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Splinter Cell Preview (Xbox, all)
game: Splinter Cell
posted by: Jeremy Kauffman
publisher: Ubi Soft
date posted: 09:10 AM Wed May 29th, 2002

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Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell is a third-person espionage game in which players must slink, crouch, crawl, and hide among the shadows, disabling and disposing of the enemy using the latest in spy gadgets and military hardware. Sounds a little like Metal Gear Solid 2, doesn't it? Well, I am about to make a bold statement. And let me preface this by saying that I am a fan of MGS2-it was easily one of the best games of 2001. That said, however, I believe Splinter Cell has what it takes to dethrone MGS2 as the king of espionage titles in 2002.

Splinter Cell takes many of the conventions established in the MGS series, such as creeping along walls, sneaking up behind enemies, picking up and disposing bodies, et cetera, and it tweaks and refines them within the geopolitical framework of the Tom Clancy uberverse. Players take on the role of Sam Fisher, black ops shadow agent for a NSA agency called Third Echelon, as he attempts to stop a nuclear attack by terrorists.

Splinter-Cell---Xbox---dock.jpg (4521 bytes)The playable demo at E3 2002 had Fisher working his way through a terrorist stronghold in order to obtain computer launch codes and locate missile placements. Various stealth tactics need to be employed in order to complete these assignments. We had the opportunity to sneak down hallways, hide in the shadows, crawl through ventilation shafts, and use plenty of spy toys and weapons in very creative ways.

Fisher is equipped with both night vision and thermo-imaging goggles. During the course of the game players can detect heat signatures through walls in order to gain the element of surprise, or shoot out the lights in a room and switch to night vision to gain the upper hand in a fire fight. The demo also provided players with two cameras. One is a fiber optic camera that could be slipped underneath a closed door and manipulated in order to see what was on the other side. And if you think that is cool, there is also a sticky remote camera which can be thrown onto, say, a wall or ceiling in another room. Using the remote, players can rotate the camera, zoom in and out, and get the layout of a dangerous area before entering. Weapons include the military standard M-16 and automatic pistol, along with sticky bombs, electric charges, your bare fists, and more.

Fisher can interact with nearly everything in the game environment. He can climb fences, move furniture, knock out lights, even shoot down the spider webs clinging to the corners of the room. If you shoot something, it reacts accordingly-hanging lights sway, fire extinguishers puncture and foam, things splinter and fall over. This leads to some pretty creative traps. At one point in the playable demo Fisher comes across a room full of armed enemies. Off to the side you notice a large, ornate fish tank. If you remain unnoticed, you can fire a silenced shot into the tank, causing it to leak, slowly turning the floor into one big puddle. When the bad guys go over to investigate, you can throw an electric charge onto the floor and electrocute everyone in the room. This is one of the coolest things I have seen in a game, and I can't wait to see what other opportunities like this await in the full game. And, by the way, if you want to go a step further, you can pop a couple more shots into the fish tank and shatter the glass, spilling everything onto the floor. Yep, you can even kill the bad guys' fish.

All of this is done with a remarkably easy to pick up control scheme. This is perhaps where Splinter Cell contrasts MGS2 the most. The controls in MGS2 required a pretty steep learning curve. If, like me, you were unable to play it through without a significant break it was hard even to relearn. Yet, Splinter Cell has managed to give you all of the control and complexity in a relatively simple set up. One way it manages to do this is by allowing Fisher to intuit more of what you want him to do. To climb into a vent, all you need to do is press the jump button and he will grab onto it. Also, more of your abilities are enabled by toggling on and off, rather than holding a button down. This is the case with the targeting system, which toggles in over Fisher's shoulder and adds a reticule, allowing you to walk and aim at the same time. In this way, Splinter Cell has eliminated much of the multiple button presses, and \"hold this button down while pressing these other two buttons\" maneuvers common in MGS2. I can imagine scenarios where this could get in the way, but the ease with which you can enter such a complex game is a feat unto itself.

Another way in which Splinter Cell differs from MGS2 is in presentation. The key word here is \"realism.\" Many of the more intrusive video game conventions have been removed. For instance, players must search their fallen foe for items, ammunition, and the like, rather than it popping up out of nowhere. There is a stealth meter incorporated into the HUD that shows how visible you are. It goes through the roof when you have been discovered. This is not strictly \"realistic,\" but it does do away with the funky shock chord in the soundtrack and little question mark above the enemies' heads. Also, the graphics are a little less smooth and rounded, things are a little grittier here-the floors are dirty, the walls are cracked, that sort of thing.

While it is impossible to describe this game without getting into a tit for tat with MGS2, it is important to note that Splinter Cell is not just a knock off of that game. The demo was so incredibly well done, such a complete and sublime game playing experience, that it will certainly be its own game. It was generally considered one of the best games presented this year by the GF! E3 staff. Every time we met up the first few days, there was guaranteed to be a \"have you played Splinter Cell yet?\" somewhere in the conversation. Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell will be released by Ubi Soft in Fall 2002 for the Xbox, and sometime in 2003 for the PS2, Gamecube, and PC.