Microsoft can thank its lucky stars that Splinter Cell turned up just before Christmas to give the Xbox the boost it needed at exactly the right time. The Metal Gear Solid 2 beater convinced over 180,000 UK Xbox owners to part with their cash in an owner to installed base attach ratio that beat even the mighty Vice City, and was along with Halo was the reason many of you bought the big black box.
And for once both the writers of Eurogamer and its readers agreed that this was, indeed, one of the finest games of last year - with EG rating it No.4 in the Top 50 of 2002, and you lot voting the stealth 'em up one place lower at No.5. Not bad for an in-house Ubi Soft game eh?
Holding out for the best version?
But many of you have been holding out for their platform specific version, with PC, PS2, GameCube and even GBA versions due out the door over the next four months. PC owners, in particular, have been sitting tight safe in the knowledge that their version will be the best of the lot, with even better visuals than the already extremely pretty Xbox original.
With that in mind, we can finally put a few of you out of your misery and confirm what you thought all along - the PC version is indeed dressed in visual loveliness, and what's more it's not going to cripple your beige box in the process. We tested the four level preview build on a variety of PCs, from a humble 1GHz Geforce 2 MX, right up to a Geforce 4 Ti4600-equipped machine with fairly bog standard 1.3GHz Athlons and there were no major complaints to be had, save for some forgivable and fixable frame rate issues.
As you'd expect the game itself is functionally identical to its Xbox counterpart, with Sam Fisher creeping like a nun around dimly lit areas popping caps and snapping necks with the greatest of ease. If you're unfamiliar with the basic premise of the game, check out our Xbox coverage here.
Fisher's eyes watch your lies
The thing most of you will be wondering is how improved the visuals are, and how the controls compare, and the short answer is very well on both counts. Visually the game is much the same as the Xbox, only significantly sharper, showing off the texture detail at every turn. The game really needed very little improvement in this area apart from the elimination of some jaggies, and without these Splinter Cell is even more beautiful. On a big monitor whacked up to 1280x1024 on full detail it's astounding, and it's a great advert for the Unreal technology that it's built on. Crucially, even dropping down to 640x480 with low detail, it's still a delight to behold and almost anyone with a Radeon or Geforce 3 powered machine will be more than happy with the results.
Control wise, our progress was hampered slightly by the invert mouse function being broken, but we're assured this will be implemented in the full review build. Every facet of the controls is customisable, and anyone familiar with third person action games such as Max Payne will be immediately at home. Cunningly, Ubi Soft has handled areas such the analogue running system with a neat solution: by moving the mouse wheel forwards and backwards in increments you can increase or decrease the speed of Fisher's run/walk, while drawing your weapon is activated by tapping the middle mouse button/ mouse wheel.
The area that the PC version benefits from immensely is in aiming. Most of you knew that would be the case anyway, but in practise it makes you realise how fiddly joypad aiming really is. Likewise, the ability to save the game at any point makes progress in almost every situation much more straightforward - and less frustrating - than the often harsh checkpoint system that the Xbox employs.
Given its fairly lenient system requirements, gorgeous visuals, and superlative gameplay, we'd suggest that any stealth minded PC owner who doesn't own the Xbox version should consider this as a must have. For once PC owners have a port they can crow about, and its February 28th release can't come soon enough.
Splinter Cell review (Xbox)
Splinter Cell screenshots (Xbox)
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