Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 5/2/2003 for PS2  

When looking at the PS2 version of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell I see the words “Director’s Cut” sprawled across the top. Sure they’re not really there but it seems like it would have been a fitting moniker to this special edition of Ubi Soft Montreal’s magnum opus. Instead of going with the usual Xbox-to-PS2 port that seems to be all the rage nowadays, the guys went the extra mile and made enough changes to the game to the effect that even owners of the Xbox game will want to give this one a spin.

The storyline is what you’d typically expect to derive from a Tom Clancy novel. You’ll assume the role of Sam Fisher; a top agent whose duty is to stop acts of terrorism in their tracks. Working in secrecy for Echelon 3, he is proficient in lethal arts and munitions but his most valuable asset will be stealth. Since this is a Clancy novel, the story has you doing battle with the Russians and the Chinese because, as always, they’re EVIL! The story unfolds via sequences of disjointed news clips that really cause more confusion than they should. I’m not certain as to their purpose because I was given the impression that they’d help advance the story. While these causes the storylines in the Xbox, PC and GameCube versions to be very confusing, the PS2’s additional cutscenes help flesh out the storyline a bit.

Gameplay will no doubt draw some comparisons to Konami’s Metal Gear Solid 2 and rightfully so, the games draw their inspiration from the same well. The well in question is Eidos’ excellent stealth-based game, Thief, an amazing title that forced the gamer to rely on stealth and wits as opposed to brawn and power. You’ll have a stealth meter to let you know how visible you are to your enemies. Of course your goal will be to keep yourself as concealed as possible. When the game begins you’ll be treated to a tutorial that will familiarize you with the game.

There are quite a number of moves available to you. Fisher seems to be a mesh of Jet Li, Jean Claude Van Damme (pre straight to video days) and Arnold Schwartzenager. He can do the splits across two objects and rain fire upon his enemies, he can sneak up behind his foes and deliver a swift blow to the head, he can run towards walls and kick off of them in the midst of a jump. He can even take an unsuspecting terrorist hostage and use him as a human shield if need be. Some of the moves are very impractical and seem to be included to help bulk up the cool-ness factor and in this respect, the designers have succeeded.

Of course he’ll also have the bulk of the usual spy maneuvers. He can peak around corners, lean against walls and of course, perform forward somersaults for no apparent reason (because what movie would be complete without it right?). Analog control dictates how fast he is moving; slightly pushing it will force him to tread lightly while pressing it to the extreme will cause him to move hastily. In another excellent maneuver, he can actually kick his way through windows. It’s an amazing move that truly has to be seen to be believed. What’s great about Splinter Cell is that it successfully engulfs you in the spy atmosphere. As you progress through the game you’ll really get the feeling that every single move you make can have an impact on the balance of the world. You’ll feel that little adrenalin rush hit you every time that a guard passes by your hopefully competent hiding spot. This game provides the type of rush that comes with being nervous and on edge; my palms were actually quite sweaty when I finally was able to put this game down.
Speaking of having to be seen to be believed, Splinter Cell is still an amazing visual treat, even on the PS2’s significantly inferior hardware. Everything (with the exception of those comparatively ugly news clips) has been crafted and rendered with exquisite results. Most of the superb lighting effects that made the Xbox game so appealing make an appearance here. There are also some neat shadow tricks thrown in as well although the number of objects that cast shadows has been significantly reduced. Only under certain circumstances will Sam or his enemies cast shadows, which is strange seeing as how big of a factor that shadows played in the Xbox version. I also noticed that the darker areas in the game weren’t as dark here as they were in the Xbox version. I never got that complete darkness feeling that made the Xbox game so intriguing. In fact throughout the course of the game Sam’s figure was always visible.

As a whole the rest of the game still looks spectacular, most of what wowed us the first time around is present here. Sam still looks and animates as smooth as ever, the guys at Ubi Soft deserve some major kudos for their motion capturing work. When it comes to fluidity in animations this game ranks amongst the top of what video gaming has to offer. Nothing ever looks jerky and un-natural, everything flows together with an amazing sense of realism that just has to be seen to be believed. Even the superb fabric physics that were so impressive in the Xbox game are present here, transparencies and all. All of this comes at a price though as the game’s frame rate is woefully inconsistent. This probably won’t be too much of a problem for those who have managed to avoid the Xbox version but for those who haven’t, this version has an overall sluggish feel to it.

