Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent Reader Review
Over the years, Splinter cell has become quite a major franchise in stealth/sneaking games, and its easy to see why it is so. But the character of Sam Fisher was quickly groing boring, so UbiSoft have decided to give him a face-lift, and introduce a new meaner, darker and balder Sam Fisher. Its time to see if Sam has learnt any new moves, or is he still good'ol Mr Fisher under the hood?
On the surface, Splinter Cell DA looks fresh, radiant and full of new ideas and innovations. However, 10-15 minutes into the game, and you will realise its the same engine under the hood, just a different body. This is ofcourse not necessarily a bad thing, since fans of the series will feel right at home with the game. The only tweaks applied to the gameplay mechanics are purely asthetic, for e.g. new killing/disarming moves, new animations and gadgets, but in terms of the gameplay it sill plays the same "sneak behind the guy knock him out an hide the body" mechanics.
Having said that, Ubisoft have made some very interesting additions to the gameplay, albeit the engine stays the same. Sam now works as a double agent, working undercover for a terrorist organisation called JBA, and needs the player sometimes needs to complete conflicting objectives in order to gain trust. The trust meters add an intersting mixture of things to the gameplay, sometimes making the player make some tough decisions.
For every mission, you have both JBA and NSA objectives (ofcourse the JBA doesn't know the NSA has set you objectives, but the NSA knows about the JBA ones). The player is given the choice (in most cases) to complete the objectives in any order necessary. Failing to complete certain objectives drops your trust level with the particular organisation. For e.g., if you plant a bomb successfully, you gain JBA trust, but if you are unable to hack it to get the remote frequency to stop it remotely, you lose NSA trust. Once you have completed a JBA objective, you have only a little time to finish the NSA objective before JBA gets suspicious, which adds a nice gameplay dimension, putting the player under pressure of living the life of a double agent.
Another interesting layer added into the gameplay is the JBA headquarters. As the name suggests, this is where you "live" as a JBA terrorist. After every mission, you return here, and are asked to do some jobs by the terrorist leaders, like hacking some emails or disposing of a dead pilot's body. Again, you are set some objectives by the NSA, which involves you sneaking into "restricted" areas of the JBA headquarters. Here, Sam relies solely on his sneaking abilities, and cannot use any force. He does get a few gadgets from NSA, but these have to be used very carefully so that you are not caught by any of the other people in the building. These are probably even tougher than missions, and need to be played through a few times (thanks Ubisoft for the save anywhere feature). But these missions have more of a sense of achievement attached to them, since its all about true stealth.
The game has quite a few gameplay issues, which makes the game extremely frustrating at times. The lack of a real-time map is one such issue, in the sense that enemy positions are not updated real time on the map, and you can only see the positions at the instant you activated the map. This makes it tough to scope out enemy patterns, specially since the camera can be a real pain at times.
On the same issue, many times the camera does not allow a good view of the area, which means you can easily get caught when you least expect it, simply because you coudlnt see the enemy soldier there.
One of the most annoying aspects of the game is its dependance on contextual positions, meaning "you have to be in position x to do action y". You have to be exactly at the right distance away from an enemy in order to grab him or to knock him out, and more often than not, you end up bumping into them and blowing your cover. Gradually, you get in the practice of pressing the 'A' button constantly while creeping up behind an enemy to grab him, but that does dampen the stealth experience.
This game looks BEAUTIFUL in full HD. Characters are extremely detailed, the environment is much more "alive", truly showing off the power of next-gen graphics. Textures are smooth, framerate is steady as well for most part of the game. The Lighting effects are spectacular, specially the Shanghai Level, where you are climbing down a building, with exploding fireworks around you. And to see the Shanghai skyline from the top of a skyscraper, complete with fireworks and cars on the streets is truly aweinspiring. Shadows look nice, and playing missions in broad daylight makes a nice change to the scenery.
The voice acting is good, but not great. With the likes of Dennis Haysbert (ex-president Palmer from 24), one would have thought there would be more drama or emotions in the voice overs, but it fails to pack the punch. The background score however is tense and makes up for the lack of good voice acting. Not to mention, Sam's one liners, even though cheesy, are quite funny at times. The game sound effetcs are pretty much the same as before, and go along nicely.
Sam returns in style, but lacks new innovations or gameplay mechanics. The moral dilemmas presented to the player, and the cinematic moments are tense and will make your heart race. A bad map system, and strange contextual behaviour dampen the overall score of this game. The game can easily be beaten in around 10 hours on normal difficulty, and there isnt really much replay value (unless you want to do all missions with 100% stealth rating).
If youre looking for something new and innovative, look elsewhere, but if you have enjoyed previous Splinter Cell games, then this one is for you!
7 / 10