Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow
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9  |  Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow Review (XBox)
larsoncc , 4/9/2005 8:25:42 PM

Splinter Cell was one of the most intense stealth / action games ever made. It showed the world what the XBox was capable of - the graphics were second to none, and the game play put you in the role like few other games before it. The original's release was a watershed event for Microsoft's system, too - Splinter Cell was something that no other system could do as well, and it remains one of the best games for the system.

Splinter Cell gets its long awaited update with Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow. Pandora Tomorrow is no revolution like the last game; it is a complete refinement of the Splinter Cell concept, and it fills in all the blanks left by the original. After more than a year, the "online gap" becomes obvious - it's no longer simply enough to have online capability, there is a need for online PLAY. Pandora Tomorrow gives the spy and the mercenary in us a chance to get killed... many, many times by better spies and better mercenaries on XBox Live. The multiplayer game that has been grafted onto Splinter Cell is like a second head, twitching and twisting in stark contrast to the single player's steely-eyed, sedate, lethal mind.

The single player version of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow plays almost exactly like the first version of the game. It is just as engaging, and it is blindingly beautiful - more so than the first in this series. As I stated, Pandora Tomorrow is a refinement of the original - however, like most sequels, Pandora tomorrow features more, more, more. This time around, there are more enemies, more covert NSA action, more locations, more gadgets and guns, and more shady characters to chase down.

Pandora Tomorrow puts you in the action almost immediately, and you stay there for the duration. Rest assured, you're not going to be sneaking around for 15 minutes looking for someone to kill. You'd think that more baddies would make Pandora Tomorrow harder than the original (a tough proposition - the original was fairly difficult). However, the enemies seem to warn you better when they have been alerted to your presence. I think that this makes the game a bit more balanced than the previous version. For instance, the enemies throw on a Kevlar suit and helmet as soon as they think something is wrong. This makes the enemies harder to kill, but easier to predict. In fact, like the Metal Gear series, you will notice that enemies follow a patrol pattern, and very rarely deviate from that patrol pattern. Therefore, it's often advantageous to slightly startle the enemy, wait in the shadows, and figure out exactly where the enemy is going to patrol. Or, start out in the shadows, wait for everyone to walk by, and plan your attack.

Death still comes quickly in Pandora Tomorrow. The frustration of re-doing sections of the game has been lessened somewhat, but it's still there. The new Splinter Cell features a life bar, meaning that you're a bit harder to kill, but that doesn't seem to make too much difference, because once an enemy has a bead on you, say good night.

One of the major weaknesses of the original XBox game has come back in this latest version. Your progress will only be saved at checkpoints, which at times can make the game tedious, because the checkpoints are just far enough apart to cause frustration.

The multiplayer version of this game is far more frantic than the single player incarnation.  Before you're even allowed on-line, a fairly detailed tutorial guides you through the two character types that you can play as while on-line.  While playing, you can assume the role of a spy or a mercenary.  The spy role is played from a third person perspective, and the mercenary is played from the first person perspective.  The spies are equipped with various sneaking equipment, and the mercenaries get the heavy guns and gear.  The object of the game (three game types online) is fairly simple - if you're a mercenary, kill; if you're a spy, sneak (and kill) to get to the objective - like destroy something, or capture something.  The modes of play are similar to capture the flag modes in other online games, but there is a distinctive Splinter Cell feel - 4 players at a time, lots of surprises, detailed strategy, and environments with lots of mood lighting.

Part of the frustration that new players will undoubtedly experience with the on-line portion of Pandora Tomorrow is the sheer amount of "things to do in a split-second" that they have managed to shove onto the controller.  Compounding the frustration is that playing Pandora Tomorrow online involves a lot of strategy.  XBox Live will provide you with one of the most difficult challenges you'll face as a Splinter Cell junkie.  Believe me, people take this game seriously, and they know how to play well.  Prepare to play several matches just to get the hang of the game.  Prepare to spend a few more before you start winning on a consistent basis.  

The online Pandora Tomorrow is not only stunning in its graphical quality and demanding in its learning curve, it's twisted in its ingenuity.  Players will be drawn back into the game repeatedly for what is essentially a game of capture the flag(s).  The ingenious twist is the element of "hide and go seek" - the mercenaries are ALMOST well enough equipped to find the spies, and the spies are ALMOST stealthy enough to pass by undetected.

Will Pandora Tomorrow look nearly as "tight" in six months?   Probably not - the single player experience, while great, doesn't do anything new.  The multiplayer portion, being deep and complex, will likely be the most enjoyable feature of the game as time passes.  There will be comparisons to the latest Metal Gear Solid (Snake Eater) game, and at this point it's unclear whether or not this game will continue to shine in that new light.  Pandora Tomorrow does everything right - but it does not break any new ground, which is its shortcoming given its competition (or soon to be competition). 

All told, Pandora Tomorrow is a pleasant enough experience to go out and pay retail price for the game (which is exactly what I did).  It's got enough kick in the online portion of the game to keep it alive for quite some time, and I truly enjoyed what UBI Soft brought to the table with the single player portion of the game.  It is currently my favorite game, but I'm patiently waiting for the next earth-shattering experience.  I give Pandora Tomorrow a 9/10.

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