Tom Clancys 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, doesnt it? Well, I am about to make a bold
statement. And let me preface this by saying that I am a fan of MGS2it 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.
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.
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.
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 accordinglyhanging 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 cant 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 Fishers 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
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
herethe 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 Clancys Splinter Cell will be released by Ubi Soft in Fall 2002
for the Xbox, and sometime in 2003 for the PS2, Gamecube, and PC.