burn out a lock and open it immediately, but more often, you'll be using a standard lock pick set. And when I say you, I mean it - when you pick a lock, the game overlays a cross-section of the lock on the screen, and (on the Xbox, at any rate) you must twiddle the thumbstick around till you feel the rumble of the sweet spot, then fiddle with it till the tumbler clicks, and move on to the next. This is a great idea, and it's well executed. It's a lot more fun than sitting there watching Sam do it, pretty animations or not.

And speaking of pretty, it is. Splinter Cell features not just great animation, but well-done characters and some fantastic locations. The messy and complex oil rig overlooking a beautiful calm sea at sunset is particularly nice. And again, we see that the graphics support the overall theme of the game - stealth. The light/shadow system in Splinter Cell is lovely. If you pass by a wrought iron gate with a swinging light behind it, you'll see intricate shadows waving back and forth across the ground - and across the unconscious body on your back.

The sound and music in Splinter Cell, while not earth-shatteringly good, are quite serviceable. The music supports the mood very well, quiet and slow as you creep through the shadows, fast and loud when you're dodging angry guards. The ambient sounds are pretty well done, and the voice acting is definitely well above average. Michael Ironsides voices Sam well, and the random chatter you hear on every level is great.

Overall, I find Splinter Cell to be one of the most polished and fun games I've played in a while. It can be frustratingly difficult at times, but there's always a little hope. The check point system can be annoying, but not excessively so. Splinter Cell was initially available for the Xbox and PC. It has since been ported to the Gamecube and Playstation 2. It supports Xbox Live via the ability to download additional levels.