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Written by  :  Terrence Bosky (5459)
Written on  :  Mar 26, 2004
Platform  :  PlayStation 2
Rating  :  4.71 Stars4.71 Stars4.71 Stars4.71 Stars4.71 Stars

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Move over 007

The Good

Between encryption and counter-encryption cat-and-mouse games, sometimes the best source of intelligence comes from a human. Enter Sam Fisher (voiced by Michael Ironsides), a former Cold Warrior who hasn’t laughed since the Reagan Administration and the NSA-backed Third Echelon’s man on the ground. When two CIA agents go missing in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, it’s up to Sam and his remote operations team to bring them out. But things aren’t that simple. Georgian president Kombayn Nikoladze is ready to launch a military campaign against oil-rich Azerbaijan and there’s a Chinese connection too. Can Sam Fisher prevent a war?

After playing the “realistic” one shot, one kill squad-based Rainbow Six games, I was hesitant to play Splinter Cell. After all, wasn’t Splinter Cell just another third-person action game with ammo and health packs laying around and a life bar to boot? Boy was I wrong. Splinter Cell is the most sophisticated stealth game since Looking Glass perfected the formula and at every level, Sam Fisher out-Bonds Bond. Don’t be fooled by the arcade elements, Splinter Cell is a smart, cynical stealth game informed by September 11th.

Sam is a lethal machine, but he won’t get far by shooting his way through levels—so it’s best to be a ghost. Sam can hide in shadows (facilitated by a light meter and lights that can be shot out), crouch and move silently, and distract enemies with stray objects and special gadgets. Of course this won’t help for dogs which can follow your scent. When people do get in his way, he can incapacitate them from behind or take them out (and then hide the bodies).

Sam has the moves. Yeah there’s running, walking, creeping and jumping. But he can also do a Jean-Claude van Damme scissor kick in a narrow hallway to hide above enemies, launch himself off a wall to jump higher, rappel down buildings, peak around corners and more.

Sam has the gadgets too: peer under doors with an optic cable before picking their locks (a great interactive feature), knockout enemies with an airfoil, use a remote camera to investigate a location, and use night or thermal vision to study your surroundings. Finally, you can take out enemies with your silenced SC pistol or your multipurpose SC-20K Modular Assault Weapons System.

While Sam’s ingame objectives tend not to vary, his mission locales do. Level design is great, graphics are top notch, and the settings (whether in a Georgian Police Station, a burning oil rig, or CIA Headquarters) are believable. There’s also a sense of urgency to the missions that adds to the tension. The story is furthered along by Headline News style cutscenes with ironic discrepancies between what is reported and what actually happened.

The Bad

Three nitpicks:
  • Why do all the guards whistle If I were a rich man?
  • Why not have the Russians speak Russian and the Chinese speak Chinese? Poorly accented English just distracts from the game.
  • Where are the voices coming from that announce that bodies are found?

The Bottom Line

This is a terrific third person stealth game that advocates brains over brawn. It's challenging enough that you actually feel like you've accomplished something after the mission is over.

Sam Fisher will return.