Poor old Sam Fisher. Anyone would think the Splinter Cell developers don't like him much, judging by the amount of danger they've put him in over the last few years. And now things are about to get a whole lot tougher, since the latest instalment in the series, Splinter Cell Double Agent, is all about pushing Sam to his limits.
That's according to Julien Gerighty, co-producer of the Xbox 360 version, who's on hand to answer all our questions about the game and its newly announced subtitle. There's more to it than meets the eye, as Gerighty explains: "At first glance, “Double Agent” is meant to refer to Sam’s role as an undercover agent in the terrorist organization called the JBA.
"But there are other meanings: a lot of Splinter Cell Double Agent’s themes are about duality and difficult choices. Throughout the game, Sam will be constantly forced to choose between his sense of morality and his duty, between the people he cares for and the mission ahead of him."
According to Gerighty, the game's storyline will branch in different directions depending on the choices you make. "These are tough choices, and as a result, consequences are not as simple as ‘good’ or ‘bad’; but they have a dramatic impact on the course of the story, and major characters can live or die based on your decisions."
So what kind of choices will Sam be faced with, exactly? Gerighty won't go into specifics at this stage, but he does reaffirm that they won't be easy to make: "The moral decisions which Sam will have to face are about the snap-decisions an undercover agent must make in the heat of the moment.
"Let’s say you have to sacrifice an innocent in order to save thousands. Can you kill an innocent man for the greater good? Sam remains a ‘good guy’, but his options are much less clear than before."
A good guy he may still be, but there's no question that we're going to see a darker side of Sam in Double Agent. But Gerighty is quick to calm our fears that we're in for another Angel of Darkness, Warrior Within or Shadow the Hedgehog...
"Sam Fisher has always led a dark life, so for us it’s not a question of spinning the franchise on its head to give it an edge," he says.
"Rather, we are taking the character of Sam Fisher, and pushing him a little, see how he reacts. Sam is going through very rough times and entering a dangerous world. But Sam is still Sam."
And we'll get to know him a little better, too - Double Agent reveals a lot more about Sam's personal history, the people close to him and how he manages that difficult work-life balance.
"This time around, we decided to take away Sam’s personal life, push him out of his comfort zone, and see how he reacts," Gerighty explains.
"You might say that his professional and personal lives are about to become irredeemably mingled."
In keeping with this new, more troubled Sam, the look and feel of the game will be different. You can expect to see him working undercover in environments "where normal stealth wouldn't have worked before, such as jail and the terrorists' HQ," Gerighty says.
"His undercover work will also take him to environments where you don’t expect an NSA infiltration expert to go…"
Sam will be doing an awful lot of travelling, by the sounds of it. Mission locations will include Iceland, Mexico and Africa, and "a good part of the action takes place in America," Gerighty confirms - but that's all he'll say about it for the time being.
Naturally Sam will get loads of new gadgets to play with, and new equipment to help him out with missions which involve skydiving, scuba diving and the like. However, there he will also find himself in some situations where he's gadgetless - like the jail level, for example.
"What makes it interesting to play is that Sam will have to rely much more on his environment than ever before to achieve his goals," says Gerighty.
Thrills and spills
Time for one last question: what should Splinter Cell fans be most looking forward to from the latest instalment in the series? "They can look forward to the next evolution of the groundbreaking, exciting gameplay they know and love, wrapped in an exciting storyline that has much more emotional impact than before," Gerighty says.
"We’re turning Sam’s life upside down in this one: trust us, it’s gonna be a thrill ride!"
Oh, and by the way: if you've got strong opinions on the direction the Splinter Cell series should head in next, you might want to drop Gerighty a line - via the Eurogamer forums.
"I read Eurogamer all the time. It's the only European site I read," says Gerighty, adding that he regularly checks the forum to get an idea of what SC fans are thinking.
"Eurogamer is my favourite website," Gerighty concludes. And you're our favourite Splinter Cell Xbox 360 co-producer, sir.