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9  |  Splinter Cell - The New "Best Thing"
larsoncc , 12/2/2002 4:24:02 AM

peeking around a cornerThis Christmas, every XBox owner will join the National Security Agency (NSA).  Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell quickly and quietly breaks the mold for the "stealth" genre.  Splinter Cell offers up so many enhancements to the genre (like the different "goggles" that Sam, the main character, gets to wear - night vision, thermal vision), that you begin to wonder how many people it took to make this game.  The enemy's intelligence is very good, the stealth elements are engrossing, and the missions always keep you on your toes.

Now, don't get me wrong, you've played Splinter Cell before - it was called Metal Gear Solid 2, and the graphics were horrible (in comparison to Splinter Cell).  The graphics simply must be seen to be believed.  There are lighting effects that I've never seen before.  For instance, the dark room illuminated only by moving slivers of light - the light is moving because of the fan that is rotating in the window.  There are also textures that are simply incredible and fully believable.  Curtains, half hung posters, combat webbing, and more moves in the wind, and responds to your touch.  The effects are nearly flawless.  

hacking into a computerThe concept behind Splinter Cell is familiar.  You are a lone operative behind enemy lines, acting as a covert agent.  Your duties are lined up in support of this goal - you're retrieving downed agents, or finding some missing file - you get the picture.  Basically, you are the All-American badass spy that you've always wanted to be.  You get the spy gadgets, the spy uniform, and the "I know everything, except my boss won't tell me why I'm here" missions.  

Splinter Cell starts you off in a training mission to get you familiarized with the rather formidable control scheme.  Although the tutorial is well done, I never felt completely at ease with the controls, because there's just an awful lot there.  Fortunately, a click of the Select button brings up a diagram with all of your controls listed.  The cinematic elements, while progressing the story, take you out of the game a bit - they aren't all that great.  Likewise, while most of the animation is fluid, there are animations that take you out of the game a bit, too.  The jumping / landing animations are poor - it's like trying to make a fish jump on dry land.  And landing is like trying to make that fish land gracefully on its hind fins.  It just isn't right.

better hide this guy before you're discoveredThese are "complaints", but they only make the game inches from perfect.  The first time I played this game, it was on a demo disk.  It's plain to see that graphical engine improvements were being made all the way up to the production date.  Whereas the demo has some choppiness when you move the camera quickly, the production game does not.  Still, there are one or two possible issues with frame rate in the "real" version of the game, but the pace of the game is such that you'd never notice. 

The missions take some time to work your way through.  This is typically the case with the "action/stealth genre", but I did find each mission more engrossing than Metal Gear, to draw a comparison.  I don't know if the game is long because I'm moving at a snail's pace (you have to sneak everywhere, remember?), but each mission does seem more expansive than Metal Gear as well.  So, if that's your comparison, get Splinter Cell instead of Metal Gear this holiday.  But comparing the game to Metal Gear isn't completely fair - the games are different...  I just happen to like this one a lot better.

night vision is SA-WEETDon't lament the fact that your XBox friends are playing Tom Clancy's other game, Ghost Recon, on XBox Live.  While Splinter Cell has no on-line mode, it does have on-line features.  The game's main menu teases you with the phrase "Level Downloads" - that's right, the game will be expanded as time goes on.  So, once you play through, you haven't REALLY played through.  I thought it was a nice touch.  Another nice touch on the disc were the production videos - it's nice to see game developers getting a bit of credit for their work. 

Bottom Line: like several of the games that I've had the pleasure to review in the past month, this game is a must try / must buy - the variety of missions and the graphical "wow" are worth the price of admission.

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