What isn’t so pretty is the game’s general structure. The missions are extremely linear and it really hurts the gameplay quite a bit, not to mention the replay value. Much like the enemies that you’re pitted against, the game is very communistic in nature. Don’t expect to have the freedom to go on a killing spree because it’s just not in the cards. You’re given a very strict agenda and if you deviate from it by say, killing a certain amount of guards, the alarm will magically sound and you have failed. I understand the need to impose some sense of reality in the atmosphere but it really detracts from the gameplay quite a bit. I’m not a big fan of artificial limitations, especially when they’re imposed to keep the gamer on a very specific track. You’ll also notice a lot of scripting in the game, far too much for my tastes. Sometimes enemies won’t go through their sequences until you’ve activated a specific trigger on the level. Most of the time you’ll have to step across a specific plane in order to get the next sequence of guards to go through their paces. This can be quite frustrating, especially when you peer around a corner and begin to wonder when that damn guard will move so that you can get along with the mission. Of course he’ll begin his movements after you step over a very specific piece of the environment.

Most of the frustration from SC can be derived from the gameplay. While at its core, it’s from the same vein as MGS, it’s a little different in terms of execution. Every mission follows the same basic structure, stay hidden, don’t get shot and if possible, avoid confrontation. There is an awful lot of trial and error involved in the game’s general execution. Splinter Cell forces you to use stealth as the primary option in far too many situations. Too often you won’t know what’s coming up ahead and by the time you’ve found out what you’re facing, it’s too late and you’ve already failed the mission. Most of the time, the challenge doesn’t come from making your way through a mission without getting killed; it’s making your way through a mission without being detected. This means that you’ll have to avoid guards rather than dispose of them in a covert manner. Why? Why give me all these cool maneuvers and weapons and not allow me to use them? Might as well just let a fat kid run through a candy store and tell him he can’t eat anything.

Problems also come from the simplicity of the AI. I’m not sure what sort of training one has to go through to become a certified terrorist but in this case, I’m doubtful it extends further than the “turn your head and cough” phase. What happens when a guard sees his buddy walk down an open corridor only to get mowed down by enemy fire? Why he runs headfirst into the fracas of course. What does the next guy do? He too runs into the open to meet his demise. Sometimes it’s ridiculous, you can literally set u shop at a corner and start a pile of dead terrorists. This is a stark contrast to MGS2 where guards would actually move apart from each other and try to divert your gunfire while another attacks.
There are a few moments of brilliance that will truly startle you. Sometimes a guard will magically detect you, even when the stealth meter tells you that you’re completely invisible. Wow, I guess the guards have magically stealth vision or something. Then again, sometimes they’ll do something cool like shine a flashlight in your eyes and blind you. The AI is very hit or miss but because this game is more dependant on your actions rather than your enemies, it becomes serviceable in the end.

You’ll want to make sure to have a nice audio setup for this one because the audio portions are just excellent. Although the audio elements aren’t quite up to snuff with what the Dolby Digital soundtrack of the Xbox could provide, the positional Dolby Pro Logic II soundtrack is pretty decent. You’ll still hear every crackle, ever footstep and every gunshot resonate from the proper areas, but it’s just not as clear and prevalent as it should be. Sound is still distributed evenly and adequately through all the channels of a surround sound setup but it’s just not as clear and well-pronounced here as in the Xbox version.

The new cutscenes help flesh out the story a little more. New cinematics such as an early one that shows Sam boarding an airplane and meeting up with the other members of his crew help round out the secondary characters a bit. This adds a little bit of meat and bones to the characters, adding some depth and dimension to them. It doesn’t change the entire scheme of things but it’s still nice to know a little more about the people who are supposed to have your back when you’re out in the field.

The interface has also changed a bit too and this time, it’s for the better. When coming upon a door you’ll be given the option to scan under the door with the fiber optic wire as opposed to manually selecting it from the menu. The layouts to some of the levels have changed as well, but there’s nothing too drastic here. Things such as the big screen in the house in Tbilisi have been moved to the opposite side of the house, the opening that was used to jump from the balcony of the burning building over to that very house has now been changed so that you have to grapple a pipe to cross it. Again small changes that mix things up a bit but nothing too drastic.

Will you love Splinter Cell? Well that depends, did you enjoy the 15 other versions of the game currently available on the market? Don’t come here expecting some sort of overhaul because underneath the exterior façade lies a game that remains virtually unchanged. The same clunky weapon interface still remains and the same AI quirks are still here in full force. This isn’t still the same game that came out for the Xbox five months ago, just with a few minor improvements here and there. Still though, with all of its problems I’d still recommend this game to any PS2 owner who has been envious of their Xbox-owning friends. In fact I’d even recommend this to those who own the Xbox version, they just might find themselves falling in love with Sam all over again.
What happens when Solid Snake meets Tom Clancy? A star is bound to be born and this time his name is Sam Fisher, the star of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, one of the freshest and most impressive games to arrive on the PS2 scene. It’s not as visually impressive as its Xbox counterpart but the added levels and cutscenes make it worth a look.

Rating: 8.4 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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