Tom Clancy’s special operations agent Sam Fisher has become as much of a gaming icon as Lara Croft and Sonic the Hedgehog. The mixture of cool and moody graphics, allied to a cool and moody hero who specialises in stealth tactics and clever disposal techniques, has ensured that this latest instalment in the Splinter Cell series has been one of the most eagerly awaited games of the year.
Thankfully the result is better than the game’s legions of fans could have predicted. For a start there’s a new departure for the storyline. In place of conventional anti-terrorist missions, the opening scenario results from international tensions between China and North Korea on one side and Japan on the other, due to the latter’s creation of a new fighting force.
Sam starts off on an unrelated mission in darkest Peru trying to rescue a computer technician from the top of a lighthouse. Surprise, surprise, it turns out that this op is connected to the main crisis, and soon Sam is criss-crossing from New York to Seoul, Japan and North Korea in a gripping, well constructed drama.
There have been several innovations since Sam’s last outing in ‘Pandora Tomorrow’. Weaponry and gadgets have been modified so that his trusty rifle can now be converted to a shotgun or used with a sniper sight, and his pistol has the ability to temporarily disable electronic devices. A knife has been added to slash through tents or take out the enemy at close range and new killing moves include the hanging neck snap and shooting round corners.
‘Pandora Tomorrow’ introduced the Versus game mode, where up to four players can compete as either Spies or Mercenaries, and this has been retained with extra gadgets and game modes. In addition there’s a new Co-op mode where two players link up to fight the enemy, using joint manoeuvres such as making a human ladder or throwing your partner across a gap. Headset communication gives you a further edge against your opponents, so long as you don’t speak too loudly to alert them to your plans.
One of the best improvements is the comparative freedom you now have to decide how you want to play the game, either by concentrating on stealth and conflict avoidance or going in with all guns blazing. Even if you choose the gung-ho option, your chances of survival are enhanced now that the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ alarm system has been replaced by an increased awareness and extra armoury for the guards when they’re alerted to your presence.
The enemy AI is smarter, the graphics even crisper, the effects and movements more realistic and the music more atmospheric than ever before. This is Splinter Cell heaven.