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Review on:
Splinter Cell
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Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell
Over Georgia's rooftopsEver since the medieval action game Dark Project (1998) sneaked its way onto harddrives everywhere, the gaming world has succumbed to this new type of games. Mowing down hordes of enemies with guns blazing in best Serious Sam tradition has somehow lost its appeal when it's also possible to dispatch foes much more subtly in the cover of darkness. Splinter Cell rings in a new era for the espionage genre and becomes the new benchmark future titles have to be compared with. As the online-mag Telepolis pointed out recently, the game exuded an "eroticism of sneaking" - if that's true, Splinter Cell is pure eroticism...
 
The background:
Inside the Defense MinistryIn 2004, the world peace is once more getting cold feet - the Georgian President Kombayn Nikoladze mainly wants to give the USA a good dressing-down by secretly working on the mysterious weapon called "The Ark". To avert such or similar threats to the national security, the American National Security Agency (NSA) established the undercover organisation "Third Echelon". This newly-found organisation instructs individual, heavily armed spies, so-called "Splinter Cells", to covertly thwart any evil plans and catch any foes unawares. Sam Fisher is the personlised Splinter Cell: cool, athletic, with a grating voice, and absolutely lethal.
 
The mission:
On the oil rigIn order to put an end to Nikoladze's scheming, Sam embarks on a search for pieces of information that give evidence of the Georgian President's dark plans. Sam receives instructions from his superior Lambert via radio, sometimes during the course of a mission when the mission targets have changed unexpectedly. Most reconnaissance missions have Sam hacking into alien computer systems in the hope of acquiring valuable information. Agent Grimsdottir analyses the data transmitted by Sam, and agent Wilkes picks Sam up after he has accomplished a mission. Sam's way starts in the Georgian police station and defense ministry, and leads him to the CIA headquarters, an internet company, and the Chinese embassy. The Georgian Presidential Palace marks the setting for the game's showdown. Rendered cutscenes in a CNN-style news coverage inform you on the story's progress; less frequent are cutscenes starring Sam and his fellow agents.
 
The training:
CIA headquartersSam's repertoire of special moves is clearly impressive but needs some training to control. Apart from running, crouching, jumping and climbing, he can also shimmy along ledges or bars, rappel from rooftops, or perform an acrobatic split jump in narrow corridors. In order to take advantage of his main ally, the darkness, his black suit is equipped with light sensors that indicate the level of brightness. In the dark, enemies cannot see Sam who in turn can always switch on his night vision goggles or thermal vision. While crouching and depending on the type of surface, Sam can silently sneak up to enemies without being noticed and grab them from behind. In this manner, he can knock foes unconscious without using his weapons; before doing so, he is sometimes allowed to interrogate his adversaries, or he can force a major to do a retina scan for him. A point for criticism in this context are the controls that could have been a bit more intuitive - since there are two different buttons for "activating" or "using" things, you tend to confuse these two at the beginning. What's more, to change your weapons you have to access an extra menu instead of conveniently hitting a corresponding hotkey.
 
The gadgets:
RetreatApropos weapons: naturally, agent Fisher can resort to his silenced pistol and a multi-functional assault rifle. The latter even features a sniper mode and allows Sam to load various types of ammunition, among them non-lethal shells for stunning enemies. This comes in handy when Sam mustn't kill any guards, as, for example, when infiltrating the CIA headquarters. If Sam kills anybody nonetheless, Lambert aborts the mission immediately. With the help of his lockpick, Sam opens almost any locked door, and by using his optic cable he can safely spy into rooms before entering them. In the more action-oriented levels, wall mines or frag grenades are best used against several enemies at once. Dispatched adversaries shouldn't be left lying in exposed or brightly lit areas but carried into dark corners or rooms so as to avoid detection by patrolling guards. While it's comparatively easy to outwit the guards, they steadily grow in number and intelligence. The situation turns real bad when dogs enter the scene who can pick up Sam's scent and thus arouse the curiosity of the accompanying guards. In case Sam's cover is blown, the guards call out for help and trigger any nearby alarm.
 
The presantation:
Chinese Embassy 1Splinter Cell's graphics are truly eye-dazzling. Sam's smooth and natural animations are without rival among his genre's colleagues, and the lighting and shadow effects have been gorgeously implemented. In the glaring evening sun, Sam's shadow is cast realistically against walls, and when passing behind a worm-eaten planks, dots of lights fall glisteningly onto his black suit. Cool effect: curtains warp authentically when Sam walks through them. In night vision mode, the world is immersed in a slightly coarse green light while the thermal vision makes red heat sources stand out from the blue environment. Such lavish graphics do have a price: owners of accelerator cards with 32 MB RAM can play the game at the lowest resolution of 640 x 480 only; the more RAM you have, the higher the resolution you can go for. As a solace, it should be mentioned that the game looks great even at its lowest resolution. For the most part, the game does without any music in favour of ambient sounds. When guards get suspicious, however, dramatic music sets in which gains in pace once Sam is fully discovered. Highlight of the voice-overs is Sam's deep and grating voice (performed by Micheal Ironside) that perfectly fits the protagonist's character.
Details:
Porducer:
Ubi Soft

Website:
Splinter Cell

Graphics:
very good

Sound:
very good

Gameplay:
good

Verdict:
very good

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The bottom line:
Chinese Embassy 2Splinter Cell considerably raises the benchmark for future espionage and other stealth-oriented action games. Given the genre's average, Splinter Cell appears to be comparatively credible, as the designers did without any crazy gadgets as featured in James Bond or No One Lives Forever. Naturally, with superhuman athletic abilities Sam Fisher still remains a product of imagination, but tiny details like Sam's worries about his daughter's well-being add to his characteristics. The resulting atmosphere is perfectly supplemented by the professional voice-overs and the lush grahpics. What spices the game up, however, are the nail-biting missions that have both stealth elements and full-blown shoot-outs. The high difficulty level along with the complex controls might put off some action purists, but everyone else shouldn't miss this extraordinary gaming experience. Although the nine linear missions are far too short for my liking, but you'll feel thoroughly entertained as long as it lasts. And, finally, there's already some light at the end of the tunnel: early 2004, the sequel Splinter Cell - Pandora Tomorrow will trigger renewed surges of adrenalin.
© 06-01-2003 by CE

 
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