Near perfect stealth action.
Before I start, let me make one thing abundantly clear: Splinter Cell is nothing at all like Metal Gear Solid 2. Everywhere I look, I see Splinter Cell being compared to MGS2. Splinter Cell and MGS2 are as much alike as apples and bananas. MGS2 is an action game, complete with a barrage of weapons, boss battles, and a surreal plot. Splinter Cell actually is a stealth game. Your objective is to never once get caught. Gameplay is realistic, as is the plot. So if you are looking for an MGS2 clone, search elsewhere, because Splinter Cell is far from it.
Now that I have that off my chest, on to the actual review. Like I said, Splinter Cell is a stealth game, and Ubi Soft did a brilliant job with it. The gadgets and the atmosphere contribute to the feel of this game immaculately. This game skips past all the glamour, relinquishing that suave type quality found in other "stealth" games, in order to make it feel real. Real in a good way, that is. Think of it this way: Splinter Cell is more of a strategy game than an action game. You will most likely do each level numerous times before you beat it, scoping out your surroundings in order to make the best decision for your next run. What makes this especially fun is that while scoping out your surroundings, there are lots of factors to consider.
One of the things in Splinter Cell that contributes so greatly to the stealthy feel of the game is the light meter. At the bottom right hand side of the screen, you have a picture displaying your current weapon, item, and/or gadget. Right above this icon, there is a meter that is dark on one side, and gets increasingly lighter as it gets to the other side. Can you guess what this is for? That's right, this meter shows you how much light you're in, by utilizing a bar that shows your current position on the meter. If the bar is at the very left side of the meter, no worries, because you are completely invisible to the enemy. The more light you're in, the farther the bar moves to the right. I loved this so much, just because you are actually forced to use the darkness as your ally, and believe me, it will be by far your most important ally. And because you'll be spending a lot of time in the dark, you can just pop on your night vision goggles to help you see, and later on, the heat vision goggles, both of which will prove to be invaluable at some point in the game.
Another thing I loved about this game that some people might have a slight problem with is that you get only two weapons throughout the entire game. One is a standard silenced pistol, while the other is a standard rifle/sniper rifle/machine gun/gadget shooter. The pistol you get right away, while you get the "SC20K" you get later on. When you get the SC20K though, that's when the real fun starts. Not only is it incredibly useful as a gun, but also a lot of the gadgets you get will be used through this gun.
Ah, the gadgets. How I loved those precious little items. If a game were released that was composed solely on being able to play with the gadgets in Splinter Cell, I'd get it in a heartbeat. Some of them are real things, things invented by military experts and what not, while others are made up. Real or not, they are all fun. Some of them include your Sticky Shockers, which electrocute a victim upon impact, Sticky Cameras, which can be shot into the wall or ground, or anything that isn't a person, providing you with a reconnaissance opportunity where you may have otherwise been in a lot of trouble. And then, my favorite, the Distraction Camera. Man these things were great. What they do is, they work the same as Sticky Cameras, except they are a little limited in their abilities, like limited rotation and no zoom capability (which the Sticky Camera has). But what the Distraction Camera can do instead is so much better. Once stuck to a wall or other solid object, you push a button to make a noise in order to distract a guard and have him come over to investigate, and when he comes close enough, press another button to release gas to knock him out, all while watching from the front seat camera view. All of the gadgets have specific purposes, and while it is possible to make it through a level using only a few of them, it is easier and much more fun to use the ones you have.
If you've ever seen the manual for Splinter cell, you'll notice that there are a good two pages or so dedicated to all the specific moves Sam Fisher can do. Crawling, hanging, and rolling are some of the basics, but there are a whole lot more. One of the coolest, yet by far the most useless (I only used it once the entire game) is the split-jump. This is where you jump up and do a mid-air split, catching yourself on the walls on both sides of you with your legs. There are lots and lots of other moves, some useful, others not as much, but you'll have fun trying them all out.
One thing that I wasn't sure whether to put into the good or bad section is the A.I. Play the game and it will be blatantly obvious that the A.I. is certainly advanced, except it may sometimes seem too advanced, if that makes sense. I finally find a game where the enemy is actually fairly intelligent, and then there are some points in the game where it seems like they are more genetically altered super humans rather than plain old intelligent ones. In the game, controls are touch sensitive, so if you move the analog stick a little, you move slow, move it a lot, and you move fast. So usually, if you are close to a guard and go as slow as possible, he won't hear you. But in some missions, if you even flinch, the guards are on you like crazy. So why did I put the A.I. in the good section? Well, it is a fairly rare occasion that the guards become super-human...most of the time they provide challenging yet reasonable difficulty to the level, and dealing with them just makes the game more fun.
Plot-wise, Splinter Cell is relatively dull, yet at the same time frighteningly realistic. You, as Sam Fisher, near the end of 2004, are sent to investigate the disappearance of a CIA agent who was investigating the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. Turns out that their leader is really angry with America, and you have to terminate all threats using the "Fifth Freedom": the freedom to steal, kill, and so on in order to withhold peace throughout the world. The story is dull because it's more like a news story from the 10:00 news than an original, exciting plot of twists and turns that you might be expecting. But it is also a bit frightening in the same way, because it happens to be the type of story you dread watching. All in all though, the story is of little importance, even if you have a high emphasis on stories in video games, because chances are good that even you would like this game.
Finally, Splinter Cell got a lot of attention because of its graphics. But when I first played the game, I noticed that the game didn't really look all that great, don't get me wrong, it looks good, but it's really nothing extraordinary. And then I noticed what all the talk was about. One of the really big things about Splinter Cell's graphics are the lighting effects. Like I said before, light and dark play a huge part in the game's stealthiness, and to make this really work, Ubi Soft tried real hard on making the lights look good. This is especially evident when you wear the night vision goggles, the way they made those work is outstanding. But in order to fully understand, you'll just have to try it out yourself.
So, the plot is lacking, but there's still hope for the character development right? Sorry, but no. I mean, there are characters in the game, and things happen to these characters, but even when the game tries to make dramatic sequences by doing something unexpected to one of the characters, I sit emotionless because I have no attachment whatsoever to any of them. They even try to bring in Sam Fisher's daughter for something, but that whole thing is so underplayed it is really just a pathetic cry for help.
Another very small bad thing is, if you are using the silenced pistol, it is extremely difficult to shoot small things, things far away, and especially far away small things. If you are trying to shoot out a light bulb from even a fairly small distance, and you are 100% positive that the cross-hairs are right on the mark, and you shoot, you'll still probably miss. That can get really annoying, especially in critical parts of the game, but it certainly isn't enough to even come close to ruining the game in any way.
The Bottom Line
Play Splinter Cell if you want a really good strategy stealth game. And even if that isn't what you're looking for, try it out anyway, because this is a darn good game.