Having reviewed the Xbox, GBA and PS2 versions and previewed the PC version, it's fairly clear to us that Splinter Cell is a damned good game, and if you don't agree, then, well, we're sorry about that. But if you thought we'd had enough of Sam Fisher, the stealth disco dancer, then you obviously haven't been paying attention to the anorexic release schedules that these long hot summer days bring. And like some chubby slackard in a cross-country race, ladies and gentlemen, let us present to you the GameCube version.
No exclusive goodies
Rather than tediously run through the storyline and the game mechanics again, which you can read at length here, here or indeed here, we thought it might be more useful to focus on what's different about this version. The most obvious change is the fact that unlike the PS2 and Xbox version, there is no exclusive level to get your teeth into, and this is in fact missing the Xbox and PS2-only levels, in case you expected Ubi to maybe round up all of the disparate bits and bobs.
What it does feature exclusively is one measly new weapon; a sticky bomb that stuns your target. Oh, and some rather pointless GBA connectivity that allows you to use your handheld console as an overhead map, which highlights where your enemies are patrolling, MGS style. And if you also own the GBA version you can download some new levels, but that's some outlay.
The between mission cut scenes are now up to the standard first aired in the PS2 version, and the levels have been trimmed and remixed in exactly the same fashion, so in some respects it's better than the Xbox original, in that the narrative hangs together much more coherently now, and is a somewhat more forgiving game to play.
It's all in the detail
On the other hand, graphically it fails to reach the Xbox's high standards, and instead is almost identical to the PS2 version, albeit with a few things missing (like the flame heat shimmer) and other areas patched up (such as better shading in dark areas), but the lack of any blood at all suggests Ninty's German influence in full effect. Overall it's still a stunning game to look at, but if graphics really matter to you, we'd suggest going for the PC or Xbox version. We're still annoyed that Ubi never bothered to include a 16:9 mode for Splinter Cell, and stretching out the 4:3 image makes everyone look like Teletubbies; this rather unpleasant state of affairs remains for the Cube. Sort it out Ubi; how hard can it be?
One appalling change to the GameCube version is the sound, which has been noticeably downgraded - as if it's been sampled at a lower rate to cram all the data onto a single disk. It doesn't affect the playability or the gameplay, but it's annoying, all the same. We now appreciate that Capcom releasing its Resident Evil games on two discs isn't just a cynical marketing exercise; damn these wee disks.
Control wise, there have been some compromises, but in general it works as well as it ever has. The one thing that began to bug us after a mere few minutes was the way that if you flick the C stick downward too quickly, you'll activate the binocular. And in the panic/heat of battle, you'll probably end up looking at the bloke who's shooting you in the face through a pair of binoculars. Hmm.
The loading time is roughly on a par with the PS2 version, and never seems to stray into irritating territory when you're forced to restart a section. Overall it's a respectable port, and in the current climate of GameCube doom, owner of the Tonka toy should be grateful that Ubi bothered at all.
Just buy it, why don't you?
Despite the Cube version being about as exciting to owners of the original as the resignation of a government cabinet minister to a blind, deaf mosquito from North Africa, it stands as one of the essential games to own on the platform, providing it's your one and only games system. If you're lucky enough to own other systems too, we'd suggest you check out those versions for the simple reason that you get more value for money. Which one's the best out of the lot? We'd have to still stick with the Xbox, despite its tendency to result in the destruction of joypads and passing enquiring faces. Whatever. If you still don't own Splinter Cell, we suggest you do the decent thing and march yourself off to the shops forthwith!