Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent Reader Review
When Splinter Cell 4 was announced by Ubisoft so soon after the release of Chaos theory, I lowered my expectations a fair amount. Despite the flourishing multi player mode present in the game, the core single player game was merely being polished rather than being advanced. This is no fault of the developer - the boundaries of a game involving sneaking about in low light levels are fairly restrictive, and finding new things to do within these boundaries is no doubt difficult.
Don't let the advertising of the game fool you - the 'Double Agent' mechanic is not going to be changing the way you play Splinter Cell. Instead, the biggest change is Ubisoft's decision to move Sam Fisher from the dark corridors of warehouses and office blocks, to the daylight settings of civil war zones and cruise ships.
Accompanying this change is the removal of the light and sound meters. Previously the protagonist's safety could be easily worked out and secured by ensuring that both meters read as close to zero as possible. With DA, these meters are replaced by the threat detector. Those fluorescent green lights on Sam's clothing and items are no longer simply to show you where Sam is in a particularly dark area, they now change colour according to his situation.
If the player hides him in a well shadowed area where no enemy will spot him, the lights glow green. Venture out of the shadows and into lighter zones, and it'll turn yellow, and you'll be clearly visible to enemies. Get spotted by an enemy and it'll turn red. The replacement of the various meters makes the game a whole lot more streamlined, but also a lot more tense.
You see, throughout much of the game, Sam's threat detector will be glowing yellow, thanks to the change of direction from darker corridors to brighter locations. This inevitably makes the game a fair amount harder, forcing the player to make the best possible use of cover and gadgetry to progress without being spotted, and as a result offers the player a lot of freedom in getting from A to B.
It's a shame then, that creativity on the half of the player is not rewarded. The end of level stealth scores have no meaning - there is no punishment for the player being spotted other than the number at the bottom of the screen being a bit lower. On the other end of the spectrum, players obtaining 100% stealth scores receive no bonus other than a few Gamer points the first time they manage the 100 percent score.
Moving back to the Double Agent game mechanic. On most levels the player will be given multiple objectives from either side of the law. Occasionally, these objectives will influence each other; a well publicised example of this is the player's decision of whether or not to kill an innocent hostage to gain the trust of the terrorist.
It's moments like the one described above that make the game stand out, but these parts are few and often far between. When they do arrive, they heighten the tension of the game, but often the double agent mechanic simply boils down to standard objectives, but simply tarted up a little, and offers the player little choice, as failing to fulfill an objective will lower your trust with the organisation, thus risking a game over.
Visually, the game is as good as ever, despite running on the now outdated Unreal Engine 2.5X. Textures are crisper than before, and everything looks beautiful in a HD picture.
Level design is as good as ever, with a variety of ways to approach each situation, but it's here that another weakness of the game is shown. Four levels are set in the HQ of the terrorists, and once the first is completed, they begin to feel like filler missions. Had they been smaller stopgaps between missions, then everything would be fine, but when the number of 'real' missions is so low, and with the recycling of the same environment, they begin to feel as though they have been created simply to beef up the number of missions.
Finishing with the Multiplayer side, the additional tinkering has improved the game further. The balancing of the two sides has made the game more newbie friendly without alienating hardcore players, whilst level design is even better than before, with huge networks of tunnels, vent shafts and other unlikely escape routes presenting themselves. And now that the spies are no longer the offensive force in the game, it is clearly the best iteration of the Multiplayer game yet.
So in short, Splinter Cell DA's single player is a brave attempt at moving the series out of the shadows, but is sadly lacking in vital areas. The multiplayer experience on the other hand, continues to blossom.
If you're only playing Single player, lose a mark.
8 / 10