Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent Reader Review
Be the bad guy! Make your own choices! Every action has a reaction, and so on and so forth. Ubisoft certainly made a big deal of the changes made to Splinter Cell in its fourth iteration, Double Agent. As Sam Fisher, you once again take on a group of ne'er-do-wells, but this time you take them on from the inside, as the 'Double Agent' bit implies. But does the game live up to Ubisoft's lofty promises?
First off, scrap that first line. Although you can choose to aid the terrorists on occasion, you never actually 'become the bad guy.' We'll get to that later, but first, let's get back to basics. Assuming you've played a Splinter Cell game before, you'll feel right at home. Most of the play mechanics remain unchanged, as Sam retains the knife that made the gameplay in Chaos Theory so much more dynamic than that of its predecessors. For the uninitiated, Splinter Cell is a game that is about not being seen. You are (usually) equipped with a high-powered experimental rifle, but Sam is a mere mortal of flesh and blood and will not survive a spray of bullets. So you sneak about, peek around corners, turn off lights and strike from the shadows, or preferably, if you wish to be truly stealthy, do not strike at all and avoid your enemies. So far, so familiar.
That's when the Double Agent bit kicks in. After a familiar first mission to ease you back into the role of Fisher, government agent extraordinaire, you are tasked with infiltrating the terrorist group John Brown's Army, or JBA, by helping one of their prominent members escape from prison. From the third mission onwards, you are working undercover with the JBA whilst still trying to maintain the trust of the NSA. This trust system is one of the game's innovations, and is represented in the form of two bars, one for the JBA and one for the NSA. Complete objectives for either group and your trust with them will rise. Some choices you make in the game will decrease your trust with one of these groups, however, so you have to make your choices carefully, as a complete loss of trust will result in a game over screen. But for the most part, the trust system feels tacked on and arbitrary. You can choose to ignore some objectives for either the NSA or the JBA, but most of the time this will only result in a slight loss of trust and will not have an impact on the gameplay or story at all. There are only 3 choices you make in the game that affect the flow of the story, but in the end, no matter what choices you have made throughout the game, the only way to complete it is to thwart the terrorists' evil plot.
The main change to the tried and true Splinter Cell gameplay comes from the Sun. That being, you see a lot more of it this time around. The majority of the missions take place in broad daylight, so you will not be relying on your trusty night vision goggles nearly as much as you may be used to. This does change the feel of the game slightly, but truth be told it does not impact the gameplay in an incredibly significant way. Enemies still don't react to you as quickly as you'd expect a real human being to and staying in the shadows is still a surprisingly effective way of not being seen.
In between the missions you periodically revisit JBA's headquarters for a total of four times. That's four out of ten levels that take place in this location. If that seems like a lot to you, that's because it is, and it is one of the game's biggest problems. There simply aren't. Enough. Missions. You'll blow through the single player campaign in no time at all if you are a Splinter Cell veteran. That being said, let's examine these JBA headquarter missions. They are actually quite interesting, in that you are given a set of objectives, both by the JBA and the NSA, but only 25 minutes to complete them in. This means that you will have to prioritise your goals, as there is no way to complete all of them in the given time. The NSA might task you with planting a bug on the communications' equipment, but obviously you don't want to compromise your cover, so sneaking is once again the order of the day. Matters are complicated by the fact that you cannot neutralise any of the JBA members, as that would obviously blow your cover. These JBA missions are usually a balancing act of trust meters, and a good opportunity to regain some trust that you may have lost. Despite the recycling of locations, these are actually some of the most tense and interesting missions because of the aforementioned restrictions.
Throughout the game you can unlock new or better gadgets by completing certain objectives, but PC users should be aware that there is a very silly bug that doesn't let you use these. How that got past quality control is beyond me, but there you go.
Between the single player campaign's brevity and the somewhat stale gameplay, I would say it is high time the Splinter Cell series started to take a good, hard look at itself. If the game had actually lived up to Ubisoft's lofty promises and delivered a more compelling story and actual consequences for your actions, we would have the game that this should have been. As it stands, Ubisoft still needs to make good on its promises. Let's hope the next Splinter Cell game will be the experience this should have been.