Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow

Skulk in the shadows all over again.

Sam Fisher makes a welcome return to our screens shortly, so Ubisoft has dutifully cranked up its PR machine in advance of its March 26th release (or March 16th in the US if you fancy importing it) and has released a two-minute 59MB trailer showing off several of the game's key moments and enhancements.

The quick fire video features a selection of 'blink and you'll miss it' moments of slick stealth action - notably a handful of new moves to add to Fisher's already impressive roster of athleticism. Some things to watch out for include a selection of impressive situation-dependent moves that enable the NSA agent to climb out of a moving train, climb along its side and then hang underneath it - while dodging enemy gunfire of course.

Sam the man

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Another handy new addition is Sam's ability to quickly dart across open doorways, having first taken a sneaky peek to check whether the coast is clear, while the enhanced Split Jump move now allows you to shift Fisher's weight on either leg, enabling you to move your way up between walls and haul yourself up to otherwise unreachable areas.

Other new touches include being able to lower Fisher through trapdoors, as well as hang upside down - adding a new dimension to the means of evasion and stealth available to you.

As per the original, this pseudo sequel looks superb, and is set across five distinctive locations: Jerusalem, Paris, Los Angeles, Dili and Jakarta, each stunningly detailed with the expected heavy (over?) emphasis on use of lighting techniques and intricate attention to texture detail that enables Ubi to create convincingly realistic environments that ooze with atmosphere. Just like the last one in fact.

Same old brilliance

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From the quick glimpse on offer it looks like a case of 'more of the same' which is to say more splendid gorgeousness, and the standout areas of the lush Indonesian jungle, the rippling water and the movie-esque train sequence confirm that this is unlikely to be a lazy stop-gap release while we await a 'proper' sequel. The other, more traditionally office-based areas shown off in the video give the impression of a game that's every bit as packed with atmospheric artistic flourishes - aided no end by the trademark 'enhanced dynamic lighting' and particle effects that bring the whole thing to life. But with the Xbox and PS2 versions coming out simultaneously, it's one game that owners of both consoles won't have to think too hard about choosing between.

Online multiplayer is touched upon in the video, and from what we've gleaned, both PS2 and Xbox versions will support voice over IP via their respective headsets. From the first looks dished out last month, it's apparent that just four players are supported simultaneously, and players must take the side of either the spies or the mercenaries. Spies must infiltrate and steal data from opponent's computers with use of traditional third person stealth, gadgets and human shields while the mercenaries play a more action oriented FPS-style game.

Another mode involves Hide & Seek, although we're not convinced that being stuck in a vent duct for five minutes is a recipe for an entertaining game. Perhaps you can play, erm, Snake on your Palm Pilot while your mates scrabble around in the darkness. As an idea it sounds like a game of camping turned into an art form, although we await to be pleasantly surprised. We're told of various vision enhancing gadgets are at your disposal, so it should be fun for the seekers, and amusing for the hiders as they plant traps for the unwary.

Keeping mum

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Apparently the single-player game is playable from a number of NSA operative's perspectives, and each can be used in the multiplayer mode, but as yet Ubi has been exceptionally coy about talking about the storyline, other than it's the usual Geopolitical stuff , no doubt being an approximation of real-life terrorist activity.

Other new touches include a laser sight on your FN7 pistol, as well as a new enemy alertness system that has them tooling up with flak jackets and helmets once they know someone is hiding in the shadows. Also, Ubi is working hard to eliminate the cursing frustration factor with a responsive AI system that dynamically adjusts to suit the skill of the gamer. For example, if you're struggling with a particular section the game helps out in a variety of ways to ensure that you're likely to play the game all the way through.

From this year's crop of new releases, Pandora Tomorrow is shaping up to be one of the ones to watch, and it's good to note that all five versions will be arriving at roughly the same time. Although the original was often exacting beyond reason, we like the sound of the tweaks made and look forward to getting a hands on with Ubi's latest in the coming weeks. Until then, enjoy the video.

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